German Paper Bindings: The Lapped Component


In the spring of last year, we started to work with a couple of different paper binding structures that came out of the trade binding traditions in Germany and Italy. I really enjoyed the way that some of these look and function. Keep in mind that this is a very cursory look at a small variety of historic paper structures –  but I will share some models and explore some of the literature that deals with the topic.

Ubiquitous today, the paper binding has a long history as a quicker and more affordable book covering material than animal skin. Cloonan (1991) states that despite the availability of paper in Europe from the twelfth century, the earliest known paper binding, a woodcut-printed wrapper produced in Augsburg, dates from 1482 (p. 5). There is some disagreement in the literature on whether early paper bindings were considered permanent coverings for the text or as temporary protective enclosures between bookseller and binder (Cloonan, p. 45); however, from the 16th to 19th century, paper bindings evolved into a variety of forms. For the purposes of my discussion, three distinct types emerge: limp paper wrappers, case bindings, and “boards” or “in-boards” bindings. This will be the first in a multi-part series on particular paper structures, more specifically the “lapped component” or stiff-board case binding, the stiffened paper binding, the laced paper case, and the more modern millimeter binding.

The Lapped Component

Many examples of paper case bindings structures, dating from the 17th -19th centuries, have been found in Italy and Germany (Frost, 1982, p. 64). The case binding is generally defined as composed of a textblock and cover that are prepared separately and then joined.  Rigid paper case bindings were popular in Germany from the 18th century and could be considered the handmade forebears to modern machine-made case bindings. Like the modern paperback, these could be fabricated relatively rapidly en masse, driving down the cost of production. German binders made a variety of rigid paper case structures, but, beginning in the late 18th century, a distinct style of paper case emerged that was composed of paste boards “spanned and bonded together by a heavy paper spine wrapper (Frost, p. 66). Frost dubs this structure the “lapped component”.

Having only examined a handful of these bindings held in the collections of two research libraries, I cannot speak to the complete range of characteristics that one might encounter with this binding structure. I will, however, discuss the binding characteristics that are identified as most common to this structure by Rhodes (1995) in her survey of paper bindings from the collection of the American Museum of Natural History Library. The models pictured here follow the descriptions of endsheet construction, sewing style and supports, and case construction from that survey. Certain aspects of style are copied from the two or three historical examples held in the collection at NBSS.

Rhodes (1995) indicates that the most popular endsheet structure among lapped component bindings in her survey was a “wrapped stub” endsheet (p. 52). This endsheet as formed by folding ¾” of a folio toward the inside of the text and “sewing through the fold thus created” (Rhodes, p. 52). Rhodes also reports that the vast majority of paper bindings surveyed were sewn in an abbreviated pattern (2 or more sections at once) on cords. The sewing stations of the bindings in our collection were d sawn-in, rather than pierced. Sawing the sewing stations into the backs of the sections is much quicker than piercing them individually, but is more destructive to the text and produces different book action.

I decided to treat my models in the same way. After folding and pressing the sections, the endsheets are folded and their stubs wrapped around the outermost sections. The textblock is squared up and put in the lying press. Sewing stations are marked out with a pencil (including four support stations and kettle stations at the head and tail). The sections are then sawn-in using a backsaw.

The saw kerfs are made to complement the size of the cord, so that it sits into the fold, rather than against it. As a result, the sewing support does not contribute so much stiffness to the opening of the book as if the stations were pierced and the same cords were sewn on.

Rhodes indicates that most (84%) of the lapped component bindings in the survey were plowed and that, of those, the majority (88%) received some sort of edge coloring (p. 53). Trimming and coloring the edges takes a couple of steps. The fore-edge is first plowed with the book squared up. The textblock is given a gradual round and severely backed so that it has small shoulders for thin pasteboards. Finally the head and tail are plowed.

To get that authentic, hastily done production look, I colored all three edges of these models using a mixture of gauche and paste in one pass with a wide brush. The literature does not state which colors are more prevalent, but I suspect that bright yellow edges were more popular than red.

