Tag Archives: fine bindings

Guest post: Deciphering the indecipherable in the Janet Powney Collection

This guest post comes from Dr Lauren O’Hagan, sociolinguistic researcher of Edwardian material culture and class conflict.


As a scholar of book inscriptions, what really frustrates me is when a mark of ownership has been thoughtlessly removed from a book. Often, all that is left is a jagged tear line acting as evidence of the bookplate or prize sticker that once was affixed to the endpapers. This careless act of erasure silences voices of past generations and with them, a wide range of social networks, thoughts and feelings that offer new perspectives on life in a particular time period and sociocultural context.

Yet what angers me even more is when an inscription is left in the book but has been scribbled through, almost taunting the reader with its partially obscured information. This is often the work of a later owner who deliberately seeks to stake their own claim to the book, giving no thought for people like me who spend their days researching them! Nonetheless, with a little time and patience, the indecipherable can become decipherable, as I found out last week when working on the Janet Powney Collection.

Towards the end of the day, I picked up a beautiful 1873 edition of Aesop’s Fables. It was custom-bound in dark green full calf leather boards with raised bands on its spine and embossed with a gilt armorial typical of non-state school prize books in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. The armorial on the book’s cover was framed by the abbreviation ‘SCHOL: DIG: SOC: BRAS’ and ‘JACOBO HICKSON FUND’ with the date ‘A.D. MDCLXXXVII’ underneath.

Unlike the working-class prize books of board schools, which were bound and decorated in-house by publishers, prize books for middle- and upper-class children typically arrived at a local bindery unbound and were subsequently custom-bound according to each school’s requirements. In contrast to working-class prize books, far greater attention was also paid to their internal properties. As can be seen in this copy of Aesop’s Fables, the paper is of a higher quality and endpapers are marbled. As grammar and boarding schools considered it important to uphold tradition, it was no coincidence that books such as this one were made to resemble the fine bindings of the eighteenth century.

 

 

Turning to the front endpapers to consult the prize sticker and discover which school awarded the book, I was horrified to find that it had been completely defaced. An attempt had been made to remove the sticker and when the resistant glue had put up a fight, the previous owner had resorted to scribbling through all the information in black ink, totally obscuring the writing below. I had a challenge on my hands that I was determined to overcome!

Using my rudimentary Latin knowledge, I was able to make an educated guess that the abbreviated ‘SCHOL’ was school (schola), while the ‘SOC’ was society or association (societatus). The other two abbreviations posed more of a problem. Although the full name of the awarding institution was printed on the prize sticker, the act of vandalism had made the words almost indistinguishable. Using a magnifying glass, I was able to identify ‘DIG’ as ‘dignif[?]’, which was enough information to help me roughly translate the word as ‘dignified’ or ‘worshipful’. The last word was more difficult. It looked like it read ‘Brasiatorium’. However, the only translation of this word that could be found in Latin dictionaries was ‘brewery’ or ‘malthouse’.  Curioser and curioser…

After feeding various combinations of words into Google, I came across the Worshipful Company of Brewers (WCB). The WCB is one of the oldest Livery Companies of the City of London and received its first charter from King Henry VI in 1438. Could this be our ‘societatus’ and if so, what did the school part mean?

The next clue I decided to chase was the ‘Jacobo Hickson’ behind the fund that was presumably used to purchase the book and award it to its recipient. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not uncommon for rich entrepreneurs to leave money in their will to fund books for children. Could Jacobo Hickson be one of them?

After a number of unsuccessful searches for Jacob Hickson, rare books cataloguer Christine Megowan had the clever idea of translating ‘Jacobo’ into its English equivalent: ‘James’. Immediately, this brought up a wide range of results, all of which confirmed that James Hickson was indeed a brewer. Born in 1607 in Melton Mowbray, Hickson moved to London as a young man, became a brewer and was later elected an alderman of the City of London. He was one of the three main benefactors of the WCB, along with Richard Platt and Dame Alice Owen.

