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The bookbinder (copper engraving, 17th century); from: Abraham a Sancta Clara : Something for everyone . Wuerzburg, 1699
Manual thread stitching on so-called "raised frets" by a bookbinder

Bookbinder is a job title and the term for the associated training occupation . The bookbinder brings the book into its final form and creates the binding . He carries out the final process of book production after the editing, typesetting, layout and printing work has been completed, i.e. the production and connection of the outer shell surrounding the book block with all steps from arranging and joining the layers to the artistic design.

The bookbinder can also make changes to existing bindings, for the purpose of repairing a volume or historically, especially in the Baroque period, to standardize the look of a library.

Although book binding and the necessity of making it is as old as the code itself, bookbinding did not emerge as a trade until the late Middle Ages . It remained a purely handicraft activity until large-scale mechanical production was established in the 19th century with the emergence of publisher binding. Today, bookbinding is an apprenticeship that is divided into three disciplines. The area of ​​industrial production and thus the number of bookbinders who accompany the machine series production clearly dominates compared to those who continue to produce books entirely by hand.

History of the bookbinder in German-speaking countries

The monastery bookbinder

The art of bookbinding developed where books were written and used - in the clerical space of churches and monasteries . Because the bookbinding profession did not yet exist at that time, as the number of books to be bound was too small and consequently no livelihood could be earned, it was first the monks who also bound and illuminated the books they had written . Later, in monasteries, books were not only bound for personal use, but also commissioned work for outsiders. Towards the end of the 15th century, bookbinding was even practiced commercially in some monasteries. However, these were mostly smaller, less affluent houses; in richer monasteries, the handicraft had almost come to a standstill by this time.

The beginnings of bourgeois bookbinding

Analogous to this, the bourgeois bookbinder emerged where there was also a great need for books - in the centers of intellectual life, especially in university towns. Some sources speak of the first signs of this as early as the 12th century, others cite evidence from the 13th century. However, it was not until the end of the 15th century that full-time bookbinders could be found in almost all major university and commercial towns at that time.

The “student bookbinders” represented a special phenomenon in the seventies and eighties of the 15th century: In the course of the large number of new printed books, the need for bookbinders was so great that there were some among the student body who taught themselves the basic handiwork in order to earn extra income in this way. But not all who were enrolled and tied for the university also studied themselves. In many cases, they were fully trained, full-time bookbinders who only knew how to take advantage of the privileges of belonging to the university, such as tax exemption . They lived together with the other students in dormitories , where they carried out their work in the smallest of spaces.

“Auch-Buchbinder”, like the students, also existed outside the universities. Because bookbinding was still a free craft that was not subject to any proper rules. Anyone who mastered it, however he had acquired his knowledge, could work as a bookbinder. Nevertheless, it was still a seldom represented craft, so that the few bookbinders were in great demand. Since owners of valuable books were often unwilling to give them away to be bound, many bookbinders traveled around as traveling craftsmen.

The emerging guild system

The work in the bookbinding workshop (woodcut, 1568)
Coat of arms of the bookbinder

At the turn of the 15th to the 16th century, there was lively competition between the two branches of monastic and civil bookbinding, which still existed in parallel. Still no defined trade had developed, the boundaries between the various trades were still blurred throughout the first half of the 16th century. While playing card makers also hired themselves to bind books, bookbinders mostly also operated in bookshops , encouraged by the fact that they were often paid for in raw sheets by printers and were the only ones able to give customers a finished product.

The bookbinding made ever closer contacts with the entire book industry, which gained in importance through reformatory and humanist movements. The increased demand for books in large parts of the population encouraged the bourgeois craft, which slowly gained the upper hand over monastic bookbinders. The first cities issued requirements and reforms that gave the bourgeois craft advantages and pushed back the monastic. In Basel in particular , bourgeois bookbinders had a good standing at the beginning of the 16th century.

