Cover material (book cover)

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Cover materials in bookbinding envelop the book cover and the spine as the form-giving elements of the binding . Depending on their nature, they fulfill, in addition to their binding role, aesthetic or protective functions with different emphasis.


The oldest and most traditional upholstery material is leather . Its shelf life is fundamentally dependent on its processing through different types of tanning , splitting , bleaching, dyeing and its storage. The domesticated animal species sheep, goats, calves, cattle and pigs, as well as deer, roe deer or other game come into question as leather suppliers for bindings. Binding leather has always been mainly imported from other countries. Goatskin in particular is unique in its diversity. The different varieties differ not only in terms of their origin, but also in the various manufacturing techniques and their grain . There is only no need to import cattle hides in Germany.


Goatskin is the type of leather most commonly used for book covers because of its durability, strength, flexibility and the multitude of types.

  • Oasis goatskin is made from the fur of the small Sudan goats and comes from Central Africa . It is particularly popular because of its wide range of colors and natural grain. Caravan goat leather, which comes from tent or grazing animals, is similar to oasis goat leather, but is practically no longer available today.
  • Niger goat leather comes from Nigeria and is mostly dyed red there using vegetable tanning agents . It is comparatively fatty, but very tough and durable.
  • Saffian comes from European, preferably German or Swiss goats. It is very fine-grained and therefore easy to process and gild. The name is borrowed from the former main hub, the Moroccan city of Safi.
  • East Indian Saffian or Bocksaffian, on the other hand, comes from the Indian steppe goat and is one of the most widely used leathers. It can be sprayed with opaque paint and is then easy to work on due to the smooth surface.
  • Moroccan goatskin is originally Moroccan goatskin, which is now mostly produced by South African goat farms. Some of the leathers are therefore also called cape goat leather or cape affian . Due to their strength, the skins first have to be folded out for bookbinding, but they are nevertheless very resistant and impress with their very unusual grain . Many people consider it the most beautiful bookbinder leather. The so -called morocco ecrasé is a special form. The scars are pressed down (ecrased) by being pressed flat and appear darker.
  • Scottish savannah goatskin is relatively new to German bookbinding. It is relatively large-grained and blunt, but is still accepted because of its large fur.


Sheep leather has a relatively soft grip due to its loose grain and can be very durable with good tanning. It is the cheapest of the types of leather used in bookbinding and is therefore often processed beyond recognition. As split leather , it is used in leather mosaics or for title plates, but it can also be marbled with acids or used as an imitation of another leather by embossing an artificial grain . French sheepskin is also called mouton .

  • Bastard leather comes from the Indian bastard sheep, which instead of wool has hair like a goat. It is therefore comparatively smooth, but is only suitable for smaller jobs such as albums or calendars. Bock leather is a bastard leather that is embossed to give the appearance of a grainy grain . It is mainly used in industrial bookbinding.
  • Sheepskin from German, Argentine or Australian animals is soft, but also stretches a lot and therefore tears easily. It is only suitable for cheap covers and is therefore hardly used at all in manual binding.
  • Contrary to the obvious assumption, bison leather is not buffalo leather, but a specially prepared variant of strong sheep leather.

Calf and cowhide

Leather skins before processing

Calf leather is a very smooth and fine leather that is traditionally used for bibliophile bindings. The fur of five to six week old calves is considered to be particularly qualitative. After lohgarer tanning it is usually light brown and is well suited for blind embossing . In the colored state, it brings out gilding excellently and has therefore been a popular cover material, especially since the Renaissance . The high phase of the calfskin strap, however, lies in England and France in the 17th and 18th centuries. In Germany, its everyday use as a binding material was common well into the 19th century.

Cowhide is a very strong and durable material and was therefore used, especially in the 15th and 16th centuries, for large and heavy books and utility covers. Due to its thickness, it was also well suited for leather cutting and leather sculpture in modern book design and was one of the most popular types of leather in this context.

But even today, cowhides are widely used in bookbinding, benefiting from their relatively low price. As a rule, they are processed split, with the grain side being preferred to the meat side in the binding design.


Pigskin is also one of the particularly tough and durable types of leather. As a rule, it is imported, since in Western Europe the pork skin is usually used in meat production. Pigskin is particularly easy to recognize because the bristles of the animals form pores in the dermis in groups of three. In bookbinding a distinction is made between two different processing states. Natural pigskin used to be treated with tannins from oak bark, but today it is also treated with other vegetable substances or synthetic tannins.

The white pigskin , which was widely used in the 16th century , is tanned with alum and table salt. This makes it very hard and requires greater effort and skill, especially when smashing the lid. With aging and use, white pigskin darkens and can take on all color nuances between yellow and black-brown. It is therefore often mistakenly assumed that it has been colored or treated with vegetable tanning.

Special forms

In addition to the types of leather mentioned, the so-called suede , velvet or suede are used less often . Contrary to the assumption derived from the name, they are not only obtained from wild animals. With the exception of pigs, any animal can serve as a supplier for the supple nubuck or suede. Real suede, however, comes from deer, chamois, gazelles or deer. It is rarely used as a binding material in bookbinding, but is often used as lining leather for boxes or cassettes.

The so-called anthropodermic bindings are a real exception . Legends about the tanning of human skin exist in all cultures, but bindings made from this material are extremely rare. Only a few copies are documented from the 19th century, some of them made by well-known bookbinders , but mostly made with the aim of creating shudders and horror or underpinning political goals.


Parchment production around 1568

Along with leather, parchment is one of the most valuable binding materials. In the 16th and 17th centuries in particular, it was often used to bind books and files. Its advantages are extraordinary strength and indestructibility, which explains its popularity as a material for utility bindings and coperts . Today it is usually only the restorer who comes into contact with parchment as a cover material.

