This page is about Stikeman & Co. (bookbinders), and is an effort to record some of the work of a once-prominent (among his peers) art book binder, and the company he founded. Feel free to contact me if you have anything to add about the bindery, or if you spot anything here which is incorrect.
Henry Stikeman’s career virtually paralleled the heyday of art bookbinding in America: beginning toward the end of the 19th century, into the beginning of the 20th. A Stikeman binding from the 1880s through, say, 1910-15, represents the best work of the firm, and is from the period which personally interests me the most.
I currently have about fifty volumes in my collection of Stikeman bindings, both those executed directly by Henry himself (a critical difference), and also later examples of his firm’s work. Because a few of them are from matching multi-volume sets, where each volume has a similar binding, there are only a few dozen binding design variants in the collection.
I collect the bindery’s work, the binding itself. Which means that the binding is of primary importance to me, the content (subject, author, first-edition, etc.) is second. I do care about the content, and content taken together with the binding makes for the sum-total, but binding is the first consideration for me.
The focus of my collection (and every collection needs a focus) is ultimately to sketching out a wider view of the Stikeman bindery’s work. I’m developing a collection over the long term which encompasses and describes as many periods of the work as possible, and which exhibits the firm’s great range: more typical standard work; ‘deluxe’ bindings and sets; and the exceptionally rare ‘exhibition’ art bindings. Any decent collection requires high points (most of which have been siphoned off the market already, alas), but a collection also benefits from some examples of the standard work. If only to set scale or range.
It’s often said that there are two schools of thought in collecting: ‘Narrow/Deep’, or ‘Shallow/Wide’. I’m hoping someday for a collection both wide and deep, but my resources are sadly narrow and shallow…
Timid -but Invigorating- First Forays
These volumes were the first Stikeman bindings I ever purchased, and sat inches apart from each other on a single shelf on the upper floor of Ken Gloss’s Brattle Bookshop in Boston. They’d likely come from a single collection purchase en bloc, which would explain their proximity to each other.
I had learned about the Stikeman bindery out of the blue, at a book fair, and because the name is unique to my immediate family (and a handful of cousins in Canada), I was still in a bit of shock. Who was this ‘Stikeman’. More on that later. …likely much later. I’m working on a history of the bindery, and hope to eventually publish something about their place in the history of binding in America.
But back to the collection itself.
By far the most common and least expensive (both when originally executed, and when purchased today) are the half- or three-quarter leather bindings. Content aside, the bindings are relatively affordable. A paradox here is that although there are vastly more of these types of bindings on the market than there are the full-leather high end extra-gilt versions, the latter are usually in much better shape. The more common bindings are more likely to be kicked around, and so I actually see very few three-quarter or half-leather bindings in pristine shape despite their overwhelming numbers. Those three-quarter bindings that are in fine shape are usually part of a set, many of which seem to have sat on shelves unopened since the day they were bound.
My first purchases were humble bindings, dinged up, but enough to give me the bug. I had come to the Brattle after my shock of discovering (as a book-lover) that there was a binder in the family’s history. Not knowing what to look for, I needed to look at virtually every book to find them. Take one down, open it up, look for a binder’s signature. Repeat a few hundred times.
The Greville set is three-quarter in buckram (a waxed or impregnated linen of sorts), the rest have marbled (paper) boards. For Stikeman, the buckram is more common, generally. Very generally, marbled boards appear usually only on books published in (or whose subjects concern) Continental Europe. The general pattern is that the fillets or rules on the boards are somewhat thick and there is only one single rule. There are only a few Stikeman examples of marbled boards without the gilt rules, and fewer where the rule is a double one. The majority are buckram with a single gilt rule. All of the bindings above exhibit rubbed hinges and some chipping. Not terribly desirable examples, but they hold a special spot in the collection since they represent my first plunge into collecting Stikeman & Co.
