Guide to the Research Collections



The library has a strong collection dealing with bookbinding in all its aspects, and remarkable holdings of fine bindings. The collecting policy for technical books on the subject is comprehensive. There are approximately 1,800 references to bookbinding in the Public Catalog, including such aspects of the field as armorial binding and bookbinding materials. A number of index entries for periodical articles direct the reader to bookbinding information in periodicals on other subjects. Periodicals devoted wholly or partially to the subject range from the late nineteenth century to the present; the library currently receives nine titles including La Reliure (1891- ) and the Schweizerische Fachschrift fr Buchbindereien (1950- ). Catalogs of collections or exhibitions of bookbinding are a substantial part of the holdings.

Trade Bindings in the General Collections

The General Research and Humanities Division has acquired a selective group of trade bindings which illustrate the development of the industry. These bindings are from many countries, with the United States and England most strongly represented. They cover a period from the early nineteenth century to the present, although few examples were added during the 1940s and 1950s. Acquisitions are made on a very selective basis and include unusual examples such as Marc Saporta's innovative Composition No 1 (1962), the pages of which the reader is invited to shuffle like a deck of cards.

Fine Bindings in the Spencer Collection

The collection acquires finely illustrated books in handsome bindings representing the work of the most noted bookbinders of all countries. Examples range from the fifteenth century to the present. The earliest examples include leather-covered missal boxes with woodcuts decorating the inner lids, as well as incunabula in contemporaneous bindings. A girdle book breviary, dated 1454 and bound in a leather pouch to be hung from the belt or girdle is a great rarity.14 Among the sixteenth-century items is a Grolier binding which came from the collection of Lucius Wilmerding. Seventeenth-century bindings include fine examples of the work of the Englishmen Roger Bartlett and Samuel Mearne. The holdings of eighteenth-century bindings are strongest in French work, with specimens of the bindings of Padeloup. Derme le Jeune, and others. Many of the books in W.A. Spencer's original collection were bound by the great nineteenth- and twentieth-century French binders; there are also modern bindings from England, Germany, Spain, the United States, and other countries.15 Unusual bindings in the collection include embroidered, ivory, and jewelled bindings, and those made of leaves from old manuscripts. Oriental books in the collection add lacquered bindings from India, palm leaf bindings, and bindings of painted and tooled leather.

Fine Bindings in the Rare Book Division

The division does not actively collect bindings, but many fine examples have been acquired through gift, and by purchase of books important for their text. There are approximately thirty bindings of the fifteenth century, some with clasps. Of the unsigned bindings, the greatest number are from the sixteenth century; signed bindings date for the most part from the nineteenth century. Curious bindings in the division form an interesting group extending from those made of wallpaper to the cover of a baseball, and from fiber glass to cigar boxes.16 A treatise on Shakespeare is bound in oak board from Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was baptized and buried. The first Hawaiian hymnal, compiled by William Ellis and Hiram Bingham and printed in Oahu in 1828, is bound in tortoise shell with a leather back.

Two special files maintained in the Rare Book Division relate to bindings:

Bindings File

A card file of books in the division arranged alphabetically by names of binders and owners (as indicated by coats of arms, signatures, etc. on the bindings) (active, 4 card drawers). The alphabetical list is followed by a classed arrangement: by century for unsigned bindings, and by special categories (such as embroidered, silver, curious bindings, fore-edge paintings, etc.). There is also a section containing original and facsimile binders' labels.

Reproductions of Bindings

A vertical file of pictures, most of them clipped from dealers' catalogs, mounted and sourced (active, 11 file boxes). The file is in three parts: pictures of bindings arranged by name of binder (5 boxes); those arranged by special forms, such as chained bindings, embroidered bindings, etc. (3 boxes); and representations of armorial association bindings (3 boxes).

Fine Bindings in the Arents Tobacco Collection

Among the many notable examples in this collection are English armorial bindings made for Elizabeth I, and for James I and his queen, Anne of Denmark.