This post is heavily influenced by an article by Christian Alschner published in 1984. He starts the article by recounting the reasons for the scarcity of the original girdle books as the overhanging leather was often removed by librarians.
All this redundant leather was often considered to be unnecessary. Like some other accessories: clasps and mountings. Therefore a lot of resource material originated from depictions of girdle books. At the moment of publication of the article about 500 depictions were known, which suggested that this design was far more popular than formerly assumed.
The “Hook Book”
Girdle Books were made with the cover material extended over the lower edge of the book, allowing to hold them with hands or attach them to belt. Of course, this was only suitable for small and light books. The books were usually covered in leather, but there have been bindings covered in velvet as well. The ends of the cover material were tied into knots. Later buttons and hooks were used.
Alschner calls this book from the collection of the Saxon State and University Library Dresden „Hakenband“ (eng. Hook Book), as it doesn’t have any overhanging material. Instead, a hook was attached directly to the cover.
Alschner describes the dimensions of the book and tries to trace its history. The book is an edition of a Latin New Testament by Erasmus from 1520. On the cover, the initials BR and digits 1536 can be found. The latter suggests that the book has been bound that year, but no bookbinder with these initials was identified. A large number of notes on the margins suggest that the book had been studied intensively. Some of these notes have been trimmed during the binding process. This leads to the conclusion, that it has been used heavily before it was bound.
The book weighs approximately 500g. This matches with the general criteria for girdle books.
The article is concluded by a brief overlook of pilgrimage of the late Middle Ages. The Reformation eliminated monasteries and curtailed the influence of the clergy. This led to a decrease in pilgrimages and eventually resulted in girdle books becoming less popular. Which would also explain, why there aren’t any further developments of the design.
Below is another take on the same story. Anton Möller’s work The Tribute Money (1601) depicts a person with a book attached to the belt with rings.
- ‘Ein “Hakenband” – Weiterentwicklung des Beutelbuchs?’ — an article by Christian Alschner from the Marginalien magazine, issue 1984/2.
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