Monday, June 11, 2012

Three Shamelessly Exhibitionist Bindings And A Voyeur

By Stephen J. Gertz

Exhibition binding by Zaehnsdorf, c. 1900.

Three gorgeous bindings recently laid themselves upon my  desk. Each an exhibitionist - and justifiably so - they shamelessly displayed themselves and invited me to indulge the voyeur within; I'm a sucker for hubba-hubba bindings with fine skin elegantly and elaborately tattooed in gilt, etc. I swear they winked at me as if to say, Get a load this cheesecake, Big Boy.

I love it when the high-born - and these honies come from highly distinguished noble families - deign to allow the hoi-polloi to drool over them. In my presence they're slumming, classy dames throwing a wish-bone to a mutt.

Here, a daughter of Zaehnsdorf splays herself to reveal both sides of her character, soft shoulders and dangerous curves, in an exhibition binding c. 1900.

Never has a first edition of Tennyson's The Princess (1847) looked so regal. In full crushed plum morocco with a single gilt fillet enclosing an elaborately gilt curvilinear frame with floral and foliate tooling against a gilt pointillé background on both covers with the spine reiterating the cover design, this princess is royalty indeed.

And check out what's going on under her covers:

An upper doublure of inlaid white morocco daisies with green morocco stems, gilt outlined within double fillet borders against black morocco...

...with the lower doublure featuring inlaid morocco blue bells green morocco stemmed, with gilt outlines within a double fillet border. The free endpapers are deep wine moire silk with the Zaehnsdorf exhibition stamp in gilt to rear. The top edge is gilt, and there are gilt rolls to the binding's edges. 

Is it hot in here or is it just me?

Bound by Ramage, c. 1904.

No, it's not a mirage, it's a later, small octavo edition of Tennyson's In Memoriam (1849) bound by Ramage, as if the poem wasn't memorable enough. The poem was one of Queen Victoria's favorites, a source of solace after the death of Prince Albert in 1861; she reportedly declared that "Next to the Bible, In Memoriam is my comfort."

This is a binding that one usually has to enter a dark, private booth and drop change into a slot to view the goods provocatively posed behind glass for two minutes before the lights go out and you have to keep feeding the coin box because you can't get enough of it. To have held her in my hands, even if only temporarily until betrothed to another, well, I just about lost it.

It's a pip in contemporary full crimson crushed morocco with gilt-rolled borders enclosing a broad frame of antelope morocco with gilt-ornamented black morocco plaitwork devices against a background tiny gilt tools, within which is a gilt-bordered crimson field with gilt foliate corner pieces.  The spine compartments reiterate the gilt frame's design.

Broad turn-ins with gilt rosettes, dots, and fleurons frame cream moire silk doublures, and the free endpapers are also of cream moire silk. There's nothing like silk undergarments to fire the imagination. Indeed, I dwelt upon them for so long while on the job that I risked more than my imagination being fired.

Born in London in 1836, "John Ramage served an apprenticeship with John Wright, then went to Paris, where he was able to work with the distinguished Pierre Marcellin Lortic (1822-1892), a leading Parisian binder in the late 19th century who opened his shop on the Rue St. Honoré in 1840. In 1860 Ramage purchased the binding business of Alexander Banks, Jr., in Edinburgh, then returned three years later to London, where he was in business at various locations into the 20th century. Though the range designs is broad, Ramage bindings are celebrated for their remarkably delicate, careful, and elaborate gilt work" (Pirages). And they are fascinating dinner companions, great dates and greater dessert.

Binding by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, c, 1937.

After a dazzlin', eye-pleasin'  evenin' it's time to wind down and settle in with a  demure damsel soft on the lamps but no less hard to resist. Leave it to Sangorski & Sutcliffe to bind, with appropriately quiet, understated elegance, this first edition of Patience Strong's Quiet Corner (1937).

It's gowned in contemporary full acid-free salmon calf with a black calf inlaid border with gilt rolled leaves and medial and corner gilt rosettes enclosing a gilt-bordered panel with small gilt birds, stemmed roses, hearts, dots, and trefoils to both sides. Raised bands possess gilt dotted rules. All edges  are gilt. The spine compartments have gilt ornamented frames with a central rosette. There are green morocco spine labels with gilt lettering.

Tool details.

Winifred Emma May (1907-1990) was an English poet best known for her work under the pseudonym Patience Strong. In 1935 she asked the features editor of London's Daily Mirror to publish her poetry. He agreed and her daily poems, in "The Quiet Corner," continued throughout World War II.

• • •

"A very distinctive that of exhibition...The silly manner of this...activity...points to intellectual and moral weakness; or, at least, to temporary inhibition of the intellectual and moral functions, with excitation...dependent upon a decided disturbance of consciousness...

"Concerning [voyeurism] will suffice to refer to Coffignon's book, La Corruption à Paris [le demi-monde, les souteneurs, la police des moeurs, brasseries de femmes, filles galantes, Saint-Lazare, le chantage, etc., etc., Paris: 1888]. The revelations...which this book makes are horrible" (Krafft-Ebing).

I throw myself on the mercy of the court. Three showy hussies held me in thrall, she-devils all.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

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