Law Books in Fancy Dress

An Exhibit of Beautiful Bindings from the Harvard Law School Library's Historical & Special Collections

Sometimes one can indeed judge a book by its cover. The books in this exhibit featured a wide variety of attractive bindings from different countries, spanning several centuries.

Photograph of books bound in manuscript waste

Some of the bindings are original, dating back to the time the book was first published. Others were rebound more recently, giving a new lease on life to the pages within. And a few were rebound specifically to appear ancient, but are in fact more modern than they appear at first glance.

The books on view were bound in a wide variety of materials, including leather, vellum, printed paper, gilt paper, and even blue velvet. Resourceful binders used scraps of waste paper or vellum in their bindings, including material that modern readers would never consider to be waste, such as pages of sheet music and magnificent early manuscripts written on vellum. The covers and spines were decorated with gold leaf, embossing, and ink, in abstract, floral, and geometric patterns.

This exhibit was curated by KB Beck and Mary Person and was on view in the Caspersen Room, Harvard Law School Library, May 13 - August 5, 2011.