Hickson used his fortune to carry out philanthropic work. He built and endowed almhouses in South Mymms and bequeathed money in his will to Dame Alice Owen’s School in Potters Bar and Aldenham School in Elstree. Both schools still exist and to this day, they receive Beer Money, in the form of a commemorative coin, from the Master of the WCB. Was it possible then that the ‘schola’ mentioned in the prize sticker was either Dame Alice Owen’s or Aldenham?

Before investigating this thread further, I wanted to get to the bottom of the coat of arms. It clearly did not match that of the WCB (three kilderkins between three pairs of barley garbs). Could it belong to Hickson? Avidly flicking through an online version of an old heraldic dictionary for the surname Hickson, I was thrilled to find that the Hickson coat of arms was described as “two eagles’ legs, erased à la quize, sa., in saltire sable, the dexter surmounted of the sinister, or and sable” or in plain English, two eagles’ legs, upper-part shown only, crossed over, right on top of left, gold and black. Bingo!

As if all of this information was not enough to prove that the book was given by the WCB using money allocated in the bequest of James Hickson, a name at the bottom of the prize sticker confirmed this. Underneath the scribble, the name E.N. Buxton could be roughly made out with the title ‘Soc Bras [?]’ next to it. Consulting the records of the WCB, I found that an Edward North Buxton was the Master at the time that this book was awarded. Edward North Buxton (1840-1924) was a conservationist and Liberal Party politician. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and became a partner in the London brewing firm of Truman, Hanbury, & Co. It was through his work with this brewery that he obtained the position of Master of the WCB in 1875.

To determine once and for all the school with which the WCB was linked, I turned to the other name underneath the scribble at the bottom of the prize sticker: Herbert Williams, schola magister (school master). Scanning through census records, I found that Herbert Williams (1826-1903) was a Church of England clergyman who went on to become the “headmaster of a brewer’s company school” in 1871. Aldenham School being for boys and Dame Alice Owen’s School being for girls, I was able to state with confidence that Aesop’s Fables was awarded to a pupil of Aldenham School by its headteacher, Herbert Williams. Aldenham School was founded in 1597 by Richard Platt, Master of the WBC. The WBC were its appointed governors and remain its trustees today.

The final piece in the puzzle was the pupil himself: R.W. Russell. This inscription was the perfect example of yet another pet peeve of mine – inscribers who only use initials for first names! This can make it incredibly challenging to track down the person. After several hours of trawling through census forms and consulting school records, I found a Robert William Russell who was born in St Alban’s, Hertfordshire and attended Aldenham School from 1871-1877. He then went on to study at Oxford University. Unfortunately, no census records have been found for Russell after this date, which may suggest that he moved abroad.

—–

Despite the numerous challenges posed by inscriptions such as these, with a bit of perseverance, it is possible to decipher them. Thanks to a combination of digital and traditional methods, I have been able to unlock the history of the WCB, one of its benefactors (Jacob Hickson), masters (E.N. Buxton), brewer’s school (Aldenham School) and pupils (Robert William Russell).

How, after Russell’s death in 1934, the book passed to a female grocer’s assistant in Penarth, Wales – Dorothy Davies of 16 Hastings Avenue (according to the defaced inscription at the top of the prize sticker) – is perhaps a mystery worth unravelling some other day…

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Cataloguing about Corn

This guest post comes from Keeley Durnell, a postgraduate student in the school of English, Communication and Philosophy, and who has been cataloguing Early Modern books from the Cardiff Rare Books collection as part of a Project Management module. 


Well, not just about corn. Corn and religion. These are the sorts of topics that I have come across since I began cataloguing some of the vast array of rare books in Special Collections. The Rare Books section at Cardiff University boasts a fantastically diverse range of material with which to satisfy anyone’s scholarly interests.

One which I had the privilege to work on this week was The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher, bound with A Poem on the Redeemers Work; or Christ all in all, and our complete redemption (1647) and No Salvation without Regeneration (1647). This was a fascinating volume for many reasons.

Marrow Jaunty Title Page

The Title Page of The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher (London: Giles Calvert, 1647)

Firstly, the texts that were bound together were all religious in nature, but they were from at least two separate authors. Completing the records for these texts was therefore difficult, because only the first text had a title page to glean information from, and the other two texts did not even have so much as a named author, let alone imprinting or publication information.

