Chain book

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Chain book, 15th century

A chain book (Latin: liber catenatus , chained book) is a book from the Middle Ages or early modern times that shows the traces of library practice to protect the books, especially the cimilies , by mostly iron chaining.

Old practice

Reader in a library with chained books. Book illustration , 15th century; Musee Condé , Chantilly

In the medieval and early modern libraries, and consistently in those of the monasteries, the books were laid out on or under the lectern and there were attached to rods with chains to keep them tidy and to protect them from unauthorized removal. The chains also prevented the heavy volumes from being damaged by falling. They could be unlocked so that a controlled removal of the books was possible.

For this purpose, a metal stop, usually made of iron, was attached to the upper back cover of a book, to which the chain could be attached. Chain books are seldom preserved because since the 16th century, with the development of libraries, this form of securing became increasingly superfluous and the devices turned out to be bulky and were removed when placing shelves in modern public or private book collections. It is not uncommon for the bindings of the chains or the holes necessary for them to be preserved in the bindings of earlier prints . The Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena , founded in 1452 , the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence and the Cathedral Library in Hereford in England, where the entire book collection was chained in 1611 , are among the few places where the old stock of chain books has been preserved in its original state .

New practice

Reconstructed desk from the Liberei in Braunschweig .

The high ideal and material value that was once attributed to the manuscripts of the Middle Ages and the prints of the early modern period was completely lost for the book as such , especially in the course of the mass printing period from the 19th century ; the expense of protecting a single book that is printed today with chains, e.g. B. in a library, consistently exceeds its value by far.

Exceptions can also be found in the present. Thus, the procedure of securing books with chains is occasionally used in public places that offer books for reference or examination; For example, museums often make their bound and expensive catalogs for current exhibitions available to the public in chained form. Even during the preview of an auction , copies of the auction catalog are often made available in this way.

In libraries, inventories or registers for multi-volume works are sometimes attached with chains or wire ropes so that they are always at hand and cannot be changed by users (mistakenly or on purpose). Guest and visitor books that are displayed in publicly accessible places and in which visitors can make entries are sometimes attached in this way.

A modern variant, related to the chain book, were rotatable mountings in which the book hung upside down in a holder. It could be rotated in it so that the cut was facing up and it could be opened. This variant was particularly common in telephone booths for telephone books , but disappeared there due to increasing vandalism .


Web links

Commons : chain book  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Chain book  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Hereford Cathedral: Chained Library (accessed March 3, 2020)