I encountered a sentence:

With the invention of the printing press in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg the nature of bookbinding changed. More books were produced and the binder had to find new, faster methods to bind and decorate them. In 1861 David Smyth invented a book sewing machine. While the trend of mechanized binding continues today, there are still craftspeople who bind books by hand and much of modern hand book binding owes a great debt to the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement.

My problem is in understanding the last sentence. (emphasis mine). What does "owes a great debt to the 19th century" mean?

  • This website will tell you all about the British Arts & Crafts movement which began around 1880, and quickly spread to the United States and elsewhere.
    – WS2
    Apr 22, 2016 at 18:45
  • Is typical of its time, I suspect.
    – WS2
    Apr 22, 2016 at 20:42
  • 3
    It has nothing to do with a debt owed to "the 19th century", and everything to do with a debt owed to the Arts and Crafts movement which just happened to flower in the 19th century.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 22, 2016 at 21:52

2 Answers 2


Here Debt means — Dictionary.com

a feeling of gratitude for a service or favour.

instead of the usual meaning "a sum of money that is owed or due." So,

"..much of modern hand book binding owes a great debt to the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement."

means that the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement was very influential in the development of modern hand book binding, and therefore it deserves gratitude.


The essence of the influence lies in the fact that the Arts and Crafts movement encouraged a return to hand-crafting furniture, houses, books, etc., in reaction against modern mass-produced goods. Modern bookbinders who devote themselves to this handicraft have a very similar ideology, and I think the meaning of the sentence is more that their ideas and world-view are directly or indirectly influenced by this mid-19th century movement.

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