In my reading, I did not see much discussion of endbands for this style of binding. Cloonan states that headbands were commonly absent from the paper bindings  described in her dissertation (p. 41). This makes sense as a time and cost saving measure for the binder. The lapped component bindings in the school’s collection have stuck on endbands, however, and I copied them for my models.

These are made by folding over a piece of linen and whip stitching along the top with colored silk. The endband is cut longer than the width of the spine and is pushed just under the edge of the textblock at the seat of the shoulder. The process goes very quickly and looks quite attractive on the book.

According to Frost, early German trade paper case bindings typically have no spine linings (p. 66), although Rhodes states that over half (63%) of the lapped component bindings surveyed at the AMNH library had spine linings (p. 53). I can see stiff linings of paper would interfere dramatically with the opening (especially on a small chunky book), so I opted for a lining of kozo paper applied with wheat starch paste and pounded-in. To finish off the textblock, the cords are trimmed to size and frayed out with the back of a knife.

Next, we turn our attention to the case and it’s lapped component:

The case is composed of two pasteboards that are connected by a heavy paper spine wrapper that extends about ¼th of the way onto the inside of the boards. The spine piece is molded to the contours of the textblock, while the soft pasteboards also conform to the lapped component, assuring a good bond. This moulded covering, according to Frost, “charges up” the gutter margin of the text, “assuring a tight adhesive bond at that crucial position” (p. 66).

The molded spine piece is made by first wrapping the spine of the textblock in plastic wrap. After being thoroughly wet out, thick handmade paper, cut slightly longer than the height of the boards, is gloved it onto the spine.  Press boards are placed into the joint and the sandwich is allowed to dry under weight. When finished, as Frost says, “a light embossing from underlying sewing appears which exemplifies the moulded fit familiar to binders” (p. 67).

Although I could have created pasteboard with cotton linters (Puglia, 1996), for the sake of time economy, I made up boards from museum board with thin blotter laminated to each side. This imitates the soft and light qualities of pasteboard without all the pressing and drying time.

The boards are adhered to the spine piece and the case trimmed to size. Frost indicates that the components of the binding are often trimmed out to the height of the text, “producing a bare, turn-in-less cover” (p. 66). In the historic examples from our collection, the cases did have  small squares. Therefore, my models have squares.

 The case is then covered in decorative paper. I made pulled paste papers that appear similar in color and texture to the historic examples available for study. After covering, the inside of the boards are trimmed out to give even turn ins.

Rhodes states that, of the books in her survey, over half had labels supplied by the binder that were tooled or stamped on glazed paper (p. 53). I stamped mine on the Kwikprint with gold foil.

The text to board attachment for this structure is adhesive alone. Frost’s article has a very clear illustration of the hinging position of various styles of paper binding. As the lapped component falls under the “case constructon binding” style, the hinging point is a the seat of the shoulder – an “identifying characteristic of case binding structure” (p. 64). This contrasts with the text to cover attachment of laced-in structures (upcoming post), in that the laced or in-boards binding has the attachment at the point of the shoulder. Frost indicates that this characteristic alone is responsible for the “openability” of the case (p. 64) – although I would say that the case structure is far less durable than the laced-in variety.

Note: The bibliographies that I post at the bottom of my posts are always incomplete. If you know of further reading on this topic, I welcome your suggestions in the comments!


Cloonan, M. V. (1991). Early Bindings in Paper : A Brief History of European Hand-made Paper-covered Books with a Multilingual Glossary. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall.

Frost, G. (1982). Historical paper case binding and conservation rebinding. The New Bookbinder, 2, 64-67.

Puglia, A. (1996). Pasteboards. The Book and Paper Group Annual, 15.

Rhodes, B. (1995). 18th and 19th century European and American paper binding structures: a case study of paper bindings in the American Museum of Natural History Library. Book and Paper Group Annual, 14, 51–62.


2 thoughts on “German Paper Bindings: The Lapped Component

  1. Fascinating post, and your photographs were really helpful… thanks for sharing! (Also, it’s always nice to see Cloonan cited. She’s the dean where I’m in school, and I’m taking a class with her husband this semester. Both are delightful.)

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