52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: Week 7

18th century fine Scottish binding with beautiful Dutch gilt papers

I have recently been working through some late 18th century Edinburgh imprints, mostly bound in standard commercial calf bindings, so when TypBE.D62BB came across my desk you can understand my delight. This book, a 1762 thesis submitted to the Faculty of Advocates, is bound in gorgeous contemporary red goatskin on thick boards. It has a gold tooled border featuring the Scottish thistle with a gold stamped medallion on both boards and with gold tooled board edges and turn-ins. From the outside, this book was a stunner, but when opening up to the endpapers I was shocked to find a lovely example of contemporary Dutch gilt papers. This style of decorative paper, which is thought to have mimicked popular brocade and damask patterns of the time, was popular on the continent from about 1700, and became popular in Great Britain shortly after. Dutch gilt papers were often used as temporary wrappers instead of hard-coverings, or as decorative endpapers (Princeton University Library’s Graphic Arts Collection blog has another, later example of Dutch gilt papers here). They were made by first printing a pattern using gold size and then the pattern was either re-printed using other colours or hand-coloured or stencilled. This example has clearly been hand-coloured using a dabbing method in greens, yellows, purples and oranges.

After cataloguing this book and its binding, the question arose: Why did this thesis have such an ornate binding? The answer to this question was in the armorial bookplate found on the front paste-down, that of Lord Prestongrange (pictured above). William Grant, Lord Prestongrange (1701-1764) was an elected procurator for the Church of Scotland, Lord Advocate and Member of Parliament. In 1754 he took the title Lord Prestongrange after being appointed as an ordinary Lord of Session and Lord of Justiciary in the Scottish courts; he was a popular character in Edinburgh society and he even makes a brief appearance in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Catriona. It seems that Lord Prestongrange kept his links with the Faculty of Advocates very strong, as this thesis is dedicated to him, and so explains why it was in his library and bound in such a fine manner.


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