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Law Books in Fancy Dress

Harvard Law School Library Historical & Special Collections Exhibitions

Books with Gilt Spines—the 17th and 18th centuries saw an increase in gilt ornamentation on the spines of books.

An Exhibit of Beautiful Bindings from the Harvard Law School Library's Historical & Special Collections

Harvard Law School Library
Caspersen Room
May 13, 2011 – August 5, 2011
Monday – Friday, 9:00am – 5:00pm

Sometimes one can indeed judge a book by its cover.  The books in this exhibit feature a wide variety of attractive bindings from different countries, spanning several centuries.

Some of the bindings are original, dating back to the time the book was first published.  Others were rebound more recently, giving a new lease on life to the pages within.  And a few were rebound specifically to appear ancient, but are in fact more modern than they appear at first glance.

The books on view are bound in a wide variety of materials, including leather, vellum, printed paper, gilt paper, and even blue velvet.  Resourceful binders used scraps of waste paper or vellum in their bindings, including material that modern readers would never consider to be waste, such as pages of sheet music and magnificent early manuscripts written on vellum.  The covers and spines are decorated with gold leaf, embossing, and ink, in abstract, floral, and geometric patterns.

This exhibit was curated by Karen Beck and Mary Person, both of the Library’s Historical & Special Collections department.

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