  • Veal parchment is the best type for book cover. Both the skins of slaughtered animals, in bright white with a fine grain, and those of dead calves in which the coagulated blood leaves dark, conspicuous, finely branched veins on the naturally colored parchment come into question. Since these mostly fall off as scrap in leather production, there are relatively more parchments from dead animals than from slaughtered animals.
  • Goat parchment shows a similar veining as calf parchment, but not as intense and dark. The pore structure popular with leather is also evident here. If the skin comes from a piebald animal, the pattern can also be seen on the parchment. In the case of a beautiful drawing, the grain side is therefore less likely to be scraped off in order to preserve the stains.
  • Sheep parchment is comparable to the corresponding leather rather expressionless and is therefore only used for cheap bindings. It is also rather thin-skinned and therefore tends to tear.

Textile binding materials

Along with paper, textile upholstery fabrics are one of the most common materials in bookbinding today . They are available in many different qualities and colors, often finished , mostly laminated with paper or processed in another way for the requirements of modern bookbinding. Compared to leather or parchment, fabrics as upholstery fabrics are historically relatively new and closely linked to the development of the publisher's cover . Only expensive materials such as velvet or silk played a role before the 19th century.

  • Kaliko or bookbinder's calico was the first special binding fabric and first appeared in England in the 1820s and also in Germany from the 1840s. The mass production of books in large companies was supported by the introduction of calico, because it was easy to process and cheap to buy. It was only towards the end of the 19th century that other fabrics were added that lived up to its predominant role. Originally very sensitive to water, the cotton fabric marketed today under the name Kaliko has beenmade insensitivethrough a strong finish .
  • Matt fabric is also made of cotton and is only finished on the inside so that the fabric structure is visible on the outside. It is available with a slightly open structure as well as with a dense, smooth surface. As a rule, it is only available on the market with paper backing.
  • Fine fabrics , such as batiste , can consist of matt cotton as well as shiny viscose ( viscose ). The yarn used is particularly delicate, the thread density is very high, so that a thin but strong material is created.
  • Buckram, on the other hand, is a very strong, heavily finished fabric that can consist of cotton, linen or a combination of the two materials. It is extremely hard-wearing and is therefore particularly useful for extensive expenses.
  • Library fabric is a material specially developed for books with high utility value. Lexica, scientific literature and library bindings are protected from wear and tear and signs of use by its smooth, washable surface.
  • A certain type of particularly durable fabric made of cotton, half- linen or whole-linen is called a bookcloth. It is mostly dark green or black and is preferred for business books, but also for library volumes or folders.
  • Linen is hardly used in modern bookbinding any more. In contrast to cotton threads, linen threads are knotty and irregular in their thickness, so that the fabric is easily noticeable due to its rather coarse structure.
  • Viscose is still a very young binding material. Its open fabric structure requires paper lamination. Due to its brilliant colors and the slightly shiny surface, it is becoming more and more popular.
  • Moleskin is a very dense and soft cotton fabric. Whilethe protruding fibers are burnedon the surface by singeing , the underside is roughened to make it softer and more adhesive. The main area of ​​application of Moleskin is business books. Lasting is similar to moleskin, but does without roughening and is concealed in return.
  • PERCALINE is a Batist cotton ( percale ) allows with strong finish the very detailed surface finishes, for example by means of steam embossing. Depending on the formulation of the finish, very different surfaces from silk to synthetic leather look can be achieved. Many of the bindings offered in antiquarian bookshops under the name Kaliko are actually made of percale.


Today paper is the most frequently used reference material after the different types of fabric. It can either be used alone in the case of the all- paper tape or, in the case of the half tape , it can serve as a cover for the cover in addition to a higher quality material. In comparison to papers for printing, writing papers or drawing papers, overlay papers are processed much more heavily. They have to be tear and fold resistant, age resistant and colourfast, scratch and scuff resistant, dirt repellent, mold resistant and a lot more. In many cases, these papers are therefore enriched, impregnated and keratinized with other fibers . A stamping to imitate leather or fabric structures is not rare. Basically, one can hardly speak of paper anymore, but rather paper-based materials. Names such as elephant skin or antelope skin reflect the properties of these materials.

Historically, marbled paper and paste paper , and Japanese paper , played an important role in artistic book designs . Since the industrial age, there has been a large number of different coating papers with special decorative effects, such as Rizzi papers , moiré papers or Gustavus marble papers, which are generally referred to as colored papers . Some types of paper were a fad and only appeared in close temporal contexts. The usage practices of colored paper as book cover material have sometimes been used regionally or differently according to individual workshops.


Plastic- coated cover materials are usually known as synthetic leather . It is not only leather structures that can be imitated by embossing, but also fabrics or other natural materials. Such binding materials are made up of a carrier material, which can consist of fabric or synthetic fibers as well as fleece or paper, and the eponymous layer made of plastic . This can be applied by painting, brushing, pouring or rolling and consists of either nitrocellulose, PVC or PVDC.


  • Günter Krickler: The materials of the bookbinder. Schlueter, Hannover 1982, ISBN 3-87706-206-7 .
  • Severin Corsten (Ed.): Lexicon of the entire book system. (previously (2011): 7 volumes). 2nd completely revised edition. Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1987 – running, ISBN 3-7772-8527-7 , ISBN 978-3-7772-8527-6 .
  • Thorvald Henningsen: The manual for the bookbinder. 2nd edition. Hostettler, St. Gallen 1969.

Individual evidence

  1. See "Pigskin". In: Lexicon of the entire book industry. Vol. 7. Ed. By Severin Corsten. Stuttgart: Hiersemann 2007.