Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Two Doves Bindings To Drool Over

by Stephen J. Gertz

Two Doves Press books bound at the Doves Bindery recently passed through my hands. In a swoon, I almost passed out.

"In 1893, when T.J. Cobden-Sanderson decided to give up bookbinding after a short career of less than ten years, he was already the most famous binder in England. The beauty and originality of his designs ensured that his bindings were sought after by collectors and and booksellers in both Britain and the United States" (Tidcombe, The Doves Bindery, p. 1).

Bookbindings personally bound by Cobden-Sanderson now fetch up to $50,000.

 Cobden-Sanderson did not, however, entirely give up bookbinding. In the same year as his "retirement," he established the Doves Bindery to carry out, under his personal supervision to his exacting standards, the physical binding of his designs.
They are no less sought after by collectors than those bound by C-S himself. Why?

"From the beginning Cobden-Sanderson questioned every stage and aspect of bookbinding, and sought to improve on whatever he discovered to be shoddy in the way of materials and design, both structural and decorative" (ibid.).

Cobden-Sanderson not only designed all the bindings of The Doves Bindery (a total of 837), he designed the tools used to execute them, each unique and proprietary.

He disdained overly gilt bindings. "Some of the top trade binderies such as Riviere, Zaehnedorf or Fazakerley produced more lavish bindings, with onlays, tooling, and lettering covering not only the back, covers and doublures, but also the flyleaves. Cobden-Sanderson was opposed to such gratuitous excess, calling such bindings 'deplorable miracles of misapplied skill,' because the amazing ability of the finisher was wasted on such poor design" (Tidcombe, p. 84).

In contrast, Doves Bindings are without peer for their handsome sophistication, graceful elegance, stylish restraint, classically clean lines, and deceptive simplicity. It took an enormous amount of effort to make them seem effortless.

"The output of the Doves Bindery cannot be compared to other 'trade' binderies, because there was no other bindery quite like it...No bindery other than the Doves designed its own tools, produced all its own patterns, and worked to such a high standard, while also being so selective in the books it bound" (Tidcombe, p. 84).

The books of the Doves Press were routinely case-bound in limp vellum. Clients of the Press, however, were advised that they could have their copies specially bound at the Doves Bindery. Not many Doves Press books were thus bound, however, but those that were were unique; the Doves Press Shelley, for instance, was bound in brick red/terracotta leather for one customer. For another client, the Shelley was later bound in blue morocco with a completely different design.

The leather used for these two Doves bindings was not the usual morocco goatskin or calf. "Cobden-Sanderson ordered sealskins from Richardson's in Newcastles. He apparently liked it, as seal was used s an alternative to goatskin for binding many other Doves Press books. The sealskin used ranges in colour from orange to brick-red or terracotta, and some of the skins were probably specially selected by Cobden Sanderson for their attractive blotchy appearance" (Tidcombe, p. 94)

The Doves Bindery was and remains the finest and most respected bindery of its era, the evolutionary link between the Victorian Age in which it was born and the early Modern Age in which it thrived with the highest possible respect and admiration of collectors then and to this day.

[DOVES BINDERY]. KEATS. John. Keats. [Poems Selected, Arranged and Printed by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson]. Hammersmith, The Doves Press, 1914.

First Doves Press edition, one of a limited edition of 200 copies on paper. Octavo (9 1/8 x 6 3/8 in; 232 x 162 mm). [11], 12-203, [1, blank] pp.  

Designed by Cobden Sanderson and bound at The Doves Bindery (stamp-signed "Doves Bindery 19 C-S 16") in full brick red sealskin with both sides by master finisher Charles McLeish featuring a three-line panel interlaced with a three-line strapwork lozenge with concave curves at sides, with a central wreath of rose leaves and stars with a sprig of three rose leaves above and below the wreath. Spine compartments with gilt panels. Gilt decorated turn-ins. All edged gilt with dotted fillet gauffering  Printed in black and white, and red.

Tidcombe, Doves Press 36. Tidcombe, Doves Bindery 791.

[DOVES BINDERY]. SHELLEY, Percy Bysshe, Shelley. [Poems Selected, Arranged, and Printed by T. J. Cobden-Sanderson at The Doves Press]. Hammersmith: The Doves Press, 1914.

First Doves Press edition, one of 200 copies on paper of a total edition of 212. Octavo (9 1/8 x 6 3/8 in; 232 x 162 mm). [6], 7-181, [1, blank] pp. Text in back and white, and red.

Designed by Cobden Sanderson and bound at The Doves Bindery (stamp-signed "Doves Bindery 19 C-S 14") in full brick red sealskin elegantly gilt paneled on both sides by master finisher Charles McLeish with a line panel with large open dot at each corner, and a smaller two-line panel extended inwards at the sides to form a lozenge, with a wavy lozenge inside, tooled in the center with a wreath composed of close-set narrow leaves, and a cloverleaf of three hearts on a stem at each corner of the panel and lozenge. Gilt decorated turn-ins. All edges gilt and with dotted fillet gauffering. Spine gilt in compartments.

Tidcombe, Doves Press 35. Tidcombe, Doves Bindery 792.

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

Of related interest:

A Doves Binding To Die For.

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