52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: Week 3

TypBE.C81LM & r17 DA300.J64 – two late 17th century Scottish bindings

This week’s fantastic binding is a double feature: one item that has been in our collection for a long time and another that we have just recently added to our vault. Both items are large, folio-sized books which feature distinct binding material and tooling that tell us that they were bound in Scotland before the turn of the 18th century.

The first item and recent addition to the Rare Books Collections, is the 1655 edition of Robert Johnston’s Historia rerum Britannicarum. This book was printed in Amsterdam and features a history of Europe from 1572-1628, with a special focus on Scottish and English history. The library acquired this book because of its local connections to Fife: this volume has the armorial bookplate of Sir John Anstruther (1673-ca. 1754) on the verso of the title page. Before Sir Anstruther, this volume was in the collection of Sir William Primrose, 2nd Bart., who was probably the first owner. After unknown years in private ownership, this book has returned to Fife and provides us with our first example of fine 17th century Scottish binding. It is bound in contemporary sprinkled calf on boards, with gold tooled board edges and spine panels (pictured below). The gold tool used for the board edges features the thistle, and so this tells us that this book was probably bought unbound (either on the continent or in the U.K.) and then brought to Scotland to be bound.

The second item, the 1681 printing of The laws and acts of Parliament made by King James the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Queen Mary, King James the Sixth, King Charles the First, King Charles the Second who now presently reigns, Kings and Queen of Scotland, is interesting both bibliographically and as an example of extremely ornate binding. This work is not a rare work, it has been recorded by ESTC in over 50 libraries in the U.K., United States and beyond. However, the St Andrews copy at TypBE.C81LM has evidence to suggest that it was a pre-press copy. In it, the plates (including the added engraved title page, pictured above) have been mounted to blank leaves and there are press corrections on leaf pi1v, and the later-inserted quire 2* is missing. This copy (pictured above) is beautifully bound in contemporary red goatskin on wooden boards with ornate gold work on the front and back covers, the edges of the boards and the spine. Again, it this is identified as a Scottish binding by the thistle tool used on the front and back boards.

DG

ps. look to this spot in the next few weeks for a post about some even earlier and more beautiful examples of Scottish bindings!

4 responses to “52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: Week 3

  1. wooden boards on ‘laws & acts…’? was that common on scottish bindings of the period? i know americans used wood, aka scabbard, pretty commonly a little bit later than this but i am unfamiliar with scottish bindings. and thanks for the blog. can i make a humble request to see a binding with scottish wheel design at some point in the future?

    • Hi Evan,
      Thanks for your comment. Wooden boards are a common find on early British bindings of large format. Occasionally you’ll find wooden boards used in extremely fine bindings of smaller formats, but wood was often used in the big books to provide a stronger support for the text block and ties. These boards are almost always covered with pig or calf, and later in goatskin.

      Also, thanks for the request! Keep your eye on the blog in the next few weeks, I’ve got a post coming on some earlier Scottish bindings that you will like, and I’ll see if I can find one in our collection with the wheel design.

  2. i know it’s common for large and small Northern European books to be bound in wood boards from 1500 and before. But I am of the understanding that the practice dwindled down after that due to the easier alternatives (pasteboards and binder’s board) until the 1550s, such that it is exceedingly uncommon for books from Europe from that period or later, of any size, to be bound in wood boards (however, note the practice was common in North America at a contemporary period, as introduced in my first reply). …This piece is about 100 years after that, so to me that aspect of the book is a little odd – did you visually identify that it’s wood?

    • I’ve had a second look at this book after your comment. Unfortunately, the endpapers are on quite firmly, and there is no place in which they can be lifted to ‘look under the hood.’ My initial assumption that our copy was on wood boards was based on two things: the weight and thickness (about 125mm) of the boards and passing the ‘thump’ test (i.e. testing the resonance of the board against two known quantities [pasteboard and wood] by thumping on it gently). All though this is not definitive, I’m almost certain that this is not on pasteboards. The ‘thump’ test identified that whatever was used was certainly heavier and harder than pasteboards, but not as dense: and so I assumed wood. If you can suggest another material that might fit this description, I would be happy to consider it.

      Thanks for your continued interest in this thread, and the blog!

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