52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: reflections and index

My year-long experiment in weekly posting a new binding description finally came to an end last week with the beautiful Wardlaw Bible. This year’s worth of work evolved from an idea that I had during the attendance of last year’s Ligatus conference in Oxford, The Place of Bindings. I spent two days surrounded by some of the world experts on book bindings and their enthusiasm for their areas of expertise was palpable. I came back to the north of Scotland with a renewed interest in book bindings, and began to turn my eye to the collections I had been entrusted to catalogue.

I don’t think I really knew what I was starting when I first began writing the 52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings posts, but the weekly thread would take me into the heart of some of St Andrews’ finest collections. When I began last June, I was still finishing in-depth cataloguing work on the British portion of the Typographical Collection and hadn’t had much time to explore other collections curated by the Rare Books team. In order to keep some variety and interest in the binding posts, I had to quickly step out of the collection that I knew and begin searching for book bindings that fit the main criterion: fantastic. The Bible Collection was a standard go-to when I was running short on time on a Friday afternoon with no binding post ready, which is no surprise since large-format devotional text are perfect for elaborate decorations and contemporary trends. I found a great many of these binding posts in the general rare books collections as well, and some of the 19th century illustrated bindings have been the most popular in the thread. My favourite post of the thread was probably week 36, a gnarly, stitched-together 16th century binding found on one of our incunabula: a great puzzle to solve and a wonderful example of the re-use of binding materials.

This thread has been so popular that the Department of Special Collections has decided to run a new, weekly thread starting at the end of this month: 52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations. This thread will highlight some of the fantastic illustrative material we have in our collections: Photographic, Manuscript & Rare Book. The posts will be shorter in commentary and authored by the curators of each collection and will provide another year’s worth of lovely posts.

To thank you all who have helped me find a binding worth commenting on in the last hours of a week, or who have helped me identify a technique or material, and to all who viewed, commented on, re-Tweeted and re-blogged these posts I have put together a visual index of all 52 weeks of fantastic bindings. Each thumbnail will take you to the original post with full descriptions and hi-resolution images.

Week 1: Archbishop Ussher’s copy of his Britannicarum

Week 2: 17th century dos-à-dos Psalter

Week 3: two late 17th century Scottish bindings

Week 4: on the trail of the elusive John Murray

Week 5: a 16th century French Fanfare binding

Week 6: two of the earliest St Andrews bindings

Week 7: an 18th century fine Scottish binding

Week 8: an early St Andrews binding, from the Cathedral

Week 9: an unrecorded James Scott of Edinburgh binding

Week 10: a rare 17th century deerskin binding

Week 11: two early 17th century Edinburgh bindings

Week 12: Francis Hutcheson copies of Foulis Press works

Week 13: 14th c. manuscript fragment in 16th c. binding

Week 14: 16th c. half-binding, with drawing of Saint Veronica

Week 15: 15th c. Duns Scotus printed & bound by Koberger

Week 16: Sir D.W. Thompson’s copy of Flores historiarum

Week 17: three 16th century portrait bindings

Week 18: Tennyson’s Idylls of the King illustrated by Doré

Week 19: the mystery of Edward Gwynn

Week 20: books donated to St Andrews by Thomas Hollis

Week 21: a book fit for a countess

Week 22: a 16th c. book bound in 19th c. British Paisley cloth

Week 23: 17th c. hagiography in blind rolled pigskin

Week 24: Thorlak’s Bible in Icelandic leather with clasps

Week 25: the earliest Swedish binding in our collection

Week 26: 15th c. reverse sheep binding with horn window

Week 27: the biggest incunabula on our shelves

Week 28: 16th c. classic rebound in the 19th c.

Week 29: conservators at work, a tribute

Week 30: 16th c. Hebrew text in a leaf of 12th or 13th c. MS

Week 31: a gift from the Abp. of Canterbury, George Abbot

Week 32: a 19th c. Gothic heavy-weight

Week 33: a 19th c. gem designed by John Leighton

Week 34: possibly the earliest dated blind panel-stamp

Week 35: 20th c. embroidered cover possibly by May Morris

Week 36: a 16th c. Frankenstein-esque binding

Week 37: a 19th c. hand-painted binding

Week 38: an 18th c. Scottish Wheel Binding

Week 39: pinnacle of a 19th c. book designer

Week 40: 16th c. pigskin and medieval MS half binding

Week 41: gorgeous early 16th c. French clasps

Week 42: 15th c. Qur’an in gold-stamped goatskin

Week 43: 16th c. metallurgy bound in the 19th c.

Week 44: contemporary binding of the Ostrog Bible

Week 45: oldest St Andrews institutional binding, re-used

Week 46: an armorial stamp to remember an Earl by

Week 47: presentation from Louis XIV & Abp. of Rheims

Week 48: 19th c. Pictish gauffered edges

Week 49: a 19th c. German illustrated cover

Week 50: 19th c. deluxe photographic album

Week 51: 19th c. hand-painted and lacquered Qur’an

Week 52: embroidered Bible from Charles I


14 responses to “52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: reflections and index

  1. Thank you for this lovely series of postings – I’m glad to read that you’re now starting another, on illustrations! Brainwave to finish with an “index” of them all.

  2. Thank you from me also. It’s been great to see old friends, and some new ones as well. I look forward to a year’s worth of illustrations. How about the foreedge paintings in Lib Z?

  3. Just to say thanks for running the series, it’s been so interesting! I think my fave is the May Morris embroidery. I agree with karen about the value of the index in this last post and will be “borrowing” that idea when I come to the end of 100 Objects. I look forward to meeting the illustrations …

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