52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 34: possibly the earliest dated blind panel-stamp extant
This week’s binding post is a bit of a mystery and is a perfect candidate for some further research. Recently recatalogued incunabula TypFP.A95GG is the 1495 Paris printing of Pope Gregory I’s Moralia, sive Expositio in Job. This work, printed by Ulrich Gering and Berthold Rembolt, is a large folio edition with bibliographic references and fists (or manicula) printed in the margin, and with a large index found at the end.
This volume was bound soon after printing in calf on oak boards. It has been decorated on both boards with blind tooled fillets and fleurs-de-lys stamps, with a central blind panel stamp of St James on the upper board and of the Annunciation on lower board, both bearing the name of “Mgr Iacobus Moerart”. The spine has raised (and in some cases exposed) bands with blind tooled spine panels; the fore-edge title has been inscribed in contemporary ink and there is evidence of two clasps.
This volume has been described in previous scholarship (mainly the St Andrews University Library Catalogue of Incunabula, printed 1956) as having “the earliest dated panel stamp known to exist”. This refers to the front panel, that of St James, which is stamped “M[a]g[iste]r Iacobus Moerart 1488”. This clearly refers to Jacques Moerart, a Parisian printer who was known to have worked between the years 1486 and 1501. Moerart is not known as a binder, however this could have been a stamp that was made for his shop and then used on this later printing. I’ve checked blind stamped panel binding in known binding databases (such as the British Library’s), but haven’t been able to match it to any other stamps known. So if this is actually the earliest dated panel stamp, I can’t substantiate it in an expedient manner.
Although it is not known how it arrived, this book came to St Andrews very early on, as it has the inscription of John Hepburn, Prior of St Andrews, at the head of leaf a2r. This is only one of two known books in our collections to have been in Hepburn’s personal library.