BLIND-TOOLED BOOKBINDINGS FROM THE
BIBLIOTHEQUE SAINTE-GENEVIEVE (12th -18th CENTURIES)
This database is devoted to the description and the reproduction of blind-tooled bookbindings in the collections of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève.
The technique of blind tooling or blind stamping consists of using a heated tool (essentially an ornament, roll or panel stamp) on the skin of a book's cover, so that it leaves a hollow, often darkened, impression. This is what distinguishes it from gilding or gold tooling, where a metal leaf is inserted between the tool and the leather; this technique appeared at the end of the 15th century. The first blind-tooled bindings known in western Europe date from the Carolingian period, but the apogee of this technique was between the 15th and 16th centuries. The small tools widely used until then were gradually replaced by rolls and panel stamps during the transition period between the two centuries.
Bindings with gilded elements have been left out of the corpus except when gilding is part of an essentially blind-tooled ornamentation. All of the bindings using this technique, whatever their origin and date, have been included. This database thus provides access to approximately 400 bindings, the oldest being 12th century Roman creations (1), and the most recent, mid-18th century German. Most are from the 15th to the second third of the 16th century. All were produced in western Europe; more than 60% are of French origin, 30% of German origin; the others are Flemish, Italian, English and Spanish.
Each binding has a descriptive record linked to one or several indexed pictures, and digitized rubbings (see Search instructions and Records presentation). Rubbing, the traditional technique of making an impression, consists of lightly rubbing a soft lead pencil or chalk across a thin leaf of paper (onion skin or tracing paper) placed on the covers, and according to the bookbinding, on the spine. In some cases the rubbing may produce a hazy image of the binding, either because of the deteriorated state of conservation or because of a particularly low relief. In such instances a photograph of the binding replaces the rubbing.
Searches may use terms related to the works (author, title, address, printer, publisher, date of the copy or of the printing), or to the bindings (iconography, geographic origin, material and technique). The corpus may also be examined exhaustively from the shelf mark index like a picture gallery of bookbindings.
As far as possible, the descriptions of the bindings and their ornamentation are completed by the identification of their origin (country, region and town), and when possible, the bookbinder. For example, one can search the Flemish decoration executed by Jacobus Bokebynder, Caxton's binder, who used the famous little triangular "dragon" ornament (2); as well as the first Norman bindings with the Annunciation panel (3); a Parisian binding integrating the panel stamp of the Passion of Christ signed Alexandre Aliate, active between 1497 and 1509 (4); and the decoration of the "Compass binder" on Aldine editions in Lyons around 1550 (5).
This database is a work in progress. The possibility of updating the data, along with the necessity of making available important documentation compiled since 1995, was pivotal to the decision by the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève to publish this information online.