The British Library holds one of the world's leading collections of fine and historic bindings. Numbering in their thousands, the bindings are included in discrete specialist collections and dispersed individually throughout the Library's holdings. At the start of this work, the Library focused upon hand crafted bindings, of which it has many examples made in many countries. A useful entry point is the online image database to be found at

Recently, The British Library has sought to add to the database more designs made in the UK in the 19th century. The rapid adoption of cloth as a covering material for books made possible mass reproduction of designs, blocked onto the covers. One of the best designers for the book trade was John Leighton. Many of his designs were executed on cloth. The database now contains 478 designs of his. The range is from full cover richly decorated designs such as Moral Emblems, or The Ingoldsby Legends, The Life of Man, to playful, humorous designs, such as Jingles and jokes for the little folks, or The rejected contributions to the Great Exhibition of all nations. There are more modest (but no less interesting) designs printed on paper, such as Our tom cat and his nine lives or The churchman's family magazine. The range and variety of his work is truly remarkable. Other designers, such as William Harry Rogers, John Sliegh, Henry Noel Humphreys are also included.

The Library intends also to focus upon and add designs in its collections relating to the art nouveau movement. Again, emphasis will be placed upon the inclusion of designs executed on cloth, as much as bespoke bindings on leather, or other materials, many of which are already included.

The database is simple to use, as author, title, place of publication, binder’s name – all are indexed. Free word searches will find any word that occurs in notes for the bindings. Extensive use has been made to describe the style/ type of binding, so an advanced search for words: “shell motif”, together with 19c, will yield results.

If a less structured approach is preferred, use the Keyword search page. With the radio button headed ‘Gallery’ clicked, results appear as thumbnail images which can then be enlarged.

Suggestions for additions to the database are welcome and will be incorporated as resources permit. Please contact

We hope you enjoy exploring the Library’s inspiring collection of Victorian bindings.

Last modified 20 September 2021