Merged Title Pages

Titles Pages of ‘A Poem on the Redeemers Work’ and ‘A Poem on the New Birth’, both bound with Fisher (London: Giles Clvert, 1647).

There were also several ownership inscriptions from different years accompanied by some interesting upside down pen trials (the technical term for doodles) which could be found on the inside of the back end paper in this particular book.

Marrow Pen Trials

The pen trials found in The Marrow of Modern Divinity.

Getting glimpses into previous centuries and lives so far from my own is one of the things I find the most intriguing about being able to catalogue the rare books.

I have had the opportunity to see leather bound books and hand sewn text blocks with sprinkled or dyed edges and they are sometimes so different to the type of books that are commercially available today. As part of my studies are concerned with print culture, getting to examine texts that went through the original printing presses and seeing engraved plates and woodcut borders is just fascinating. To know that in just a few centuries that books have changed so much in terms of their production and distribution is incredible.

Marrow Binding

The Binding of The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Comparing modern imitations of old styles, such as this version of The Complete Works of Shakespeare that was published in 2004, with original copies from across the centuries is indescribably useful when thinking about modern print culture and how it has changed and is still changing.

Shakespeare_book

The 2004 Edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (New York, Barnes and Noble Inc, 2004)

There is so much that the Rare Books Collection can offer to students of literature, history, religion and numerous other subjects. But, even if there is nothing there which is relevant to your research interests, I would definitely recommend popping down and taking a look at all the beautiful items that make up the Special Collections. It is any book lovers dream.

 

Exhibition: Livres d’Artistes

Our latest exhibition was launched at the opening of the Livres d’Artistes: The Artist’s Book in Theory and Practice conference. It showcases the generous donation of artists’ books from Ron King and the Circle Press, gifted to Special Collections and Archives in 2014. Sample images from the exhibition are featured below, with captions taken from an interview with Ron conducted by Cathy Courtney (1999), which looks back on his career in book arts.

Contracted at this time to create print editions for Editions Alecto, London, I persuaded them to take on this first book [The Prologue (1967)]. On completion of the work with their imprint on the title page and stamped logo on the reverse of the images, they suffered a financial set-back and I was forced to take on publication myself as Circle Press.

I had been working on a series of mask prints, and I knew this was a solution I wanted to explore for the Chaucer rather than attempting to ‘illustrate’ it… The abstract mask provided the opportunity to express the pilgrims through the merging of symbols – symbols taken from heraldry or the Church, for example – rather than caricature. The Parson, for instance, is not just himself but also a symbol of the Church, just as the Knight is the symbol of ruthlessness and (at the same time) vulnerability but also, in heraldic terms, of the Crusade… I used colour to put certain moods across; for instance, the Knight is grey, black, and silver and rather rusty, whereas the Squire is bright and gaudy.

Ronald King, Geoffrey Chaucer The Prologue (1967) Originally produced for Editions Alecto, London; published by Circle Press with frontispiece and fourteen mask images titled and initialled in pencil – printed silk screen and letterpress in 24 pt Plantin. 125 signed copies, 15 proofs – 50 x 37cm – 15 unbound 4pp sections in J. Green rag-made paper wraparound in blue cloth folder and canvas slipcase. Separate editions of 50 plus 5 proofs were made of all the images except ‘Friar’ and ‘Franklin’ onto J. Green paper 56 x 38cm titled, numbered, and fully signed. Guildford, 1967 (second edition, 1978).

Ronald King, Geoffrey Chaucer
The Prologue (1967)
Originally produced for Editions Alecto, London; published by Circle Press with frontispiece and fourteen mask images titled and initialled in pencil – printed silk screen and letterpress in 24 pt Plantin. 125 signed copies, 15 proofs – 50 x 37cm – 15 unbound 4pp sections in J. Green rag-made paper wraparound in blue cloth folder and canvas slipcase. Separate editions of 50 plus 5 proofs were made of all the images except ‘Friar’ and ‘Franklin’ onto J. Green paper 56 x 38cm titled, numbered, and fully signed. Guildford, 1967 (second edition, 1978).

