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Bookbinding in the Colonies

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Bookbinding in the Colonies and Early Maryland

Bookbinding in the colonies began shortly after the arrival of the printing press at Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1638. Low demand, lack of trained bookbinders, and the scarcity and expense of imported specialized tools and materials slowed the growth of this industry throughout the colonies. It was hard for a bookbinder to start a business when ready-made books imported from England were easily available from local shopkeepers.

Bookbinding in Maryland probably began in 1686 when William Nuthead imported a printing press to the first capital of Maryland, St. Mary's City. It was not until the 1740s, however, that evidence of a growing bookbinding industry in Maryland began taking shape.

Amateur Binding
Binding: SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Willman Spawn Collection), MSA SC 5797-1-18.
Original contents: QUEEN ANNE'S COUNTY COURT (Judgment Record), 1749, MSA C1416-13.

Local bookbinders occasionally created books to make up for a lack of imported ones. This judgment record book was created on the Eastern Shore by an amateur bookbinder. The crooked lines of the cover decorations, the crudely-cut single stamp used to create the decoration on the volume, and the poorly-finished spine all suggest the work of an untrained local artisan. The clerk probably filled up his volume earlier than expected and could not get another volume from England in time. It is unclear whether the book was made by the clerk, or if he hired someone else to do it.

Next: Bookbinders in Annapolis.

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