Bookbinders South Africa - A Brief History of Bookbinding

The bookbinding or bookmaker profession has an intricate history and has undergone many changes in order for it to arrive at the method that Bookbinders South Africa uses today.

Ancient techniques were developed and paved the way for the evolution of this wonderful craft.

Bookbinders South Africa - Bookbinding history

Palm Leaf Books

The art of bookbinding is not a modern-day practice. In fact, bookbinding is believed to have originated in India when sacred religious scripts were inscribed into narrow strips of palm leaves.

The engraved letters and symbols were then filled with black ink which made the writing permanent. Once the writing on the leaves was complete, in order to keep the leaves flat, they would be placed between two sheets of wood.

Holes were then bored through the back end of the pieces of wood and leaves where a leather cord would be threaded through to keep the leaves in their appropriate order.

The cord would then be used to wrap around the palm-leaf book to keep it closed. This was a way to protect the palm leaves from damage.


During the ancient Egyptian era, the use of papyrus to make scrolls was the most commonly used bookmaking method.

The scrolls writing material was made by pulling strips from the stem of the plant and laying them vertically next to each other. Additionally, a horizontal layer of strips was laid on top of the vertical layer.

The two layers would be soaked in the Nile river and left in the sun to dry. The plants natural gum would cause them to stick to one another, producing a single sheet which was then hammered and polished with ivory to create a smooth surface for writing.

Numerous sheets would then be joined together to create the scroll which was long in length but rolled up into an easy to carry form.

Modern Day Books

The design of conventional books began when the continuous roll was replaced with separate sheets.

The pages were made from single sheets of vellum (skin from a sheep, calf or goat) which were followed by sheets of paper and collected according to their size.

The book was then bound by sewing down the centrefold of the pages onto a band that was placed at the back of the pages.

Eventually, sheets of leather were used to wrap around the pages for protection. Forming the type of book that we know today.

Paper Books

It wasn’t until around 200 BC that paper as we know it today was invented by the Chinese. The manufacturing process of paper was a well-guarded secret until about 750 AD.

It took approximately 800 years for the first proper paper mill to be established in England in about 1496.

Further progression of book binding methods

When printing was introduced in the 15th century, bookbinding was given much momentum. Printing on paper drastically increased the production of books and this caused printing and bookbinding to become separate occupations.

Between the 16th and 18th century, The French School of binders dominated the bookbinding industry. During this time, books were mostly bound in vellum, calf or pig skin. Calf skin was generally more popular due to is softer, smoother surface.

A man named William Morris convinced T.S Cobden-Sanderson who was a lawyer at the time to change his career to bookbinding.

He duly followed Morris’s guidance and opened Doves Bindery which gave way to the modern school of bookbinding, formed in the 1950’s which was called “The Designer Bookbinders.”

Bookbinding today

The art of bookbinding is still healthy and well-practiced. Once the paper has been produced by paper-mills they go to the printing department.

The paper is then folded and assembled according to their appropriate order. The paper is then either bound, stapled, glued, or sewn at high speed by automated machines.

Bookbinders South Africa

Bookbinding Services South Africa provides a high-quality bookbinding service where numerous high-end binding methods and materials are used to bind your books.

Contact us, for more information about our services.

Comments are closed for this post, but if you have spotted an error or have additional info that you think should be in this post, feel free to contact us.


Get the latest updates in your email box automatically.