There was a room in the Victoria and Albert Museum that was devoted to artists’ books in [the 1960s], and some of them had a deep influence on me. Matisse’s Jazz (1947) moved me tremendously, a revelation in the strength of its colour, the economy of its drawing, the exciting presentation of something that had been worked out in cut paper and reproduced by a hand-cut stencil technique in a way that vitalized rather than diminished it… Miró’s A Toute Epreuve (1958)… had a strong influence on the second book I did, The Song of Solomon (1969)

Ronald King, King James Bible The Song of Solomon (1968) Over 30 screen printed images, including 8 double spreads – text printed letterpress in 30 pt Fry’s Baskerville, interwoven with the designs. 150 signed copies, 15 proofs – 72pp unbound on J. Green mould-made paper – 40 x 30cm – in gold-blocked red cloth cover and slipcase. 50 copies reserved for London Graphic Arts Inc. and 10 for Imre Maltzahn Gallery. Separate editions of 30 signed prints on Hosho paper of all double spreads and 2 single pages were issued without text. Guildford, 1968 (second edition, 1990).

Ronald King, King James Bible
The Song of Solomon (1968)
Over 30 screen printed images, including 8 double spreads – text printed letterpress in 30 pt Fry’s Baskerville, interwoven with the designs. 150 signed copies, 15 proofs – 72pp unbound on J. Green mould-made paper – 40 x 30cm – in gold-blocked red cloth cover and slipcase. 50 copies reserved for London Graphic Arts Inc. and 10 for Imre Maltzahn Gallery. Separate editions of 30 signed prints on Hosho paper of all double spreads and 2 single pages were issued without text. Guildford, 1968 (second edition, 1990).

Bluebeard’s Castle (1972-73) marked the beginning of [my] collaboration with the poet Roy Fisher [and] my first step away from the traditional book format… The extraordinary thing was that within three weeks of my having sent Roy a mock-up of the book, he had written a text in which we only changed one word. I’d never met him… I designed the whole thing, and making it was incredibly masochistic. Absolute hell. The difficult thing about a work like Bluebeard’s Castle is to translate the dummy into something that can be manufactured or constructed in an edition. I remember sitting at a desk and just cutting and chopping and gluing and looking at all kinds of different pop-up material until I turned out the first room, the Torture Chamber. Once I got the idea that to make something pop-up you have to have symmetrical folding structure, I began experimenting in various ways.

Ronald King, Roy Fisher Bluebeard’s Castle (1972) Based on the opera by Bartok, the visual theme of the book is represented by nine pop-up constructions; the portcullis, the castle and seven secret chambers with the verse incorporated into the design printed in Optima. 125 signed copies – 30 x 20cm made up of 10 loose 4pp sections silk screened throughout onto Hollingsworth paper placed into a cardboard folder and held in a black Perspex tray with a clear lid. Guildford, 1972.

Ronald King, Roy Fisher
Bluebeard’s Castle (1972)
Based on the opera by Bartok, the visual theme of the book is represented by nine pop-up constructions; the portcullis, the castle and seven secret chambers with the verse incorporated into the design printed in Optima. 125 signed copies – 30 x 20cm made up of 10 loose 4pp sections silk screened throughout onto Hollingsworth paper placed into a cardboard folder and held in a black Perspex tray with a clear lid. Guildford, 1972.

I was born in Brazil in 1932. The Carnival was a three-day event just before Lent and was visually very powerful. I loved the spectacle of the fancy dress, the masks and hobby horses. I spent a lot of times making paper toys and kites. Kites have a tremendous masklike presence, and they have appeared in my adult work; for instance, I used them in my Antony and Cleopatra (1979).

Ronald King, William Shakespeare Anthony and Cleopatra (1979) Over 30 screen printed designs for the full text of the play; printed letterpress in 11 pt Baskerville with screen printed handwriting for annotations by Keith Please. 300 signed copies, 40 proofs – eleven 8pp unbound sections – 38 x 29cm on Cuve Rives Blanc paper in a quarter-bound leatherette and canvas portfolio. Guildford, 1979.

