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Intangible cultural heritage

Traditions, knoweldge, craftsmanship techniques  
Photo: © UNESCO/James Muriuki

The craft of bookbinding
Traditional craftsmanship throughout Austria, inscribed 2020

The knowledge surrounding the art of bookbinding was developed and passed on by monks in medieval monasteries. The handwritten books and their book covers were often elaborately decorated with gems and gold work. With the invention of book printing in the 15th century, the handicraft of bookbinding established itself as an independent trade, and this craft continues to be practised up to the present day with traditional means.

The decoration of books was always subject to stylistic shifts. Over the centuries, various types of bindings and covers, embossing, stamping, decorative techniques, and gilding techniques were newly developed and reinterpreted. In the 18th century, the first bookbinding machines—such as the board shear, book-cutting machines, embossing presses, and folding and book-sewing machines—began finding their way into this handicraft. Even today, these machines are sometimes used in bookbinding operations that produce handmade products. For this work, traditional tools and aids are used as well, such as the bookbinder’s knife. The result includes leather intarsia of the highest artistic quality, hand-stitched headbands, punched gilt edging, and chased clasps. Currently, bookbinders are primarily concerned with the preservation and restoration of historic books, with producing new covers, and with manufacturing cases, book boxes, fine cardboard, and custom-made products by hand. The use of a wide variety of materials requires extensive knowledge of the individual processing methods and how they can be combined.

For generations, the knowledge surrounding these traditional handicraft techniques has been passed on within families and in the form of a dual vocational education. The community of bookbinders endeavours to convey the importance of the disappearing craft of bookbinding through various initiatives, such as open days, guided tours, workshops, and exhibitions in cooperation with Austrian museums.


Bundesinnung der Kunsthandwerke, Berufszweig Buchbinder
Wiedner Hauptstraße 63
1045 Wien



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