52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: Week 2

Bib BS2085.C27– An early 17th century dos-à-dos embroidered New Testament and Psalter

This week’s fantastic binding comes from the Bible collection, and has been in our collection for almost 50 years. Bib BS2085.C27 is an embroidered dos-à-dos bound copy of the 1627 New Testament in the Authorised Version and the 1627 Sternhold and Hopkins Whole booke of Psalmes. Both of these editions are exceedingly rare, according to ESTC: the 1627 New Testament (ESTC S123021) can only be found at the British Library, the Huntington Library and St Andrews; and the Whole booke of Psalmes (ESTC S90761) can only be found at the British Library, Winchester College Fellows Library and St Andrews.

Bib BS2085.C27 is bound  delicately in contemporary embroidered white canvas on boards, with a silver threaded raised medallion surrounding  a red and green embroidered tulip outlined in silver thread on both boards. Its spines are decorated with raised flowers in silver and other flowers in blue, red and white threads with green detailing. All of the edges are also gilt and gauffered. Some of the thread and canvas has been worn over time, but embroidered bindings are deceptively sturdy, and, because they were pretty objects, have often been kept with the utmost care.

Dos-à-dos bindings (from the French for “back-to-back”) were very popular in England by the beginning of the 17th century and were most commonly used for pairings of devotional texts. Embroidered bindings, such as this, were particularly en vogue in London in the first half of the 17th century, especially amongst female patrons. These bindings were sometimes made by women owners, but were more commonly made by professional embroiderers.  Bib BS2085.C27 is probably the product of the professional industry, as the central medallion on both boards bears a very striking resemblance to item no. 12 in Sokol Books Ltd. Catalogue 51 and to plate 39 in Cyril Davenport’s English embroidered bookbindings (London, 1899).


12 responses to “52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: Week 2

  1. Thanks, Daryl. The Cambridge New Testament and Psalms, there certainly is a similalrity. Such fine needlework must have taken time to complete. Any idea what it would cost? Also if there is any symbolism in the flower, bearing in mind the enormous sums tulips were fetching? I read somewhere that tulips represent faith and devotion, so perhaps that more properly explains it and puts it into context.

    • Hi Pam, Thanks for your comment.
      It would take a fair bit of research into the archives of the various broiderer’s guilds in London at the time, but I suspect that having a comparative look at the The Worshipful Company of Broderers’ archives could give someone a good idea of cost of something like this. I reckon that it probably wasn’t hugely expensive, as the time to produce one of these on a piece of canvas was considerably less than a garment or tapestry.

      There is certainly a similarity in the tulips used in both the St Andrews copy as well as the one for sale at Sokol, but the other similar binding at the British Library has a rose in the medallion. Both have various meanings, but would have probably been the choice of the person commissioning the binding.

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  6. Rather late to land here but so incredibly happy to have found ‘you’. Terrific stuff, all of it…loved especially this post with the tulip embroidery which I shall scoop up into a lecture on the strange story of the tulip’s boom/bust – this so delightfully affirming the reverence in which it was held – so cool! All of it fascinates and now a faithful follower.

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