Ronald King, William Shakespeare
Antony and Cleopatra (1979)
Over 30 screen printed designs for the full text of the play; printed letterpress in 11 pt Baskerville with screen printed handwriting for annotations by Keith Please. 300 signed copies, 40 proofs – eleven 8pp unbound sections – 38 x 29cm on Cuve Rives Blanc paper in a quarter-bound leatherette and canvas portfolio. Guildford, 1979.

The Left-Handed Punch (1986) and Anansi Company (1992) are the two most elaborate books Roy and I worked on. The Punch is my favourite of all the books I’ve done; it holds together better than Anansi and has more dimensions. Punch’s moveable puppets, on-stage descriptions, the large chunks of the original Cruikshank version of the text, and the drawn Victorian tableaux scenes (spoofs of famous drawings and paintings) all fit together easily, and the photo montages and collages are relieved by the inclusion of the poet’s (Roy’s) handwriting to strong effect.

Ronald King, Roy Fisher The Left-Handed Punch (1986) The fifth collaboration of artist and poet in a modern version of the Punch and Judy drama. Entirely screen-printed with the exception of the introduction, titles and colophon, which were printed letterpress in 14 pt Baskerville. 80 signed copies made up often 4pp French-folded sections – 38 x 28cm on Somerset mould-made paper. The six scenes and epilogue (which include 1 articulated puppet designs) are held in cartridge paper folders within a red cloth-covered folder inserted into a hand-printed striped cloth slipcase. Guildford, 1986.

Ronald King, Roy Fisher
The Left-Handed Punch (1986)
The fifth collaboration of artist and poet in a modern version of the Punch and Judy drama. Entirely screen-printed with the exception of the introduction, titles and colophon, which were printed letterpress in 14 pt Baskerville. 80 signed copies made up often 4pp French-folded sections – 38 x 28cm on Somerset mould-made paper. The six scenes and epilogue (which include 1 articulated puppet designs) are held in cartridge paper folders within a red cloth-covered folder inserted into a hand-printed striped cloth slipcase. Guildford, 1986.

The Anansi book is more spectacular with its removable puppets made of wire and card – the whole book is like the Brazilian Carnival scene as I knew it, lots of noisy music and revelry coming from all directions.

Ronald King The Anansi Company (1992) The seventh collaboration of artist and poet with thirteen screen-printed removable wire and card puppets. Introduction and accompanying verse printed letterpress in 14 & 18 pt Walbaum. 120 copies, 10 proofs – one 8pp section, thirteen 4pp French-fold sections, and one 4pp section (40 x 29cm), all loosely inserted into card wraparound and held in large colour-blocked solander box. London, 1992.

Ronald King
The Anansi Company (1992)
The seventh collaboration of artist and poet with thirteen screen-printed removable wire and card puppets. Introduction and accompanying verse printed letterpress in 14 & 18 pt Walbaum. 120 copies, 10 proofs – one 8pp section, thirteen 4pp French-fold sections, and one 4pp section (40 x 29cm), all loosely inserted into card wraparound and held in large colour-blocked solander box. London, 1992.

If I am to criticise other works, I would say that, too often, one look through is enough! That does not mean that I can’t enjoy that ‘one-look’ type of book; not only do I have a large collection of them, but my own wire-printed productions, Turn Over Darling (1990) and Echo Book (1994), are books of that nature… I try to make even those ‘one-look’ books tactile and pleasing to handle and the printing relevant to the content. As in good speech, the message is not enough, the quality of delivery is vital.

Ronald King Turn Over Darling (1990) A series of six double-sided blind-embossed images printed in wire, which, when folded and juxtaposed in sequence, make eleven reclining nudes which change position from front to back view. 75 signed copies – six 4pp sections – 20 x 15cm on RWS hand-made paper and an unsigned, unlimited edition on Khadi Indian hand-made paper, both bound into tan hand-made paper covers and inserted into grey card slipcase. London, 1990.

Ronald King
Turn Over Darling (1990)
A series of six double-sided blind-embossed images printed in wire, which, when folded and juxtaposed in sequence, make eleven reclining nudes which change position from front to back view. 75 signed copies – six 4pp sections – 20 x 15cm on RWS hand-made paper and an unsigned, unlimited edition on Khadi Indian hand-made paper, both bound into tan hand-made paper covers and inserted into grey card slipcase. London, 1990.