Guild coat of arms of the bookbinder

Here the bookbinders organized themselves for the first time in a guild . As early as 1480, they were affiliated with the saffron guild, a shopkeeper's guild to which printers and bookkeepers belonged. Two decades later, from 1502, the Strasbourgers served in the guild of stilts, Augsburg and Wittenberg did not follow until the 1530s. In the second half of the century, the number of guilds, guilds or guilds , as they were called depending on the regional location, rose continuously. Independent guilds emerged in cities where bookbinding was well developed and which had many masters , but most of them were grouped together with other trades. The full spread even in rural regions continued, but towards the end of the 17th century every bookbinder was proper. If there was no guild in one place, the local masters were obliged to join the next available one.

Life in the guild

The main goals of the guild organization were economic and social in nature. They went far beyond that of a professional community, formed communities with their own rules, customs and traditions . On the one hand, membership of the guild offered the opportunity to practice a profession and secured civil rights for every member , on the other hand, it also entailed many duties. The basis of living together was the principle of food: everyone should be able to create a livelihood through their work. The regulation of production in order to guarantee everyone equal access to material and orders was one of the guilds' most important tasks.

The bookbinder (from What do you want to become , around 1880)

The training to become a bookbinder within the guilds took place in the households of the masters. The apprentice lived and worked together with the master family until his journeyman's examination . On the one hand he was treated like a member of the family, but on the other hand he also had serving duties. Learning the craft happened through simple involvement. Watching, imitating and helping secured the technical skills and knowledge of materials and their handling. With the advancement to journeyman there was the compulsion to wander , which ostensibly should serve to broaden one's knowledge. However, since whoever married a master's widow or daughter was usually exempted from this, the literature assumes a measure to reduce competition. The number of masters in one place should not become too large in order not to reduce the profit of the long-established residents. In order to be able to settle down after passing the master craftsman examination, it was therefore necessary in most cases to wait until a position became vacant due to death.


Some bookbinders were given distinctions after special assignments: court bookbinders , council bookbinders or university bookbinders . Orders from ruling houses came from princes interested in bibliophiles , among others , but also for the production of representative diplomatic gifts such as greeting addresses, souvenir folders, diplomas, portfolios for awards or splendid bindings of musical manuscripts. All the great courts of absolutism in Europe employed court bookbinders. Court craftsmen were allowed to employ more than two journeymen. They did not belong to the court, but were allowed to advertise with the predicate. They were lent stamps or plates for the gilding of bindings, for example with the coats of arms of the ruling houses, as well as sample covers for other work. Hofbuchbinder and their families also sometimes carried out ancillary work. So had Jacob Krause as a librarian and book buyers for the Strong, Elector August work. Other well-known court bookbinders were Johannes Selenka and Lukas Weischner . The term Hofbuchbinder was used up until the time of industrial book production for publisher bindings , for example by the Hermann Scheibe bookbindery ( Hermann Scheibe, Vienna, k. And k. Hof-Buchbinder ).

From guilds to freedom of trade

Up to the end of the 18th century, the craft held on to the guild system as a bastion of exclusive work. The customers had to suffer as a result, because innovations that would have made the activities faster or cheaper were not allowed by the guilds. Although high-quality bound books were in demand, luxury items and cheaper work, the old methods and techniques were held for over three centuries.

It was only with the French Revolution that the idea of ​​free professional practice began to take hold. In Germany, too, the guilds had to bow to pressure from outside and, step by step, loosened their regulations in favor of greater freedom in production, sales and employment. In Prussia , there was even a direct transition to complete freedom of trade. The sudden competition often led to great poverty due to a bad order situation. For well-trained bookbinders, it was therefore natural to reorganize immediately. In the 19th century, the forerunners of today's trade unions and professional associations , the trade associations and craft guilds, emerged from the former guilds .

The bookbinder as a factory worker

However, the rapidly growing book market at the beginning of the 19th century and increasing industrialization also led to an opposite development. A large number of new books should be brought onto the market cheaply and quickly and with uniform binding. This was a demand that the manual bindery could quickly no longer meet. Initially, some workshops under the leadership of future-oriented bookbinders had already developed into large bookbinders based on manual labor, but from the middle of the century factory-like large-scale companies emerged with massive use of machines, the so-called steam bookbinders. The individual craft binding was replaced by the mass-produced publisher's binding . In the Fikentscher large bookbindery founded in Leipzig in 1868, over 2000 bookbinders worked at times around 1900, many of them women.

