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Decorative bindings in MRBC: Introduction

A Book by Its Cover

Whether soft or hard, most books we purchase from bookstores or encounter in the general circulation of modern libraries in the Western world have a cover. We use the cover to gather basic initial information about the book, such as the title and author, often accompanied by an image or decoration that attracts readers and tells us a little about the general subjects of the book. In this form of book cover is in the Western tradition, we have an old adage: “Do not judge a book by its cover,” meaning do not judge based on initial external appearance. However, our understanding of book covers and how they come to be with the books they contain is relatively young. We can gather an excellent perspective on the evolution of book covers by looking at the beautiful rare books housed in the Smith College Special Collections Mortimer Rare Book Collection.


This guide was researched, written, and photographed by Elvira Mancini, Class of 2024