Ronald King Echo Book (1994) A small booklet with the words ‘ECHO BOOK’ printed in wire and blind-embossed to read ‘BOOK ECHO’ on the reverse of the page. The impression fades as the pages are turned in sequence. 75 signed copies with three 4pp sections – 20 x 8cm of Khadi hand-made paper and an unsigned and unlimited edition with two 4pp sections, both sewn into a blind embossed black paper cover. London, 1994.

Ronald King
Echo Book (1994)
A small booklet with the words ‘ECHO BOOK’ printed in wire and blind-embossed to read ‘BOOK ECHO’ on the reverse of the page. The impression fades as the pages are turned in sequence. 75 signed copies with three 4pp sections – 20 x 8cm of Khadi hand-made paper and an unsigned and unlimited edition with two 4pp sections, both sewn into a blind embossed black paper cover. London, 1994.

Although I was never a wholly traditional printer, I was closer to that stand-point when I began than now, when much of what I do might be described as the work of an experimental book artist. For many years now I have been using materials such as wire, wood, mirror and stone and exploring the elasticity of the book form itself. In selecting slides for lectures, I’m often aware of how my approach to the book form has developed. From the conventional solution of image and text in the format of the Chaucer Prologue in 1967 – through pop-up books, mirror books, wire-embossed books with double images, stone books, sawn and laser-cut ones – to the hollow log which I cut earlier this year into forty sections and bound in the inner ring to make four quarter-circle books that fit together into the original log form, is a long way.

Ronald King Log Books: Hollow Log (1995) An on-going project, begun in 1995, for a series of book-works which explore the possibilities of sawing a log of wood into book sections, or pages, which can be reassembled into their original log form. In the case of Hollow Log, pages are cut from the circumference of a hollow log, divided into four codex-bound books of equal size.

Ronald King
Log Books: Hollow Log (1995)
An on-going project, begun in 1995, for a series of book-works which explore the possibilities of sawing a log of wood into book sections, or pages, which can be reassembled into their original log form. In the case of Hollow Log, pages are cut from the circumference of a hollow log, divided into four codex-bound books of equal size.

Ronald King Hick Hack Hock (1996-7) A series of book-works varying in size (7 x 5cm – 13-18cm) based on the ‘paper, scissor, stone’ game. The scissors are blind-embossed onto a concertina of hand-made black paper with split stones (which act as covers) adhered to both ends of the folded pages. Text printed letterpress in 8 pt Helvetica. Each book contained in a hinged custom-made box. London, 1996-7.

Ronald King
Hick Hack Hock (1996-7)
A series of book-works varying in size (7 x 5cm – 13-18cm) based on the ‘paper, scissor, stone’ game. The scissors are blind-embossed onto a concertina of hand-made black paper with split stones (which act as covers) adhered to both ends of the folded pages. Text printed letterpress in 8 pt Helvetica. Each book contained in a hinged custom-made box. London, 1996-7.

Beautiful British Books: a South Wales Decorative and Fine Arts Society study day

Special Collections and Archives recently hosted a study day for the South Wales Decorative and Fine Arts Society, with Master Bookbinder Dominic Riley. It was a rare opportunity to learn about contemporary design bindings with one of the leading practitioners of the craft.

NADFAS 1

The day began with Dominic’s talk ‘Design Matters’, in which he showed examples of his unique fine bindings, explaining how each design grew from a response to the text and illustrations of the printed book. After the talk, Dominic gave a demonstration of the rarely shown technique of gold tooling onto leather.

NADFAS 2

Finally, the group was give a tour of the library, and had the opportunity to examine a range of examples of fine bindings and Private Press books from the Cardiff Rare Books collection.

 

Printers and bookbinders visit Special Collections and Archives

soc_binders2Special 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.

 

soc_printersBoth 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.

Magnificent bindings by Sangorski & Sutcliffe from the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

“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.

A Cardiff Christmas Carol

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!

Rare Duodo bindings discovered in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

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.