Large bookbinding around 1900

In addition to mechanization , the second decisive feature of the new working conditions was the breakdown of the manufacturing process into individual activities. Comprehensive knowledge relating to the entire activity was no longer required, but rather specialization and speed in execution. The bookbinders became highly specialized skilled workers, and simpler work was done by skilled workers, many of whom were women, whose wages were far below those of men.

The first publisher's bindings were still strongly based on the artisan models, machines made the work fundamentally easier, but many work steps still had to be carried out manually. In particular, the final work, such as the production of the cover , was as good as identical in the craft and large company. Such machines were often only developed after the turn of the 20th century. Nevertheless, the work was not comparable. While the master craftsman carried out all the work steps one after the other, the factories worked in batches. Several people worked together, everyone had his or her own specific task, and the books were passed through like an assembly line . The work went in piece .

Despite the large-scale competition, there were still craft businesses that produced bindings according to individual ideas. But the working conditions were bad for both sides. While the factory was basically only about rationalization and cheaper, smaller companies had to save where possible in order to keep up. Towards the end of the 19th century, the everyday life of a bookbinder meant a lot of work, little income and poor conditions. While in France and England, the bibliophilia continued to promote craftsmanship, the bookbinder had become a service provider in German-speaking countries, and artistic aspects were largely lost in his work. In fact, he was often dependent on taking on sideline jobs to make a living.

The change in training

Sculpture of a bookbinder

Comprehensive training that covered all bookbinding activities had become superfluous in the industrial sector. The apprenticeship training was specialized and one-sided. It was less about imparting basic knowledge than about creating cheap labor, and there were often no apprentices at all. The training to become a bookbinder continued for the most part in the craft businesses.

After the guilds were dissolved, the trade and craft associations developed into those responsible for training. Because there was less and less room for adequate training of prospective bookbinders in the craft sector, too, in the second half of the 19th century thought was given to expanding teaching at vocational schools. Initially a voluntary addition, vocational school lessons soon became compulsory. Numerous private and state arts and crafts schools included bookbinding classes in their offerings. At the turn of the century, women were also given the opportunity to become bookbinders for the first time and no longer just do auxiliary work.

The bookbinder in the 20th century

Bookbinding tools as facade decoration; Designed in 1896

The beginning of the 20th century did not bring any improvement in living and working conditions for artisanal bookbinders. Lower assets after the First World War, but also the trend towards mass-produced entertainment literature encouraged the cheaper publisher's covers and reduced the profits of those who produced higher-quality covers. Books became more and more fast-paced, and artisanal bindings hardly worthwhile. The German publishers brought their goods for the most part linked to the market, even to periodically appearing magazines that have cover boards often included for subsequent binding.

Also orders by authorities were from the 1930s with the advent of so-called run utilities were directly attributable to the public authorities, severely limited. Prison establishments in particular became a major competitor in this field due to the low labor costs. Only universities and other colleges, as well as libraries, museums and archives, continued to secure an income for local bookbinders through their great needs.

A bookbinding business that can actually be described as industrial did not develop until after the Second World War. Up until this point in time, work in the factories was still heavily handcrafted. The efforts that have now been made in the further development of the techniques, however, resulted in constructions that enabled a connection and thus the beginning of a production chain. In the following three decades the leap from individual machines to partially fully automated production systems was made. Today the “ book street ” is common in industrial production. The bookbinder has developed into a highly specialized machine operator.

The bookbinder apprenticeship today

Buchbinder then and now: German postage stamp from 1987

The bookbinder profession is currently trained in three disciplines in Germany: book production (series), print finishing (series) as well as individual and special production.

In addition to a possible master craftsman training, a further training measure in the area of ​​restoration work can follow. The training is scheduled for three years of apprenticeship and is accompanied by theoretical vocational school lessons, some of which take place weekly, but some also take place in cross-border block lessons. A secondary school leaving certificate is sufficient as preliminary education, but most applicants have a secondary school leaving certificate.

