Intern Insights: Book Clasps–Have You Hugged A Rare Book Today?

Guest post by Brenda Thompson

When Brooke and I first began processing the University of Nashville collection, this 1747 book (currently uncataloged) was one of the first to capture my attention — for many reasons, including the decorative clasps:

The use of clasps on books dates to a time much earlier than the 18th century, and was particularly prevalent in medieval times. In those days, pages were made of parchment. Parchment is an organic material (animal skin) that is especially sensitive to its environment, and does not do well with moisture; often buckling when handled at room temperature. Thus, bookbinders used clasps as a preservation measure, to create enough pressure to keep the book tightly closed when not in use.

As one writer puts it — likening the parts of a book to parts of the human body — book clasps are like “hugging arms that embrace the leaves, safeguarding them from the harsh reality” of actually using the book.  Indeed, one 18th century bookbinder took that analogy quite literally when he designed this book clasp (Daniel Crouch Rare Books).


From the Rogge Library in Strängnäs, Sweden, this is an example of dos-à-dos binding, a technique used to bind two or more books together, back-to-back — in this case, six books, so of course, six clasps.

Because there are six clasps, the viewer can open each of the six books separately.  To watch it open each of the six ways, check out this blog post.  And click here to view the entire gallery of photos.


And don’t forget to hug your favorite book today – even if it’s not from the 18th century.

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