Old books – being valuable objects – were secured with strong bindings. In the centuries between 15th and 16th, bookbinders used boards covered with leather, and later also cardboard, in order to stiffen sewn sheets of paper or parchment. The leather on the covers and spine was decorated – with the technique of engraving or carving called blind tooling.
At the end of the 15th century, gold tooling started to be used, which diversified the monotonous coloring – brown or beige – of the hardback. The choice of decorative motifs, its usage, a combination of different toolings, changed in the period between the 15th and 18th century. The style of hardback decoration was at that time consistent with the prevailing artistic styles. It is easy to identify bookbinding tools with Gothic, Renaissance or Rococo characteristics.
Hardbacks often included ownership signs: supralibros ordered by library owners. Among those are Polish bibliophile kings, e.g. Sigismund II Augustus.
A period of buoyant development of Polish bookbinding in the 15th and 16th century was followed – undoubtedly in relation to political events – by stagnation of country's bookbinders' manufacture, who in the 17th century still used decoration motifs and even tools from the previous century. Whereas the hardbacks from the 17th and 18th century show foreign, mainly French designs, dictated by the current fashion. At the exhibition in the Hutten-Czapski Museum, we present over 100 old prints in hardbacks from the period between late 15th and late 18th century, made mainly in Krakow, for centuries the most dynamic center of Polish typography, readership, and bookbinding.