Taking Account:

The Italian stationery binding

The Italian account book style, or stationery binding, has some typical characteristics. These volumes were made for a utilitarian purpose: to open flat to be written in after they were bound in order to serve as a permanent record of business and personal transactions. Examples in this case highlight the most typical features of these books. As book conservator Fred Bearman notes, “the fact that this type of binding survived in large numbers, virtually unchanged through to the nineteenth century, in most Italian state and local archives, speaks volumes about the durability and longevity of this style of binding.”

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What makes an account book? Front cover

The distinct style of the Italian stationery binding includes flexible, or “limp,” covers made up of layers of paper, usually covered with parchment or leather; leather bands with decorative lacing; and handwritten information on the front cover or spine. These books also feature tackets—a loop of thread or skin that holds components together without the use of adhesive. In the Italian account book style, tackets are usually found at the outer edges of the covers, on the overbands on the spine, and around or under the endbands at head and tail (top and bottom) of the book.

  1. Parchment case with limp covers
  2. Fore-edge tacket holding the parchment to the paper covers
  3. Handwritten date and description, in iron gall ink
  4. Handwritten letter to note sequential volumes, in iron gall ink
  5. Leather overband with decorative lacing to hold the band to the parchment case
  6. Spine tacket in the form of an X (saltire) to hold the paper block to the parchment case
  7. Sewn endbands made by wrapping thread around a core of cord or twisted skin
  8. Endband tackets of thread looping beneath the endbands to hold the paper block to the parchment case
  9. Trimmed paper edges

Lelio Orsetti. Giornale. H. 1690-1691.
MS E159 v.8 of 8.


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What makes an account book? Inside back cover

Looking inside the account book provides more clues about its manufacture. Italian stationery bindings usually feature a piece of paper or parchment that is hooked around the first and last sections of the book and sewn in with them (called a flyleaf). Typically, these books have no pastedowns covering the inside of the covers, affording us clues to their construction.

1. Simple flyleaf of rough, gray paper
2. Sewing supports left long inside the back of the case
(Note: This support features a reused parchment manuscript adhered to paper and leather)
3. Inside of covers (boards) left bare
4. Inside pattern of the overband lacing
5. Inside of fore-edge tacket, showing the thread knot
6. Untrimmed parchment turn-in

Bernardino & Gian Francesco Orsetti. Giornale. I. 1691-1695
MS E160 v.1 of 2.


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What makes an account book? Sewing

The first steps in making an account book include creating sections of folded groups of handmade paper, then sewing them together around supports that add strength to the spine area. Italian account books always have endbands at the top and bottom (head and tail) of the book. They are sewn with linen thread over a cord core and are cut at the shoulders, or edges, of the paper block. While other types of books usually feature adhered linings of paper, parchment, or cloth to help hold the spine’s shape, Italian stationery bindings never have them.

1. Thick sections of handmade paper
2. Sewing support of split thongs of a leather/parchment laminate, sewn with linen thread
3. Endband sewn with linen thread over a core of linen cord

Sewing model created by Whitney Baker, 2022.


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What makes an account book? Inside the paper block

Account books were most likely purchased ready-made at a stationer’s shop, rather than from a fine binder. They were designed to lie flat and be written in. In order to keep the accounting columns straight, the pages were often folded or ruled vertically to guide in lining up the account information. Iron gall ink was used for official documents, as it was considered permanent. Wet ink was usually blotted with paper or sand; sometimes ink blotting implements were left behind inside the book.

1. Handmade paper folded and ruled vertically to guide the placement of account columns
2. Blank pages often found at the end of these premade books.
3. Iron gall ink writing
4. Piece of ink blotting paper left inside this book page

Left: Paliola estate. Giornale. 1775-1780.
MS E167.

Right: Orsetti, Lelio. Giornale. E. 1678-1681.
MS E159 v.5 of 8, p. 86.


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Sample of blotting sand collected and archived by a librarian in the 1970s. Almost all of the blotting sand found in the Rubinstein Collection is black in color, most likely a form of mica called powered biotite. It is often found between the pages of the account books.