Thursday, January 20, 2011

Who is the Mystery Pre-Cosway Binding Binder?

by Stephen J. Gertz

[COSWAY-STYLE BINDING]. Etrennes historiques,
 ou mélange curieux d'anecdotes Instructives & nécessaires
 sur les differens pays de l'univers...
Paris: Cailleau, 1775.

A binding of historical significance to the art & craft, in Cosway-style 130 years prior to J.H. Stonehouse, a director of the bookselling firm of Henry Sotheran, introducing Cosway bindings (in collaboration with binders Riviere & Son and artist "Miss Currie" and named after eighteenth century miniaturist Richard Cosway), has come to market.

It is bound in blond morocco with smooth spine decorated with small golden fleur de lis, with colored metal inlays surrounding a central engraved medallion composed of several landscape scenes in miniature and finely colored with gouache, all framed  in black morocco  adorned with carved and gilded iron with a thin transparent sheet of mica.

The binder is, alas, unknown but this anonymous visionary appears to have actually developed the Cosway-binding concept. I am aware are of only three other similar examples of these extremely scarce bindings, one of which is seen below:

[COSWAY-STYLE BINDING]. Exercice du Chrétien...
Saumur: De l'Imprimerie de Francois-Paschal-Jean-Marie de Gouy, 1774.

The above is in full contemporary vellum with elaborately gilt decorated red morocco to boards  and spine, inlaid with 20 colored metal disks within pierced roundels, and with the upper and lower boards each possessing three hand colored miniatures in gouache under original mica.

Both of these extravagant bindings, contemporaneous with the books' publication  and obviously for owners of means, appear to  have been wrought by the same unknown hand; the miniature paintings certainly were. The combination of  metal work and mica-covered miniatures is so unusual for late eighteenth century French (or any other nationality) binding that it is not unreasonable to conclude that each was produced in the same atelier. But whose?

Fast forward to the early twentieth century: It may be that J.H. Stonehouse came across one of these scarce bindings from the last quarter of the eighteenth century and, thus inspired, initiated the Cosway binding project.

Anyone with any further knowledge of these pre-Cosway-style bindings is encouraged to provide whatever information they possess. We thank you in advance.

Image of Etrennes historiques... courtesy of Librairie Ancienne Denis, with our thanks.

Image of Exercice du Chrétien... courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

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