Essential Bookshelf for Bookbinders

November 22, 2008

The other day I needed to buy a present for a young bookbinder’s birthday. I searched on line for one of my favorite books: Books, Boxes, & Wraps,
by Marilyn Webberley and JoAn Forsyth. This book was published in 1995
and it is already no longer available, unless you go the used book
route and spend over $60. I did find unbound signatures for sale at Talas.
Giving signatures to a new binder to work with seemed a little punitive
for a birthday present. This book, would have been the perfect gift for
a new binder because the authors introduce a lot of concepts and
creative ideas on handling covers structures in general that would be
useful to anyone practicing book arts. Other books since then have
presented similar material in a more glossy format (BB&W is a single color book with line drawings), but the bulk and scope of the information hasn’t been matched in one volume.

disappointment I felt at not being able to find this book made me stop
and think about what books I considered useful or essential in my own
life as a bookbinder. These are books that I don’t lend to people
because I can’t afford emotionally (or financially now it seems) to
lose them; they aren’t replaceable.

I thought I would compile a list
of helpful books so that people looking to build a bookbinding
reference bookshelf would have some titles to seek out and examine.
These books may not appeal to everyone. These books are not in general
about making projects. I don’t like project books. There are plenty of
those how-to books out there and many are excellent. But the books on
my list for the most part talk about the making of structures and the
adapting of them to your own needs. I find these books more useful and
more interesting.

This page was originally posted as a blog entry on November 23, 2009. I made it into a page so people could find it quickly.

So, without further fanfare, books I think everyone should read, and if possible, have on hand.

Roz’s Bookbinding Essentials List

Marilyn Webberley and JoAn Forsyth, Book, Boxes, & Wraps.
As mentioned above, I think this book is a wonderful handbook of many
options available for binding. Other books may handle details on an
individual structure in a more exhaustive way, but the instructions
here are clear and encouraging. The approach in the book will help you
think about binding in time saving ways as well—in other words it will
help you form good habits.

Kojiro Ikegami, Japanese Bookbinding: Instruction from a Master Craftsman.
This book walks you through the classic Japanese book binding
structures with detailed photos and instructions. People have adapted
Japanese structures in many popular books, cutting corners with methods
and approaches which work for the  Western binding studio or the
crafter. Those books are often wonderful in their adaptations. This
book, however, is the real deal and deserves to be looked at closely.

Franz Zeier, Books, Boxes, and Portfolios. The title says it all. Great instructions on making these structures.

A. W. Lewis, Basic Bookbinding.
A useful book, especially as an introduction. One of three Dover
Publications books that I found useful when I was learning to bind.

Pauline Johnson, Creative Bookbinding.
Another of the Dover books I like. This book is such a standard that
the cover decorations shown in the examples are now retro chic! This
book helps people understand the steps of bookbinding.

Aldrin A. Watson, Hand Bookbinding: A Manual of Instruction. The third Dover book I love so much. Watson breaks down the casebinding process in an easy to understand way.

Rob Shepherd, Hand-Made Books: An Introduction to Bookbinding.
A straightforward book which walks you through a variety of
casebindings, introducing you to the basics of good technique in the

Keith Smith,
Volume 1—Non-Adhesive Binding: Books Without Past or Glue
1-, 2-, and 3-section Sewings: Non-Adhesive Bindings, Volume II
Non-Adhesive Bindings, Volume III: Exposed Spine Sewings

seem either to hate Smith or love him. I love him. I think his books
are fantastic. I love his instructions and adore his detailed
illustrations. These three books from Keith Smith provide a wonderful
array of binding choices for people who want to bind without glue. The
sewings presented in these books can easily be adapted to hardcover
versions of the same book structures.

Keith Smith, Bookbinding for Book Artists.
I think this is one of the best books on making hardcovered books
available. Smith walks you through a method which is clear, precise,
and which renders beautiful books.

