Etherington & Robert (see the Print Glossaries tab above) define remboîtage as “A French term applied to the process of transferring a book, i.e., text block and endpapers, from its original binding to another. The new binding may be more luxurious, more nearly contemporary, or simply more appropriate, than the original. The term also refers to the process of transferring a superior text of a work into a better binding than the one originally made for it. There is not a comparable English word for this expression*, recasing being the closest; however, in craft bookbinding, “recasing” connotes a book that has been removed from its covers, repaired and/or resewn, and then returned to the original covers, while in library binding, it indicates a new, but usually just ordinary, case.”

Early book cloths, in the 1820s and 30s were only a marginal upgrade on the paper-over-boards style of temporary binding that publishers had been purveying for a few years. Temporary because it was still assumed that everyone would get their books rebound in leather, so these covers were merely a protection to ensure the sheets got to the bindery in good shape. From about 1850 onward it became usual for the publisher to assume the cost of final binding — i.e. the temporary cloth binding evolved into a permanent gold foil stamped hardback book intended to remain that way for ever. Of course there remained traditionalists who’d take that hardback and subject it to remboîtage.

Jeff Peachey has a post about his attempts to replicate this early temporary book cloth in which he says:

Publishers’ book cloth started in the 1820s.  Originally it was undecorated, faded quickly, attracted dirt, and over time became brittle. The book structures it was used on were traditionally considered “temporary”, were cheap and insubstantial, and as a result many examples have been rebound. Most studies of nineteenth century bookbinding focus on attractive and visually interesting aspects of book cloth that begin in the 1840, such as gold stamping and cloth grain patterns. Until recently, these early cloths have been overlooked by historians. It is doubtful that three piece adhesive case binding (aka. the hardcover) would have become the dominate rigid board book structure without book cloth.

Many examples of early cloth, searchable by year, can be found at The Library Company of Philadelphia’s wonderful online database of nineteenth century cloth bindings.  Another easy to use visual resource is The Publishers’ Binding Online, where you can browse by the decade. But the best thing is to get to the nearest library and examine some actual books. Images cannot substitute for this.

John Carter, in his classic essay, “Origins of Cloth Bindings” recounts the moment of the innovation: a conversation in the 1820s between Mr. Pickering (the publisher) and Mr. Sully (the binder), with Mr. Pickering expressing a desire to cover a boards binding with something a little “neater”, like a blue calico window curtain that was hanging in the room. Since this event was recalled and recorded first in the 1850s, some leeway should be ascribed as to the details of this encounter. But it’s a good read.”


* Any implication that this is what remboîtage means in French should be resisted. This adopting of the fancy foreign word to designate a special instance of something for we have a perfectly normal word is not that unusual — cow/beef, sheep/mutton, pig/pork. In French remboîtage means recasing tout court. Who knows, the French may call rebinding into a superior cover “recasing”! As well as its book binding sense, the French word in general means putting something back together, including that jerking of an arm to get a dislocated shoulder back into place which is (maybe used to be) such a highlight of the rugby field.