The date of the invention of perfect binding, the oddly named method of binding a book with just glue holding individual leaves together, has proved  hard to establish with any precision. But here’s important testimony. Andrew Dangelas, in a comment on the post Perfect binding, reports that “The Home Book Company, New York, published a series of books ‘The Premium Library’ in the early 1890s. These books were perfect bound.” He quotes from the notice they print at the back of the book, shown here from The Lucile project.

Mr Dangelas’ copy of Whittier’s poems from the Premium Library series is dated 1893, so the process was clearly in existence then, and possibly earlier. If only the New York Public Library was open one might go down there and check other books from this publisher to find out the earliest example. (Though The Lucile project site does tell us the company was only formed a couple of years earlier.) Dimenovels.org has a list of all 79 titles published in the series, and dates the commencement to April 8th, 1893. The Home Book Company claims to “own” the process. This might of course just be an empty claim, but it might mean they held a patent. U.S. patents are only digitized from 1976 onwards, and searching the PDF database for older ones seems to require you to start with the patent number; a bit circular in this instance.

The Home Book Company published this series on subscription issuing a new title every week. The company was clearly energetically engaged in licensing agents to sell the series thrust America. Here’s the front matter of The Wisconsin Journal of Education for 1895-6 offering the series to their readers, and even giving a premium of seven free volumes to all paid-up subscribers to the journal who can bring in two new subscribers.

Some conflict here with the Dime Novels site which describes the books as paperbacks: they were indeed hardbacks, designed to look good on the shelves of determined self-improvers. Smallish at 4″ x 6″. A brief search of Amazon suggests that they are hard to come by — perhaps not too surprising as perfect bound hardback books manufactured a century and a quarter ago might well be expected to have fallen apart by now! I wonder how Mr Dangelas’ Whittier edition is holding up.