Printing History and Book Arts – Researching the Book as an Object | Newberry

Printing History and Book Arts – Researching the Book as an Object

Impressio Librorum. Case Wing Z 412 .85.

Philipp Galle. Impressio Librorum. c.1600. Case Wing Z 412 .85.

The best way to learn how to interpret the non-textual features of books is to spend a good number of years handling a variety of books. Since that is not an option in a one-semester course, the best alternative is: Ask questions of the curators and librarians! We handle a lot of books and our job is to answer questions about books. If we don’t know the answer we can point you in the right direction.

There are innumerable books written on various facets of book history: bookbindings, typography, illustration, papermaking, etc. The books listed here barely cover the tip of the book history iceberg, but may be considered basic entry points for the subject. While most of these books contain suggestions for further reading, please consult one of the librarians if you are interested in more specific sources.

When doing research on a book, don’t overlook basic biographical sources such as the Dictionary of Literary Biography (Ref PN 451 .D5); the Dictionary of National Biography (Ref DA28 .O95 2004); or American National Biography (Ref CT213 .A68 1999) – check for entries on printers/publishers as well as authors.

History of Newberry Library Collections

Our website provides brief descriptions of selected collections.

Newberry Library. Handbook of the Newberry Library. Chicago: The Newberry Library, 1938. Z 584 .61822.

Towner, Lawrence. An Uncommon Collection of Uncommon Collections: The Newberry Library. Chicago: The Library, 1985, c1970. Ref Z733 .C5255 1985.

Basic References

Glaister, Geoffrey Ashall. Glaister’s Glossary of the Book: Terms Used in Papermaking, Printing, Bookbinding and Publishing with Notes on Illuminated Manuscripts and Private Presses. 2d ed., Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. Ref Z118 .G55 1979.

Pearson, David. Provenance Research in Book History: A Handbook. London: British Library, 1994. Ref Z921.A1 P362 1994. While this handbook is specifically aimed at researchers who are trying to identify owners from inscriptions, bookplates, binding stamps or other marks found in particular books, it is also of relevance to anyone who is interested in book ownership generally.

Twyman, Michael. The British Library Guide to Printing: History and Techniques. London: British Library, 1998. Wing Z124 .T89 1998. This introduction focuses on printing methods and techniques and explains how book production has changed over the years.


Jaspert, W. Pincus, W. Turner Berry [and] A.F. Johnson. The Encyclopaedia of Type Faces. London, Blandford Press [1953]. SC Open Shelf (and others in the stacks). First published in 1953, with several editions since. A good source for understanding the styles of type and the history of type design.


Marks, P.J.M. The British Library Guide to Bookbinding: History and Techniques. London: The British Library, 1998. Wing Z 269 .M37 1998. A slender but highly useful introduction to the history of bookbinding with many illustrations. Includes a brief section on decorative bookbinding styles by century.


Bénézit, E. (Emmanuel), 1854-1920. Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs de Tous les Temps et de Tous les Pays. Paris: Grund, 1999. Ref N40 .B47 1999. If you have even the slightest grasp of French you should be able to make use of this. Otherwise, there are similar dictionaries in English.

Harthan, John. The History of the Illustrated Book: The Western Tradition. London: Thames and Hudson, 1981. Wing f Z1023 .H37. This book examines book illustration from the Middle Ages through the 20th c., and although illustrative techniques are mentioned, the emphasis is on the historical and cultural context in which illustrated books were produced.

Holman, Louis. The Graphic Processes: Intaglio, Relief, Planographic; A Series of Actual Prints Illustrative of the Text… . Boston: C.E. Goodspeed & Co., 1929. Case Wing oversize Z 41275 .415. This “book” is the opposite of the Harthan book above, in that it focuses on illustration processes. Actually it is not a book at all, but a collection of illustrations along with descriptions of the processes that created them.