If want to buy only one book on the practical history of the Medieval bookbinding, that has to be The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding by Janos Alexander Szirmai. And here is the good news: book was just reprinted by the Routledge academic publishing house. What’s even better, this time you can choose from hardcover, paperback or digital edition of the book!
It is really great that this time there are all three standard modern format options available. I’ve spent $200 to get my copy of the book (plus shipping of the 1 kg tome to Russia). Now you can buy a paperback for only $54.95 or eBook for £27.99 (about $36).
It looks like at Amazon.com there’s only the old edition for $210 or the new paperback. To get the cheaper new hardback you should visit Routledge’s web site (£99.95, or about $130). There’s also an electronic version available.
In the past, studies of the history of bookbinding were mainly concerned with the exterior decoration. This book focuses attention primarily on the physical aspects of the binding and its construction principles. It is an expanded version of a series of lectures delivered by the author while Visiting Professor at the University of Amsterdam in 1987, supplemented with the results of ten years of intensive research in major libraries on the Continent, the United Kingdom and the USA. It surveys the evolution of binding structures from the introduction of the codex two thousand years ago to the close of the Middle Ages. Part I reviews the scanty physical evidence from the Mediterranean heritage, the early Coptic, Islamic and Ethiopian binding structures and their interrelation with those of the Byzantine realm. Part II is devoted to a detailed analysis of Western binding techniques, distinguishing the carolingian, romanesque and gothic wooden-board bindings as the main typological entities; their structure and function is compared with those of contemporary limp bindings. The book is illustrated with over 200 drawings and photographs and contains a comprehensive bibliography.
Even if you do not plan to work with Medieval styles of book binding, it is really inspiring to read that book or at least to browse through its pages picking this part or that paragraph and picture.