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Durham University International Bookbinding Competition 2024: Binding the Bard

Binding the Bard: International Bookbinding Competition 2024

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the printing of William Shakespeare’s First Folio, Durham University is launching a major new blind juried bookbinding competition inspired by the Durham First Folio. Cash prizes will be awarded to the most outstanding submissions, and the first prize will also win a paid commission to bind a facsimile copy of the First Folio.

After submitting your entry form and fee, you will be sent information on how to submit all elements of your entry.

Please note! Due to unexpected buildings works on the historic Palace Green Library, the bookbinding competition has been delayed by several months. Please find the new timeline below.

Competition Timeline (New Dates)

Deadline for Durham University to receive completed entry form and fee (£20): 15 October 2024

Submissions must reach Durham University no later than 15 February 2025

Selection of shortlist and Prize-winners announced: April 2025 

Exhibition of shortlisted submissions at Palace Green Library following announcement of winners

Participants will be informed of Durham University’s decision to purchase available bindings: 15 June 2025

Participants must be willing to loan their submitted bindings to Durham University for exhibition purposes for a maximum period of 9 months from the date of the close of the competition. 

The brief

This competition celebrates outstanding craft and design skills in the field of bookbinding and the winning submission will represent an exceptional technical and creative achievement.  

Binders will digitally submit an image depicting their proposed design for the First Folio Facsimile binding alongside a completed binding of a text block of their choice. This completed binding will be an exemplar of the binder’s craft skills and will demonstrate how their creativity is realised in a completed design binding. The winning binder will be sent a facsimile edition of the First Folio in sheets to be bound in their proposed design for accessioning into the Palace Green Library’s rare book collection. 

For the completed binding, binders must source their own text block and are free to select a work that has connection to William Shakespeare, the production of the First Folio, or a thematic link to the story of the Durham First Folio. There is no expectation for the binding to be a prototype of the proposed binding for the First Folio facsimile, however, this is not prohibited. The submitted binding is not required to be the same dimensions as the First Folio. 

Both the submitted binding and proposed design will be accompanied by artist’s statements  describing the technical and creative process. The Judging Panel will want to know about the binder’s overall vision and inspiration for the design as well as details of any unusual techniques or materials used or intended to be used. 

Submissions will be judged on thoughtful interpretation of themes, aesthetic merit, and excellence of technical craftsmanship. Though no stipulations have been placed on the binder’s choice of structure, consideration will be made of the structure’s suitability for binding a First Folio facsimile and acquisition into a rare book collection. There is no expectation for the structure to be a conservation binding. 

All submissions will appear in a digital competition catalogue and a shortlist of outstanding submissions will be selected by the jury for exhibition at Durham University’s Palace Green Library. All completed bindings will be returned to the binder after judging and exhibition unless separate acquisition arrangements are made by the University. 


William Shakespeare’s First Folio, first published in 1623, is a book of particular renown amongst readers, theatre goers, scholars, and rare book aficionados. There are 235 known copies left in existence, and each has a unique story behind its continued presence in the world. Binding the Bard is a reflection on and celebration of one of these stories: Durham University’s. 

Most Folios have a long and rich history of changing hands, making Durham University’s copy unique for its longtime presence in the collection of Bishop John Cosin, who bought it around its publication date and retained it in his library which then passed into Durham University’s custodianship and remains in situ today. 

Margins only lightly marked or annotated by early readers, Durham’s First Folio was simply one book among Cosin’s thousands until 1845, when it was selected for rebinding. This was a rare choice for books in the Cosin Library, which largely remain in their seventeenth century bindings to this day. This was the first sign of singling out this work in the collection as one of significant value and interest, and reflected the world’s growing passion for this seventeenth century playwright and this particular edition of his works. 

Over the years, the Folio came into increasing use by the University as Shakespearean studies became more popular, and it came to be proudly produced for students in English literature and visiting academics. Following this pattern, it was on exhibition in 1998 when it was tragically stolen. 

Thought lost forever, it was recovered in 2008 when a damaged copy of the First Folio brought to the Folger Library in Washington D.C. was identified not as a newly discovered Folio, but as the missing Durham copy. Many of its most obvious identifying features, including its binding and iconic Shakespeare portrait, had been stripped in an effort to disguise its provenance, yet the rigorous body of academic documentation that has been built up around First Folios proved its identity beyond doubt. 

Since its recovery, the book has been housed in a custom box and stored in a secure and environmentally controlled space, brought out only for a brief celebratory exhibition on its return and for inspection by conservators. 

In 2022, Durham University decided it was time to return the vandalised treasure to its rightful place in the cultural landscape, and initiated a major project to undertake conservation of the Folio and explore its role in the academic and wider community going forward. This project has brought together collaborators from fields as far ranging as conservation, literature, theatre, early and advanced education, and codicology. 

The course of the project has made us ask questions like 

What is special about the Durham First Folio? What does it mean to Durham University students and the wider population of the North of England to have a copy of this cultural icon? How do we celebrate the future of this book while preserving its history? What role does a binding play in the lifetime of a rare book? What binding does the modern world choose for a First Folio? 

These questions have challenged, compelled, and excited us, and exploring their answers has reshaped our understanding of this fascinating book. 

Binding the Bard runs parallel to the continuing work of conserving the Folio, and asks the bookbinding community to explore how the Durham First Folio might be bound in a creative celebration of its multifaceted history and exciting future. 

Binders are encouraged to read the full story of the Durham First Folio as they begin to reflect on competition themes. 


First Place 

£3,000 cash prize and a £5,000 commission to bind a facsimile of the Shakespeare First Folio for accession into Durham University Special Collections at Palace Green Library. 

Second Place 


Third Place 



Awarded to the outstanding submission from an individual who started binding within the last 3 years or has never entered a bookbinding competition before 


In addition to the awards from the Judging Panel, a popular vote will be held during an exhibition of the shortlisted entries: 

Popular Vote: 


Popular vote winner will be announced at the culmination of the exhibition 

Jury information

Judging will be carried out blind by a panel of experts 

Entries will be judged against the specifications given in the competition brief  

The jury will decide winning entries and entries to be exhibited at the Palace Green Library