Bound

by

Tradition

CONVENTIONS OF BOOKBINDING IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY TENNESSEE

 

 IN EIGHTEENTH and early nineteenth-century America, books were often hard to come by in regions distant from cities and larger towns. In time, the railroad and the westward movement of the printing press would make books more plentiful in rural areas. But in the 1700s and early 1800s, it was difficult to acquire books in small villages and in the back country. In many homes-- especially on remote farms and in isolated areas--the only reading material available might include a Bible, a work of religious entertainment or spiritual instruction, an almanac, and a volume of household medicine recipes.

THIS SCARCITY of books sustained an array of traditional reading practices. For example, many readers tended to read the same books over and over again, for they could not finish one and pick up another book. Traditional reading practices also fostered a customary approach to making books, involving durable materials and sturdy methods of construction so books would not fall to pieces after repeated readings.

 

NUMEROUS BOOKS printed in Tennessee in the first half of the 1800s reflect these traditions. Their pages were hand-stitched with heavy hemp cord, pasted into thick board covers, and the board covers were often overbound with calf or pig skin. As many of the books in this exhibition testify, books bound by traditional methods remained intact after years of hard use and even neglect.

 

TRADITION ALSO dictated a rough correspondence between a book's contents and its binding. A work felt to have enduring practicality or value required durable binding. A work viewed as having only ephemeral appeal required little protection. Thus, the pamphlets on display were issued in paper wrappers, for pamphlets of the time often contained a printed version of a speech delivered and thus "used" on a particular and transitory public occasion.

 

BY THE MID 1800s the traditions enveloping book binding were shifting in response to broad change in American book production and consumption. The advent of regional presses, mechanized printing, and the railroad were bringing more books into the hands of more readers. And in the offing were decorative cloth bindings, dustjackets, paperbacks, machined paper, and other hallmarks of modern book production
A COLLECTION OF HYMNS FOR PUBLIC, SOCIAL, AND DOMESTIC WORSHIP, Nashville, 1881
AN ADDRESS, DELIVERED ON ST. JOHN'S DAY, Clarksville, 1859
PUBLIC ACTS OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, PASSED AT THE EXTRA SESSION OF THE THIRTY-THIRD GENERAL ASSEMBLY, Nashville, 1861
THE ORIGIN AND PROGRESS OF LANGUAGE, Nashville, 1857

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