By Shay Harrelson
While both mediums were created and for the most part developed independently of each other, metalwork and bookbinding definitely had a large influence on each other in their styles and techniques. Before the advent of the printing press, each book had to be printed by hand which meant that far fewer books were produced, but also that the few that were produced were ornate and highly detailed, illuminated manuscripts. As religious texts were generally the only books with the monetary backing to be produced and said books rarely left the place of worship, weight was not an issue considered in manufacturing. Therefore, the use of metal and precious stone inlaid wood covers—amusingly enough called treasure binding but also grouped under the Byzantine style—came into vogue in the early 12th century, mainly in northeastern Europe, but there is documentation of such covers existing as early as the 300s.
With the creation of printing presses, however, multiple editions could be produced fairly rapidly, cutting down on the time and cost of manufacturing books. With more books readily available and the ability to produce content no longer limited to the wealthy, books lost much of their ornamentation to cut down on weight as well as the fact that the book board was more commonly pasteboard, a type of cardboard, rather than actual wood block covers and could no longer support the sheer weight of the metal. This meant many later 15th and 16th century books had just metal book clasps and protective corners paired with a leather or paper covering.
The use of metal as a cover came back into popularity again in the early 20th century, still mainly for religious texts, but just as often for personal books, especially the closer to present time where metal and precious stones in the form of cabochons (half-round stones specifically made to be set onto a flat surface such as a ring or a book cover) are easily bought with the rise of industrialization and mass production of base metals such as copper and brass. The former of these two base metals is exceedingly cheap and can be both silver- and gold-plated and the latter is gold enough to mimic actual gold for mass-produced commercial notebooks. While still fairly pricey to plate metals and buy even synthetic cabochons, the cost has dropped so dramatically that covers that are completely metal have been produced as well as aided the surge in more ornate book coverings.