52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 47: a presentation binding from Louis XIV and Antonio Barberini, Archbishop of Rheims

Friday 4 May 2012
Front (left) and back (right) boards of r17f BR65.C5C58, a late 17th century printing of Eusebius’s Thesaurus temporum, with a presentation binding bearing the arms of Louis XIV and Antonio Barberini, Archbishop of Rheims.
The spine of r17f BR65.C5C58, with raised bands and decorated with gold stamped fleur-de-lis.
The title page of r17f BR65.C5C58.

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.

Detail of the two central coats of arms: Louis XIV (left) and Antonio Barberini (right).

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!


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5 thoughts on "52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 47: a presentation binding from Louis XIV and Antonio Barberini, Archbishop of Rheims"

  • Christine Gascoigne
    Christine Gascoigne
    Friday 4 May 2012, 5.48pm

    I have a vague idea that there is also a Barberini binding in the George Hay Forbes collection, though I may be mistaken - as time goes on I forget details of the collections and indeed I suppose it would be quite surprising if the Library had 2 such bindings, but do keep an eye out for one, without wasting a lot of time over it!

    • St Andrews Special Collections
      St Andrews Special Collections
      Sunday 6 May 2012, 7.30pm

      Will do Christine, the GHF collection rivals r17 for untapped treasures, I can't wait to get my cataloguing teeth into it!

  • Isaiah
    Wednesday 13 December 2017, 7.01pm

    I've come across a very similar binding which I purchased from a Carolinian University that was discarding many of their books. It too has no provenance info inside, but both boards are tooled very much like the front of the example here. I like your theory of "presentation" copy, it makes sense that both of these books are coming out of institutions. Thanks for the post!

  • Anthony Davis
    Anthony Davis
    Saturday 27 February 2021, 10.01am

    I recently purchased a large 1684 copy of Notitia Ecclesiastica from the US with the identical fleur-de-lis arrangement boarder and arms but on both sides. The book was described as a presentation copy but cited this post as the "research" supporting this. On further investigation it has a library stamp Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary Philadelphia who I have contacted but had no reply. The theory they are presentation copies to the college from Louis the XIV court is of course flawed Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary Philadelphia was founded in 1832, Carolinian University (formerly Piedmont International) wasn't founded until 1945. Only Harvard (Formerly Newtowne, later called Cambridge) and Pennsylvania in the US claims to be founded prior to the publication of these books but these were much simpler affairs and Pennsylvania claims to be the first University in 1779 The best resource is the National Library of Russia online exhibition of French Royal Bindings of the 17th - 19th Centuries

    • skr23
      Friday 5 March 2021, 11.41am

      It’s fantastic that you’ve purchased a book with an identical fleur-de-lis binding (on both boards). Our rare books cataloguer who wrote this post surmised that our book might be a presentation copy to a church or dignitary. You’re absolutely right that the dates don’t fit for your book being a presentation copy from Louis XIV’s court to an American institution – it most probably made its way over at a later date. I hope you hear back from the Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, and that they can shed some light on the provenance of your copy.


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