Earlier this week, the Special Collections department shut its doors for a collection day where all staff focused on one particular subject area and began making lists of what they had in their various collections that fit that subject. I found this week’s binding gem during this exercise almost by accident! As we were working through the shelves, I caught a glimpse of a heavily decorated spine (see left), which is usually a good indicator of an interesting binding, although not always. What came off the shelf nearly floored me. This is a copy of the 1658 Amsterdam printing of Eusebius’s Thesaurus temporum, a large and imposing (and heavy) volume.
This volume has been bound in contemporary brown goatskin on paste-boards and sewn very tightly. The front board of the volume has been decorated all over with gold stamped fleur-de-lis arranged in a lozenge pattern with the royal arms of Louis XIV stamped in gold in a central medallion. This front board was impressive enough, however, when I turned the volume over my surprise greatened! The back board is decorated all over, instead, in gold stamped bees arranged in a similar lozenge patter with the arms of Antonio Barberini, Archbishop of Rheims, stamped in gold in a central medallion. The book is further decorated with its board edges tooled in gold and with all edges gilt. There are no other markers of provenance in the volume, so it is guessed that this was a presentation copy given on behalf of Louis XIV and the Archbishop of Rheims to a church or dignitary.
This book was found in the r17 collection which is composed of any continental books printed in the 17th century that are not found in other named collections, and, from the institutional inscription and press-mark on the title page, we can deduce that this book has been in our collection since the 18th century. It was certainly brought to St Andrews for its textual content, however, I am sure that its binding would not have gone unnoticed. If anyone has seen a binding similar to this and knows more about the provenance of such copies, please get in touch!