Early books and manuscripts were often made of parchment (also known as vellum), an organic material made from animal skin. To keep the pages safe, they were sandwiched between stiff wooden boards when not in use. It was necessary to keep the volume tightly closed to stop the pages curling and warping, so the covers were fastened using book clasps. This ensured the pages stayed flat and also kept everything in place should the volume fall off a desk or shelf. The clasps were attached to the cover boards and fastened with a leather strap or metal plate. These clasps were often decorated, highlighting the precious nature of the manuscripts contained inside. As well as clasps, the covers often featured other metal mounts, sometimes on the corners, sometimes elsewhere. These performed both a decorative and a protective function, preventing wear and tear to the volume.
Book clasps and other fittings are a common find when metal detecting and there are more than 2500 recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. To see all examples recorded click here.
Why not have a go at making your very own book clasp strap to keep your favourite book safe? You can use one of our examples from the database or you could have a go at designing your own! Simply download our activity sheet below to get started. You can share your results with us on Instagram by tagging @findsorguk, or on our PAS Craft Activities Board on Pinterest.