Heart-Shaped Books: History and Tutorials

Following some simple tutorials, you may still have enough time to create a heart-shaped book today. However, these books are not a modern invention. And some of them required a lot of effort and skill invested to be made.

There are two main approaches to heart-shaped books. The easier one, and, coincidentally, the oldest, is to make an almond-shaped (or pear-shaped) book that takes the shape of a heart when opened. The other approach is to create a book with cordiform pages and covers, and it takes a bit more perseverance to prepare the paper for it. You will find a simple video tutorial for the latter at the end of this post.

By the way, the oldest known depiction of a heart in the context of affection followed an anatomically correct way of drawing that vital organ. At least as anatomically correct as medieval people have known it. Throughout the 13th century, the heart was drawn in a similar pear-shaped form. Well-known to our contemporaries form started to evolve in the 14th centuries and was fixed in the 15th century after it started being massively used on playing cards. There is no consensus on the origin of the shape and its relation to affection and love. Multiple suggestions range from connections with ancient ornamental forms to the shape of the seed of the silphium plant, used in ancient times as an herbal contraceptive, and stylized depictions of features of the human female body.

The earliest known examples of European heart-shaped were made in the late 15th century or later. They usually contained love ballads or religious texts. Like The Heart Book (Hjertebogen), a pear-shaped book that is supposed to be the oldest Danish ballad manuscript. It is a collection of 83 love ballads compiled at the beginning of the 1550s in the circle of the Court of King Christian III.

Or the Chansonniere de Jean de Montchenu that dates from about 1470 and is a book of songs in French and Italian with a more familiar to us form of heart.

Young Man Holding a Book – Master of the View of Sainte Gudule, ca. 1480

Modern Heart-Shaped Books

Here are some modern takes on the heart-shaped books. As you may see, both forms (cordiform and pear-shaped) are in use.

As you may see, they could be made with all kinds of different materials and all styles of binding.

Or you may choose to make a miniature book devoted to the shape of the heart:

Tutorials

Here is our YouTube playlist dedicated to the heart-shape in bookbinding. It includes a simple bookbinding tutorial, book folding instructions, and more:

A Bit of Macabre

And to return to the origins, here is a modern take on the heart’s shape in bookbinding. It is not about love at all, the book inside of this enclosure is a limited edition, a red morocco-bound copy of Jack the Ripper: A Bloody Alphabet. It is housed in a papier-mâché human heart-shaped box. Binding and enclosure by Sean E. Richards from Byzantium Studios, Ltd.

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