Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Feast Of Fine Bindings

by Stephen J. Gertz

[Church of England]. The Book of Common Prayer…
London: W. and J. Wilde, 1699.
Binding by Richard Balley.

We've pulled out the white linen tablecloth, set the table with sterling dinnerware,  crystal champagne flutes, and platinum serving tray spread with fine bindings. Bon appetit!

Plunging necklines, sure. Backless bindings?

Seven "backless" bindings by Richard Balley, a late 17th century bookbinder in London, are known to have survived, and the above example is possibly the best preserved: because of their construction they opened poorly, were fragile, and easily fell apart. As such, they have little practical value and are noteworthy only because of their decorative nature; they are, at best, binding oddities. In the early eighteenth century the "wicked old biblioclast" and "the most hungry and rapacious" of book collectors, a bookseller who stood at the center of the London booktrade, John Bagford, wrote of Richard Balley that, "he hath contrived to bind a book that at sight you could not know the fore-edge from the back, both being cut and gilded alike, but this is a mere piece of curiosity, but still shows the genius of the workman."

FRENAUD, André. Enorme Figure de la Déesse Raison.
Paris: Joseph Zichieri, 1951.
Binding by Pierre-Lucien Martin.

Bound in 1967 in black goatskin after a design by Pierre-Lucien Martin (1913-1985) the above book is one of only twenty-four copies on papier pur chiffon d'Auvergne from a total edition of only thirty-four copies, this being copy no. 28.

Pierre-Lucien Martin studied bookbinding with Charles Chanat and design with Robert Bonfils and worked for several binders until winning the Prix de la Reliure Originale after World War II and opening his own bindery. Such was the demand for his work that he had to step away from actual binding and employ others as forwarders and finishers to execute his designs.

As here, lettering, multi-colored onlays, and trompe-l'oeil effects characterize much of his work

SUARES, André. Cirque.
Paris: Ambroise Vollard, 1933 (but unpublished).
Binding by Paul Bonet, 1956.

André Suarès' Cirque, featuring illustrations by Georges Rouault, was never published as planned. Only five copies, put together from disparate elements as maquettes by binder Paul Bonet between 1956 and 1959, have survived. Bonet designed their bindings, René Desmules forwarded, and André Jeanne finished them. Each is slightly different, a variant of the above example.

LUCIUS APULEIUS. De Cupidinis et Psyches Amoribus fabula anilis.
London: Ballantyne Press for he Vale Press, 1901.
Binding by Sibyl Pye.

Anna Sybella Pye, aka Sibyl, (1879-1958) is considered to be one of the most original bookbinders of the twentieth century. She began binding in 1906, met Charles Ricketts, whose bindings for his Vale Press she greatly admired and became her primary influence. He designed tools especially for her, including a few for this binding but most here are of her own creation. Here and elsewhere she specialized in inlaid bindings, excising the foundation leather and fitting leathers of other colors into the empty space, a much more difficult technique than onlaying, the far simpler and common method of applying thin leather atop the foundation. Her bindings were exhibited in Europe and and here in America. Her best work dates from 1925-1940.

BUNYAN, John. The Pilgrim's Progress.
[Shakespeare Head Press for]:
London: The Cresset Press, 1928.
Binding by Philip Smith, 1972.

Profiles In Binding: Philip Smith was born in 1928 and in 1972 designed the above binding shaped to a head in profile at board's fore-edge, the head in question that of the Pilgrim of title, his progress limned in the elaborate scenes symbolically depicted in different leathers.

In 1957, Smith joined the bindery of Douglas Cockerell & Son (Sydney Morris Cockerell). In 1961 he established his own shop to work as an creative book artist.

Paris: Tériade, Théo Schmied, 1951.
Binding by Rose Adler, 1952.

Born in Paris, Rose Adler (1890-1959) designed jewelry, clothes, furniture, toiletry items, even mirrors but she is best known for her bookbinding designs, which later in her career became simplified, relying upon her choice of colors and mix of calf and goatskin leathers. 

She did not execute her binding designs but, rather, depended upon skilled craftsmen of her choice, which, more often than not, was, as here, Guy Raphaël, a long-time collaborator.

[Sammelband of Seven German Protestant Theological Works].
Breslau: Scharffenberg, 1573-1575.

The above volume is bound as a Sechsfächerband, a six-fold binding that can be opened in one of six different directions, revealing one book at a time. These type of bindings are generically known as Vexierbücher (puzzle or tease books, i.e. bindings that vex). As with Balley's backless bindings, multi-fold bindings are structurally weak and fall apart if stared at too hard for too long.

Produced from the mid-sixteenth century forward, they are primarily found on religious and devotional books. Why?

It appears that they provided quiet, unobtrusive amusement during long church sermons. As sacrilegious as this may seem, it's innocence itself compared to playing cards or little games during religious services; two examples of six-fold bindings on devotional books from the mid-late sixteenth century contain little boxes to store cards, etc.

In the late fourteenth century, Jean de Charlier de Gerson (1363-1429), famed doctor of theology, religious orator, and chancellor of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, condemned the playing of cards in church. His complaints were, evidently, ignored. Churchgoers continued to struggle against boredom, whether playing cards, twiddling thumbs, or amusing themselves with curiously bound prayer books.

All images reproduced from The Wormsley Library: A Personal Selection by Sir Paul Getty (Maggs Bros./Morgan Library, 1999), with our thanks. If you love fine bindings, this book, the catalog to the Morgan Library's exhibition, is a must for your shelf. 

Of Related Interest:

Magnificent Bindings, Bound To Be Great. 

The Guild of Women Binders, Bound To Be Great.

More Magnificent Bindings, Bound To Be Great.

The $65,000 Binding, Bound To Be Great.

Drop-Dead Gorgeous Bindings, Bound To Be Great.

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