Title plate (book)

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Title plates on spine
v. l. No. Blind embossing on parchment binding (1726), title label with gold embossing (1863), interim title label (1840), back embossing (1895), back embossing (1731)
Book cover design between 1896 and 1925
Book cover design between 1922 and 1934

The title tag of a book is usually on his back . It is used for quick retrieval on the book shelf. The title plate has undergone a considerable change since the Middle Ages.

Early and classic forms

The earliest title inscriptions can be seen on medieval parchment or pigskin bindings. Some of the folios have handwritten signatures because their text has not yet been printed. A continuous title lettering was not common at this time. An important reason for this was that in the Middle Ages, books were seldom stored upright, but rather horizontally. The scope of medieval libraries was also relatively manageable, as each book had to be copied by hand in scriptorium by specially trained monks .

After the invention of printing with movable letters around 1450, the number of books increased for technological reasons. This development also changed the bookbinding trade . Books and their covers now had to be produced more efficiently. The bookbinders designed the spine of the book using cast and reworked bronze letters and ornamental stamps by pressing the heated tools onto the leather or parchment with high pressure . The technique of gilding was not yet widespread in bookbinderies at that time. That is why blind embossing in incunabula and bindings from the Reformation period are typical design features.

In the period between Renaissance and Romanticism , gold embossed titles on the leather back with rich ornamentation were the widespread design variant. The title field on the back is always between two frets (bulging shapes). In the 18th century, it became common practice to highlight the embossed title with color. Red, green and blue pigment fields with the respective gold embossing are typical.

Individual title plates stuck on with them became increasingly popular in the second half of the 18th century. This development went hand in hand with other simplifications in binding technology. For example, the bulging frets on the spine of the book have become flatter because the binding technique has been gradually replaced by a new stapling technology (sawn-in frets).

Modern designs

The spine title once again attracted particular attention in the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, especially due to the influences of Art Nouveau and the cover designs during the reform efforts in the 1920s. In doing so, the clearly delineated form of the back title often dissolved. The cover designers now claimed the entire spine of the book for their designs and dispensed with the classic field structure. Since the Art Nouveau era and the New Objectivity that followed, the entire book became the focus of an overall design. In the holistic-influenced book design, the title is an integrated detail. The development of the writing and ornament design of book covers of this epoch cannot be viewed in isolation. Expressive font designs can be found in parallel in poster art and are used vigorously in the rapidly developing advertising industry. The binding design influenced in this way remained dominant until the mid-1930s.

The technical methods for cliché production provided a particular boost . The embossing clichés no longer had to be made exclusively by hand, but could implement almost any design relatively inexpensively using mechanical and chemical processes. Gold embossing dominated the spine of the book for many centuries and only got competition from colored embossing foils in the 20th century. This expanded the design options.


By far the most common version of the title script was made with gold leaf. Silver leaf had not been able to establish itself due to the slowly occurring blackening. Until the 18th century, the substrate for the embossing was mainly the leather of the book cover. In the same century, the glued-on title plates made of particularly thin and separately colored types of leather or paper appeared more frequently. In order to conceal the edge of the glued-on material, the edge was often embossed with a line or other ornament. This was done using a fillet .


  • August Demmin : Studies on the material-forming arts and handicrafts. Episode 6: Paper and other writing materials. Heinrich Lützenkirchen, Wiesbaden 1890 (reprint: Zentralantiquariat der DDR, Leipzig 1985).
  • Hellmuth Helwig: Handbook of the binding customer. Maximilian Society, Hamburg 1953–1955.
  • Ilse Schunke : Introduction to binding determination. 2nd Edition. Verlag der Kunst , Dresden 1978.