Visit the Special Collections exhibit: Binding and Beyond: Modern Book Design and Decorative Elements

Book with various binding types standing lined up on the table

View Binding and Beyond: Modern Book Design and Decorative Elements, on display at the entrance to Special Collections, on the 7th floor, W.A.C. Bennett Library

Open book displaying various book elements like headpiece, initials, catchwords and signature

About the exhibit

This exhibit features a selection of books that chart developments in book design and decorative elements in book making from the 17th to the 19th century.

Historically, the format and size of the printed book was determined by the layout of the printed text. The actual size of a book depended on the size of the sheet of paper that could accommodate the text, after which it was folded and bound. The exhibit explores different book sizes (like the Folio and Quarto) found in Special Collections and Rare Books holdings. The exhibit also displays the use of catchwords and signatures in books which helped bookbinders put gatherings of folded pages in correct order, later replaced by pagination.


books with various bindings lined up in the row on the table

Binding and Beyond: Modern Book Design and Decorative Elements offers a glimpse into elaborate decorations of title pages, such as the use of different inks, vignettes, and frontispieces, as well as in-text printed illustrations and hand-painted illustrations on inserted plates.

Some of the selected books from the early-modern period present printed decorations including initials, head- and tail-pieces—a trend that was inherited from manuscript production prior to the printing age. This trend slowly disappeared as books became mass produced with simpler and less costly design allowing for a common ownership of books.

The exhibit also features book design evolution that is evident in the choice of binding material from animal skins to cloth and paper on boards.


What's on display

The exhibit includes:

  • Book bindings: goatskin (morocco), various types of calf binding, pig skin, velum, marbled, cloth on board and cosway style
  • Page edges styles: trimmed, uncut, marbles, gilded, speckled, painted
  • Examples of page gatherings and folio sizes: Folio, Quarto, Octavo, Duodecimo
  • Elaborate decorative title page designs featuring use of colour inks, inclusion of printer devices, vignettes and illustrations, and inclusion of half-title pages
  • Book illustrations types: engraved or hand painted, in text illustrations, plates, frontispieces, and maps
  • Other text decorations and binding elements: chapter initials, head and tail pieces, catchwords and signatures
Open books displaying in text illustration and plates with handpainted illustration
Book illustrations


Stack of books demonstrating various sizes of the book design
Book sizes


Stack of books demonstrating decorative designs of page edges
Page edges design


Further reading

A new introduction to bibliography by Philip Gaskell (1972)

Dictionary of publishing and printing (2006)

Victorian book design and colour printing by Ruari McLean (1963)

Glossary of book binding terms in Publishers' Binding Online, 1915-1930: Art of Books.

July 1 to August 31
9 am to 4:30 pm M-F
7th floor, W.A.C. Bennett Library (SFU Burnaby)

Contact for further information

For further information please contact Special Collections and Rare Books at or Ewa Delanowski at or visit Special Collections.