A Brief Set of Dating Principles Drawn from Graham Pollard's "Changes in the Style of Bookbinding, 1550-1830"
The Library, Fifth Series, XI:2 (June 1956) 71-94.

[N.B.: Pollard's careful conclusions, though drawn from decades of old-book handling, are always conditional.  To properly use this guide, one has to read Pollard!  But as a quick and suggestive reference, it may suggest where in Pollard one should look.]

0)  General principles to keep in mind: until about 1830, books were bound separatelly from the printing process and perhaps even in a different country from the printer's country; books bound after 1830 most often were sold in publishers' bindings, but might be rebound by collectors seeking a uniform library style; books bound in one country might enter libraries in another, where organization, and consequently shelf-marking and exterior location would conform to the library not to the country of printing; some clues give us a "terminus ante quem" or date before which something must have happened and others give us a "terminus a quo" or date after which something must have happened.

1)  If there is a title on the binding, where is it and how is it oriented?  Modern library storage presupposed vertical (side-by-side) storage with the spine facing out, so the titles tend to run horizontally on the spine if they are short, and longitudinally down the spine if they are long.  Flat storage, which is better for books, was more common when libraries were smaller: early C16 (1500-1601) perhaps 1-200 books was "a large library"; end of C16 (1601-1650s) perhaps 1000+ books was "large."  Books stored flat first were fore-edge-out, so titles were lettered on paper fore-edge; later flat storage was spine-out, so titles were lettered horizontally on the spine.  No matter where the book was printed, books stored in German, Dutch, English and Spanish libraries were the most often organized with the title on fore-edge out.  In the C18, English aristocratic book collectors tended to move from "great house" estates in the country, where books could be stored flat in large rooms, to "flats" in London where books were stored flat in a "case" or "chest," or vertically in shelves, at which time some bindings were re-titled or even rebound (72-74).

2)  Old book collecting became increasingly common in the late 1600s, with booksellers holding auctions of estate libraries and printing advertisements for choice items.  Wealthy collectors like Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), administrator of the Royal Navy and Member of Parliament, was among those to have all his rare books rebound in similar bindings.  Gilding and lettering of binding decorations and titles becomes common in C18-19.  Bindings carrying an owner's inscribed date that is close to the print date are more likely to be original bindings than those whose first inscribed date is significantly (decades) later than the print date  (74).

3)  Book collectors' appetites for early printed books tended to increase demand for specific kinds in fads that became known as "bibliomania" (Dibden, 1809), beginning with "incunabula" (1455-1501, especially Caxtons for the English) and extending to famous editions and printers, such as the several Elsevier family presses of the Netherlands (1583-1712) and the Aldine Press of Venice (1494-1597).  In the late 18th and early 19th century, as collectors bid up auction prices for copies of scarce editions, booksellers increasingly sought-out and disbound "Sammelband" copies in which valuable books were bound-together, rebinding them for sale as separate copies and destroying the older or even original binding  (76).

4)  "Publishers bindings," sold directly to consumers with the book already enclosed, first appeared in the mass market in about 1830.  Before that, school books and children's books also might have been sold "vellum bound" (78).  Big folios increasingly were reformatted for sale as multi-volume octavos (1692-1709).  Volume numbers stamped in gold on the spine are common in C18 multi-volume editions. (77)

5)  Medieval book bindings, if original, tend to be made of the animals most numerously available in the marketplace: sheep and calf (England); calf (France and Italy); goat (Spain and the Middle East), pig (Germany) (79).  "Morocco" leather, brightly dye-colored and shiny were first imported from Turkey through Venice (79).  Marbled paper, invented by Muslim binders first enters Europe in the early 1600s but is not commonly used until the C18 (79).  "Sprinkled calf" acquired its spotted appearance from acidic liquid sprinkling and was common in English bindings either plain or embellished with a double rectangle stamped design in which either the center or surrounding rectangle was sprinkled (80).  Booksellers sometimes call this "tree calf."  "Russia leather" is produced by oiling calf, but it tended toward "wearing greasy" and sticking ot other russia-bound books (81).  For this reason Russia-bound books might be scored or diced with a tool to break up the surface.

6)  Gilt tooling begins around 1535 in Venice (83-4).  Titles on the second panel from the top of the spine begins to appear in France in the 1560s (84).  Lettering on a label pasted on the cover dates to around 1680 (84).  

7)  "Raised bands" on the spine, made by binding cords passing horizontally over the vertical quires of leaves, usually indicate an old binding (i.e., before 1700) as opposed to "French sewing" which produced a flat-back spine by sawing through the leaf quires to enable the cords to pass over them without creating the bumps.

8)  In elaborate bindings in C18, binders begin signing the "turn-ins" of the covers on the edges inside the front and back boards as early as the 1720s switching to printed "binder's tickets" that often give the name and address of the binder (87-90).  GP believes the first French binder to use a printed ticket was the famous Antoine Padeloup befor e1729.  "Tail dates" become standard in the 1700s with the earliest GP has seen being on a 1620 copy of Pope's "Epistle on Taste, IV, 135-7.