Special Collections and Archives recently hosted visits of the British Printing Society (South Wales branch) and the Society of Bookbinders (South West England branch). Both groups were particularly interested in our large collection of privately printed books, by presses such as Kelmscott, Eragny, Cuala, Ashendene, Essex House and Doves.
Both groups were delighted to have the opportunity to examine the collections. It was fascinating to discuss these examples with members of the present-day book trade, all of whom were highly trained experts in their field.
“The deserted village” by Oliver Goldsmith (1855), bound in green morocco with gilt and colour inlays by Sangorski & Sutcliffe.
I was recently asked to put out a display of books from our modern fine bindings, which gave me a perfect excuse to rummage through the stacks of the Cardiff Rare Books Collection pulling out some our most beautiful items. We are lucky to have a number of exceptional bindings by some of the leading craftsmen of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including several outstanding examples from the famed London firm of Sangorski & Sutcliffe.
Back cover of “The deserted village”
Formed by Francis Sangorski and George Sutcliffe in 1901, this bindery was best known for producing elaborate bindings inlaid with gold and encrusted with precious stones. Their most famous work was a fabulous copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, with a lavishly decorated binding designed by Sangorski that took the firm over two years to produce. Finally completed in 1911, the Great Omar was shipped off to America on the maiden voyage of the ‘unsinkable’ RMS Titanic and was never seen again.
“The book of wonder” by Lord Dunsany, published by Heinemann in 1912 and bound by S&S in full deerskin with a spider web design in gilt.
Back cover of “The book of wonder”.
Detail from “The first crusade” (1945), three-quarter-bound in vellum over orange cloth with a wonderful gilt design.
Ivor Bannet’s “The Amazons” (1948), published by Golden Cockerel Press and three-quarter-bound in brown morocco over marbled paper-covered boards.
These are just a few examples of the fine bindings in the Rare Books collection, with many more waiting to be discovered and featured in future blog posts.
Our beautiful and unusual copy of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale was published by J. M. Dent & Co. in 1907 and is a superb example of a ‘vellucent’ binding by Chivers of Bath. Cedric Chivers (1853-1929) perfected the technique of using hand-coloured illustrations with transparent vellum and patented his method in 1903 under the name ‘vellucent’, or ‘vellum made translucent’, binding. Vellucent binding was promoted as a method for preserving old leather bindings and also as a new style of cover decoration. In this type of binding the painting is on paper, rather than on the underside of the vellum itself; the paper is attached to the boards of the binding, then covered and protected by a very thin layer of vellum.
On A Christmas Carol the vellucent technique has been combined with the more traditional discipline of gilt tooling and an inlaid mother-of-pearl border, which is also protected by the vellum. Cedric Chivers exhibited vellucent binding in London and Paris and at the 1904 St Louis World Fair, where his invention took the gold medal.
The first 1,000 books of the Cardiff Rare Books Collection have now been catalogued to full rare books standard and can be found on Cardiff University Library’s Voyager catalogue.
Merry Christmas from the SCOLAR team!
Browsing our rare books shelves, I came across two red leather slipcases marked “Exemplaire de Marguerite de Valois”. Curiosity got the better of me and I opened the cases to discover two small but exquisite volumes of the 16th century knight’s tale, “Amadis de Gaula”. Each volume is beautifully bound in 16th century Parisian morocco, lavishly decorated with gilt wreaths, small flowers and thistles.
A little research identified these volumes as once belonging to the library of the Venetian diplomat, Pietro Duodo (1554-1611), the binding’s provenance being established by the distinctive stamps used: the upper cover contains the armorial crest of the Duodo family; the lower displays Pietro Duodo’s personal motto, “Expectata non eludet” (“She whom I await with longing will not elude me”).
From 1594 to 1597, Duodo served as ambassador to King Henry IV in Paris, and took advantage of his residency to accumulate a gentleman’s travelling library of 90 works in 133 volumes. He commissioned a Parisian workshop to produce richly decorated, personalised bindings that were colour-coded by subject: literary works were finished in olive-brown morocco; theology, philosophy and history in red; and medical titles bound in citron.
The ambassador never had the opportunity to enjoy his library – he was unexpectedly recalled to Venice in 1597 and was unable to collect the books. They remained in Paris, packed away and untouched for two centuries, until rediscovered during the French Revolution. The volumes were mistakenly attributed to the library of Marguerite de Valois, possibly due to the ornamental daisies on the covers, and were immediately highly prized by collectors. Pietro Duodo was not identified as the true owner until 1925, long after his library had been dispersed.