Bookbinders who want to further qualify themselves professionally in design can train themselves to become designers in the craft .

Bookbinder - book production (series)

The trainee in the field of book series production usually works at large printing companies with attached bookbinding or in print finishing companies that specialize in books and brochures . Its task is to operate, equip, monitor and maintain the individual machines in the production sequence. In large companies, the trainees usually specialize in specific fields of work, such as book block or book cover makers . In addition, the packaging of the finished products is also part of the work profile.

Bookbinder - Print finishing (series)

The job and the tasks of the trainee in print finishing do not differ significantly from those in book series production. However, he does not produce books, but magazines, calendars and advertising materials such as brochures and leaflets, so-called commercial prints . The packaging and shipping of the end products is another essential part of the training. Here, too, specialization is usually sought, for example in working on folding machines , saddle stitchers , gathering machines or adhesive binding machines . The workplace is often in a newspaper printer . Since large-scale machine production nowadays often works around the clock, night shifts are part of the job.

Bookbinders - individual and special production

Demonstration of hand gilding on the book spine
Assortment bookbinding

Trainees in the field of individual and special production work in smaller workshops. In addition to unique items and small editions , they also bind magazines or loose-leaf collections to form anthologies. The production of folders, cassettes, albums, the cutting of passe-partouts or the mounting of posters and pictures are also part of their tasks. Sometimes, especially in library workshops, repair work that is not very extensive is done. The work in this training course is mostly manual work, smaller machines are only used for some work steps. One-off and custom-made manufacturers are the only ones in today's bookbinding profession to continue the tradition of hand-decorated covers. In individual cases, the tradition of the “wandering journeyman” is even maintained, but this is difficult to manage due to the poor infrastructure of the companies. The restoration of historical book bindings has grown in importance in recent years . While it used to be common practice even in renowned libraries to simply renew damaged bindings of old books, today emphasis is placed on restoring the originals. Therefore, a manual training as a bookbinder often serves as the basis for further qualification as a restorer .

Current numbers

Over the past few years the number of active bookbinders has declined significantly. From 1999 to 2005, for example, the total fell by 25 percent, from around 32,000 to 24,000 employees. The number of trainees, on the other hand, fluctuates only slightly from year to year. The number of applicants is more or less the same as that of the training positions. In proportion, the number of workers in machine production far exceeds that in manual businesses. Nevertheless, there are currently around 1,200 craft businesses in Germany.

Reorganization of the training occupation

In 2009, considerations were made to reorganize the training occupation. On the one hand, the attractiveness of the training occupation should be increased through a modern job title. On the other hand, in particular industrial companies that trained in book production (series) and print finishing (series) indicated that they needed an independent training occupation. In 2010, the bookbinder's training content was therefore updated. The job description will remain, but will only fall under the jurisdiction of the craft regulations. For industrial companies there will be a new apprenticeship, the media technologist print processing. This new profession came into effect on August 1, 2011.

Situation in Austria

In contrast to Germany, the Austrian apprenticeship bookbinder does not provide for any formal, explicit specialization in the training ordinance. The three-year training also takes place in the dual training system at the relevant vocational schools and at commercial and industrial training companies. According to the law, the completion of nine years of compulsory schooling is sufficient as a school requirement.

The training content is very similar to that in Germany. Austrian apprentices learn the techniques and processes in series or individual production and in restoration. The respective focus of work of the training company (small business, printer, newspaper printer) then leads to a specialization of the apprentice via daily professional practice. The training ends with the final apprenticeship examination . This is the prerequisite for further training as a master craftsman and for further training in the field of process engineering and restoration. Access to higher qualifications at universities and technical colleges is obtained by taking the vocational school leaving certificate (Berufsreifeprüfung), which consists of the final apprenticeship examination and four other exams.

