Book Bindings

Many books in the historical collection of the State Library still have their original bindings, which were designed with the techniques and in the style of their respective time periods. Precious gold-work and ivory reliefs, as well as intricately decorated leather bindings and paper envelopes clearly display the worth of the books and their contents.

Mediaeval Book Art

Book covers decorated with ivory reliefs are an important and notable example of Mediaeval cover art. Byzantine carvings from the 10th century protect liturgical texts such as the two cantatoria from the Bamberg cathedral treasury (so-called prayer books of Emperor Henry II and Empress Cunigunde, Msc.Lit.7 and Msc.Lit.8) and a sacramentary from Fulda (Msc.Lit.1). Silk fabrics were sometimes used to protect more richly-decorated volumes (Msc.Lit.131 and Msc.Bibl.95).

A horn-plate binding covers the Bamberg Psalter (Msc.Bibl.48), a splendidly illuminated manuscript from the 13th century. The miniatures on the book covers are protected by transparent horn plates with silver mountings.

Decorative Leather Bindings

As early as in the Romanesque period, leather was embossed using decorative stamps without additional color or gold. One such example is a manuscript from the 12th century whose front and back covers are densely covered with blind-tooled ornaments (Msc.Bibl.30).

The technique of cutting leather (cuir ciselé) allowed to create individual designs of book bindings. Coats of arms, allegorical scenes, and other ornaments were cut into the moistened leather with a knife, and then the pictures were highlighted with punches. In Franconian book-making centres such as Bamberg and Nuremberg, notable pieces representative of this technique were produced in the 15th century; 17 copies are preserved in the Bamberg State Library (see Msc.Can.87, Msc.Bibl.148).

The Michaelsberg Benedictine abbey had its own bookbindery, which furnished manuscripts and prints with covers in Gothic style (e.g. Msc.Patr.34).

The original bindings of the mediaeval manuscripts of the chapter library were replaced between 1611 and 1614 by new bindings, which were crafted from white pigskin and have the gold-embossed crest of the Bamberg bishopric with an image of an enthroned Emperor Henry II in the middle of the upper cover. The back cover is decorated with the coat of arms of the cathedral dean Erasmus Neustetter and the cathedral capitular Hektor von Kotzau, who financed this restoration work.


Ferdinand Geldner: Bamberger und Nürnberger Lederschnittbände. Festgabe der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek für Karl Schottenloher. Munich, 1953 (catalogue).


Gilded Books

A rich collection of books decorated with gold-tooled spines and covers can be found in the Bibliotheca Bipontina, which came to Bamberg from the possession of the Duke of Wittelsbach Charles II Augustus of Pfalz-Zweibrücken (1746–1795). This collection also contains numerous examples of French art of bookbinding. The Bipontina room, a showroom in the State Library, still recreates the original display of a part of the Zweibrücken library.

Bindings decorated with painted portraits of Saxon electors (Bibl.q.76,, coats of arms for patricians (JH.Ma.q.3) and cardinals (JH.Bg.o .154) as well as silver covers (RB.Th.lit.d.33-m, Sel.365) are other impressive highlights of the Bamberg collection. Special skills on the part of the bookbinder as well as the reader were required for a book that could be opened from six different sides, a so-called vexation binding ( Many books are only decorated with artfully designed covers but also with richly decorated and gilded edges (Coll.leg.d.28, Ph.o.483, Th.dp.o.117-g, RB.Th.mor.o.6, Bibl.o.221, JH.Inc.typ.IV.316).

Parchment and Paper Envelopes

Since wooden book covers made transport more difficult, lighter materials were used already in the Middle Ages for books which should be easily transportable, such as those for students and preachers. They mostly carried flexible envelopes, the so-called limp vellum binding (Kopert). For this purpose, a parchment sheet was placed around the book block and the stitching threads were strung through the looped back, which was often reinforced with horn plates. A flap attached to a button with a cord protected the contents from becoming dirty (Msc.Phil.3, JH.Msc.Phil.2, Inc.typ.Ic.II.58, JH.Msc.Hist.98, Msc.Hist.160, Msc.Med.13).

Already in the 15th century, printers produced simple paper envelopes decorated with woodcuts. The State Library preserves the oldest known example of this type of cover, of which only about 20 have survived to date (Inc.typ.Ic.II.2).

Colorful paper envelopes were especially popular in the 18th century for smaller volumes. The most important centre of production was in Augsburg; however, such envelopes were created elsewhere in Franconia with a wealth of different decors. In the case of calico paper, the paint was applied by wooden or calico models (RB.Msc.31). Brocade papers were provided with delicate patterns in imitation gold or silver print (XII M 104).

The State Library holds a separate collection dedicated to Buntpapier wrappers (XII A–P) which comprises around 330 items. It is possible to search by the different types of paper via ProvenienzWiki. In addition, hand-decorated papers were used for flyleaves in high-quality leather bindings.