52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 50: a 19th century deluxe photographic album

Thursday 24 May 2012
The back (left) and front (right) cover of Album 61, a Scottish family album from the 1870s or 1880s.

This week’s binding feature focusses on an item from a collection that has not yet been discussed here: the Photographic Collection. St Andrews University Library holds one of the largest and most important collections of historic photography in Scotland, stemming primarily from the fact that St Andrews played a vital role in the development of the photographic process through the early interest of Sir David Brewster and his friendship with William Henry Fox Talbot. The collection numbers in excess of 700,000 images in a wide variety of formats: negative (on glass and film of varying sizes), lantern slides, prints (from salt paper to modern photographic), postcards and modern transparencies.

The gold and green decorated endpapers of Photographic Album 61.
Two of the album pages from Album 61.

Amongst these astounding resources are a collection of over 70 19th century photographic albums ranging widely in style and use, and this week’s gem is one of them. Album 61 is a Scottish family portrait album that dates from the 1870s or 1880s. The whole album has been bound in brown goatskin over very thick boards, but each cover has been decorated differently: the front cover features blind blocked leaf pattern along the spine and corners and blind tooling throughout, the back cover has been decorated with a diamond shape pattern within a black frame.  The endpapers of this album only add to its beauty: they have been dyed dark green and feature a floral pattern all over printed in gold. The pages have been made from heavy card in green with gold frame windows and outer decorative frame lines and all of the edges of the album boards are gilt. This is most certainly a Scottish album, and probably comes from Glasgow, as the majority of the portraits were taken by various Glaswegian photographers.

Some of the ephemeral material found in Album 61.
Four other albums from the Photographic Collection: (top left to right) Album 64, Album 44, (bottom left to right) Album 50c and Album 49.

This album, like many in our collection, is a treasure trove of ephemeral bits and pieces. There are laid in postcards, photographs, decorative cards and letters scattered throughout this album, and give the reader an idea of the personal nature of this item. These types of albums, and their bindings, were the product of a new commercial era of photography, when collecting carte de visite and photographs of famous people was all the rage. Our albums in the photographic collection offer a wide range of these types of bindings (see right) and are a relatively untapped resource waiting for work to be done on them!


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