Situation in Switzerland

Training to become a bookbinder is also regulated in Switzerland. Since the introduction of the new Education Ordinance in 2006, the occupational field (s) has been called print media processor. There are three subjects with a four-year apprenticeship (bookbinding, binding technology, shipping technology) and one subject with a three-year training (printing equipment). From 2012, a two-year training course to become a print media practitioner will also be offered. The two-year training is intended to replace the previous apprenticeship in many areas. The training is concluded with the qualification procedure (formerly the final apprenticeship examination).

In addition to private advanced training schools such as the “Centro del bel libro ascona”, print media processors can take higher technical examinations ( professional examinations : business specialist, master craftsman), study at a technical school (TGZ Zurich, TSM Bern) or study engineering at comem .


The prizes of the Book Art Foundation (including the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels ) are awarded annually at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October for book products with ambitious craftsmanship and art in ten different categories of utility books. The bookbinding processing is an essential quality feature of the jurors . The (undoped, but renowned) prizes for “The Most Beautiful German Books” have been awarded since 1966 and exhibited at the following book fair.


  • H. Bansa: bookbinder . In: Severin Corsten (Ed.): Lexicon of the entire book system . tape 1 , A book. Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-7772-8527-7 .
  • Alfred Furler: The bookbinder . A job through the ages. AT Verlag, Aarau 1989, ISBN 3-85502-372-7 .
  • Hellmuth Helwig: The German bookbinding trade . tape 1 . Anton Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1962.
  • Hellmuth Helwig: The German bookbinding trade . tape 2 . Anton Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1965.
  • Dag-Ernst Petersen (Ed.): Bound in the steam bookbindery . Bookbinding through the 19th century. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1994, ISBN 3-447-03507-2 (in particular:
    ** 1 .: Gerhard Schildt: From craftsmen to industrial workers . P. 131–135
    ** 2 .: Ernst-Peter Biesalski: The development of industrial bookbinding in the 19th century . pp. 61-99).

Web links

Wiktionary: Buchbinder  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Bookbinders  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: The Bookbinder  - Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Bansa: bookbinder . In: Corsten (Hrsg.): Lexicon of the entire book system . Vol. 1, p. 575.
  2. All sections of the historical part up to this point follow the description in Helwig: Das deutsche Buchbinder-Handwerk . 1962.
  3. Ute Maria Etzold: The award as court bookbinder . In: The bookbinders and their craft in the Duchy of Braunschweig: from the founding of the guild under Duke August to the First World War; 1651 to 1914 . Sources and research on the history of Braunschweig . Volume 43, Appelhans, Braunschweig 2007, pp. 248-257, ISBN 978-3-937664-64-4
  4. Schildt: From craftsman to industrial worker . In: Petersen (Hrsg.): Bound in the steam bookbindery . 1994.
  5. ^ Biesalski: The development of industrial bookbinding in the 19th century. 1994
  6. ↑ Division of labor and machines are changing the bookbinder's world of work. In: Furler: The bookbinder . 1989. pp. 88-103.
  7. The sections "The change in training" and "The bookbinder in the 20th century" are based on the description in Helwig: The German bookbinding trade. 1965.
  8. From mechanical to industrial production. In: Furler: The bookbinder . 1989. pp. 88-103.
  12. Professions as reflected in the statistics 1999 - 2005 ( Memento from May 26, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  13. Vocational training statistics from the Federal Statistical Office
  14. Information from the bvdm on the reorganization of the bookbinder ( Memento from May 11, 2014 in the Internet Archive ). Retrieved January 6, 2011
  15. Information on new occupations 2011 ( memento from April 25, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) on the BiBB website . Retrieved January 6, 2011.
  16. ( page no longer available , search in web archives: current training regulation ) (PDF; 37 kB) of the Austrian Ministry of Economic Affairs@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /
  17. detailed training and further education information from the Institute for Economic Research: BerufsInformationsComputer (BIC)
  18. Education plan for the ordinance on basic vocational training for print media processors EFZ / print media processors EFZ
  19. Centro del bel libro ascona
  20. TGZ Zurich
  21. TSM ( Memento of August 30, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Bern
  22. comem
  23. Swiss Association for Visual Communication
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on April 7, 2007 .