Jeweled Bookbinding

A treasure binding, or jewelled bookbinding / jeweled bookbinding is a luxurious book cover using metalwork in gold or silver, jewels and ivory, perhaps in addition to more usual bookbinding material for book-covers such as leather, velvet, or other cloth. The actual bookbinding technique is the same as for other medieval books, with the folios, normally of vellum, stitched together and bound to wooden cover boards. The metal framework of the treasure binding is then fixed, normally by tacks, onto these boards. Treasure bindings appear to have existed from at least Late Antiquity, though there are no surviving examples from so early, and Early Medieval examples are very rare. They were less used by the end of the Middle Ages, but a few continued to be produced in the West even up to the present day, and many more in areas where Eastern Orthodoxy predominated. The bindings were mainly used on grand illuminated manuscripts, especially Gospel books designed for the altar and use in church services, rather than study in the library.

The vast majority of these bookbindings were later destroyed as their valuable gold and jewels were removed by looters, or the owners when in need of cash. Others survive without their jewels, and many are either no longer attached to a book, or have been moved to a different book. Some survive in major libraries - for example the Morgan Library in New York, the John Rylands Library in Manchester, the British Library in London and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. As the carved ivory reliefs often used could not usually be recycled, these survive in much larger numbers, giving a better idea of the numbers of treasure bindings that once existed. Other examples are recorded in documentary sources but though the books survive the covers do not. The Book of Kells lost its binding after a robbery, and the fate of the missing cover of the Book of Lindisfarne is not recorded.

In the Eastern Orthodox churches treasure bindings have continued to be produced, mainly for liturgical Gospel books, up to the present day, and exist in many different artistic styles. Other styles of binding using gems, and typically pearls, have a covering of velvet or other textile, to which the gems are sewn or otherwise fixed. These were more likely to be for the private books of a grand person, especially the prayer books and books of hours of female royalty, and may also include embroidery.

Read more about Jeweled Bookbinding:  Technique and Production, History

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