Did you know that book covers as we know them didn’t exist before the 19th century?
As far back as the Middle Ages (1100 – 1453), books were largely religious artifacts. Paper was precious, and as with most of history, spirituality influenced so many aspects of culture. In medieval Europe, only about 10% of men and 1% of women were literate. There were no need for books in the average home, so most of these remained relics of the Church.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into a whole ramble about literacy and the history of books in general – that would be a really long post. I bring this up because while the Church was maintaining books, they had stunning illuminated manuscripts and treasure binding.
This image to the left is the Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram. This book dates back to the 9th century. This particular book is rare, having survived over 1000 years. For book worms looking to maintain their books forever, might I suggest inlaying the covers with precious metals and gemstones? I mean, there’s bedazzling, and there’s THIS.
Inside this book, we find the Gospels of the Christian Bible, handwritten by monks just as the book itself is hand-bound and the cover hand-crafted. There’s a beauty to old books like this that I don’t believe we will ever see again.
Charlemagne believed there was a righteous power in the sapphire, so most of the treasure bound books from this era feature sapphires. This Codex also has emerald, diamonds, and pearls. Depending on the book, there are examples of multiple precious gems, as well as wood carvings and a variety of precious metals, although gold and silver are the most common.
Looking at these books, even though they’re technically religious artifacts, it’s amazing to see just how much the written word was valued. Those who could afford to purchase treasure binding – whether it was held in a cathedral or palace – could have easily put the money into horses, land, jewelry, or other things.
While I don’t think something like treasure binding will ever come back (I mean, it’s not like you can take the book out and read it at the cafe), this is a beautiful art form. In many ways, these manuscripts put our sharp typography and computer-drawn art to shame.
This week’s Book Blogger Hop asked:
Would you or do you choose a book solely on the cover?
Short answer: I’ve picked up a few books based on the cover alone – half the time, these are absolute misses! I like to think I’ve gotten better and actually read the summary now? That said, I have been known to order a UK version over the US version from time to time. Why are the UK covers so much prettier….
Have you been known to buy a book for its cover? Pretty covers are sorely tempting… although I don’t think I’d be tempted to buy a book with treasure binding – too heavy! Not to mention expensive.