A book can be a significant artefact in its own right, and a fine or unusual binding can be especially important. A material commonly used to line bindings, and occasionally to form ‘cheap’ covers by itself, was old manuscript, and the Museum has several 16th-century books bound in this way. Its first edition of Stöffler’s Elucidatio (1513), by contrast, is enclosed in covers of thick, bare wood. Vellum and leather bindings are often decorated with standard patterns, or sometimes with specific images relating to the owner or the contents.

One fine binding in the collection is of pigskin and wood, heavily decorated in relief. It was made in 1567 for the library of the Duke of Brunswick, whose coat of arms is on the back of the binding. On the front is a portrait of the Renaissance philosopher Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486–1535), the book being his De occulta philosophia (from the Stapleton collection).


agrippa de occulta philosophia

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, De occulta philosophia (Paris, [1567]), front cover (detail).