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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


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14 thoughts on "52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: reflections and index"

  1. 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?

      1. Sirs, I am an interested collector of poultry books, and I note a book in week 20 The Thomas Hollis collection with a poultry logo. Is this a work on poultry or just an owners logo. Regards James

  2. 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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