Sue Doggett,  Bookworks.
This is sort of a project book, but I like this book because she
presents various traditional structures in simple and approachable
ways, with lovely illustrations. I think this is a good book for people
who want to learn a few easy structures and have their skills build,
all the while being inspired by the possibilities for those books.

Shereen LaPlantz, Cover to Cover. This
is a sentimental inclusion. It is such a well-known and loved book. It
too borders on being a project book. LaPlantz (who recently; she was a
popular instructor across the country) introduced a whole generation of
artists and crafters to book arts. I think this book is a wonderful
source of easy to follow instructions for a number of different
structures and a source of great inspiration because of the inclusion
of book art created by gifted artists. (LaPlantz published a second
bookbinding book before her death but it seems more project oriented to
me and goes into some structures I don’t have any patience for, so that
book doesn’t make my essentials list.)

Alyssa Golden, Creating Handmade Books.
Golden has three books (at my last counting) which build on the same
principle: introduction of structures and lots of color photos showing
her own book arts work and that of others. For this reason, like with
LaPlantz, I think that this book is an important one for book artists
to look at.

Diane Maurer-Matheson, The Ultimate Marbling Handbook, and The Art of Making Paste Papers.
If you are going to make books chances are you’re going to want some
decorative paper with which to cover them. Maurer-Matheson does an
excellent job in these two books. Sadly the marbling book is one I lent
to a friend and never received back (replacements seem to start at
$60). The same is true of the paste paper book (which I actually
reordered while making this list; I don’t want to not have this book
and it was still available for about $20). I don’t marble paper, but at
one time (2000-2001) I thought I might start. Instead I decided that
what I really liked about marbling was watching someone really good at
it “perform” it. It is mesmerizing. Still Maurer-Matheson’s book on the
subject is thorough and complete, including step by step images of
pattern making, or at least that’s what I recall about it. My approach
to paste paper is decidedly non-traditional, and that is perhaps
because my copy of her book was never returned to me. However, I
remember that book as fun to read for understanding the process,
regardless of the direction you then wanted to go.

are literally hundreds of other books available on bookbinding. Many
present interesting projects that take traditional structures or
improvised structures to the completion of an artist’s book or journal.
All those books have a value. You can look at them and if they appeal
to you, or you want to make one of those projects, you can purchase or
borrow the book and make it happen. Others of this type might be
gloriously useful for inspiration.

The books I have included on
my essentials list are more basic and more deeply satisfying at the
same time. These books teach you essential skills and then leave you to
apply them to the conditions and constraints of your art and
imagination. That makes them timeless in the information they provide.
I urge you, if you are interested in binding your own books, to seek
out these books and familiarize yourself with the techniques they
present. You’ll find additional great books on your journey, but I’m
betting you’ll come back to these for reassurance, encouragement, and

    • Jim Stovall
    • February 25, 2009

    I’m new to your site, and loving it. I’ve learned a lot. Thank you.

    I found you while searching for a copy of BB&W, so when I found this, I thought you’d be interested.

    B1863. Books, Boxes, & Wraps/Webberly & Forsyth
    Books, Boxes & Wraps
    By Webberley and Forsyth.

    Authors working on revised edition.

    If you place this book on your order — when the book becomes available again — you will be contacted with the new price and to see if you still want the book.


    If this is old news, If I’m the only person on the planet that doesn’t already know about this, then please just delete this post.

    • w
    • December 19, 2014

    FYI, The 2nd Edition (2014) is now available, with expanded content (and omission of Forsyth…):—Step/dp/1886475016

    • w
    • December 19, 2014

    and thank you so much for this list.

    I came across Ikegami’s book at a Japanese origami book section and it immediately seemed like a fundamental reference, and one that is NOT referenced much in today’s cluttered landscape of compendiums and project books. I was curious about the top top classic/theory/instructional book/references, and your list is a great start.

  1. Reply

    W, I’m glad the list is useful. I adore Ikegami’s book. It is so well done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Cookmode

Pin It on Pinterest