Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books
A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology

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chained books

Books that in the past were attached to shelves, reading desks, pulpits, pews, etc., by means of chains. From the 15th to the early 18th century, books were secured in this manner to prevent them from being stolen. The chains used for this purpose varied in length from nearly 3 feet to almost 5 feet, while the links ranged in size from 1 1/2 to almost 3 inches in length, with a width of about 1/2 inch. The problem of the chains breaking when twisted was partially overcome by the inclusion of a swivel in the middle or at one end.

When the books were meant to be stood on end the chains were usually attached to the fore edge of the upper cover (and occasionally the lower) by means of a ring held to the board by a length of thin brass which was bent around the edge of the cover and riveted in place. Often, however, the ring was not used, the chain being attached directly to the clip on the cover. This required that the book be shelved fore edge out, a method of shelving that endured well into the 17th century, even when chains were not used. Books meant to lie permanently on lecterns, or the like, often had the chains attached to the bottom or top edge of the lower cover.

Chains were used, it has been said, because "The thievish disposition of some that enter into libraries to learn no good there, hath made it necessary to secure the innocent books, even the Sacred volumes themselves, with chains—which were better deserved by those persons. who have too much learning to be hanged, and too little to be honest."

The practice of chaining books began to die out by the middle of the 17th century when it became a more common practice to shelve books with their spines out. See PLATE 1, (46 , 236 )

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