During its prime, Stikeman & C0. was capable of turning out a stunningly large volume of high quality work. They did the large majority of the special publisher “sets” of the period (for Scribners, Harcourt, Riverside Press, etc.), likely looking upon that type of work as their bread-and-butter. The Lowell Set above was a set I purchased at the Commonwealth Bookstore, on Tremont Street in Boston. Originally published in ten volumes, four later volumes were issued, and were ultimately bound as one set of fourteen. Stikeman also did full-leather sets. Often an issue was made in three quarter leather, and then a finer edition (extra-illustrated, for example) was offered in a more deluxe binding. It is not uncommon for these deluxe full-leather sets to go for $10-$30,000 these days. My three-quarter set, however, was far less costly. Their condition is virtually as-new.
As similar as these are to other three-quarter bindings from other binders of the period, after looking at so many over the years, I’m now at the point where I can pretty well pick out Stikeman & Co. examples by just viewing the spines on a shelf at arms’ length. This is a great help at fairs, where one dealer may have 500 books for sale. It can be self-limiting, though as I may skip over unusual examples because they don’t fit the pattern, and I only notice those that reaffirm it. Usually though, even just the title lettering alone is enough to make me suspect a book is Stikeman & Co.
Stikeman also produced full-leather deluxe sets. They are a tour-de-force, often exhibiting onlay/inlay work, generally extra-gilt. There were very few binders capable of executing such a sizable volume of work at that quality in turn of the century America, MacDonald and Bradstreet, perhaps. I have only a part of a deluxe set (see Richardson’s “Pamela”, below).
Of all the bindings I have, perhaps the finest, in terms of binding expertise and condition, solidity, etc. is the pair below. For a time, the Bettens family produced a memorial volume (private press) upon the death of each their family members. I have two of what I think are five. Printed on “Japan vellum”, with tissue-guarded photogravures, they are an amazing production. For me though, it is the bindings, in their simplest, stripped down, unadorned “Jansenist” style that really produce the desired effect of solemnity and quiet . There is nowhere to hide. The leather is perfect, construction is solid and expert. The bindings, when shut, still have a slight convex curve to the boards. And it is clear at every detail that the bindings look the way they do simply as a result of their construction, and that the small marks and tell-tale details which remain as artifacts of the binding process are adornment enough. This is a binding. Beyond this, all the gilt and extra work is finishing.“To be strong-backed and neat bound is the Desideratum of a volume. Magnificence comes after”
Charles Lamb, ‘Essays of Elia’
Here’s a piece that doesn’t quite fit the rest of the bunch. Which is of course why I needed it for the collection. It’s a simple volume, untrimmed with simple paper pasted-downs, in horsehide. It’s not unusual to see a calf binding (well, horsehide actually) blind stamped with onlay titles on the spine, it’s just the Stikeman shop rarely did them. Calf or horsehide is not the wisest of choices if you are concerned with potential condition of the binding under normal use. It wears and scratches easily. Other than the fact that it sits outside their typical style of things, it is an otherwise not too special binding. But it’s in great shape, and it’s enough of an oddity that I had to add it to the collection.
I think I got it from Tom Boss. I had been in and out of his shop for a few years, buying only one “real” volume in that time (The van Winkle, below). At about a tenth of what the van Winkle went for, it was a cheap enough volume. I felt I need to buy something after taking up so much of his time tire-kicking, and this would fill a niche in the collection, simply by its being unlike all the other pieces.
As far as I can tell, this extra-gilt two-volume set (below) was a rebinding job for its owner, as opposed to a set that was executed for a publisher and sold in a limited edition. I picked these up from Bauman Rare Books, in New York. Housed in custom chemises themselves further protected by slipcases, the set is in virtually new condition, despite being published a hundred years ago. The sunning of the slipcases, to a uniform light brown from green, is testament to the reason for the slip cases in the first place.
The set is heavily tooled. Although the wide board borders are likely done from a single stamp, they are lined inside and out with fillets, and the outer board edges are traced with a fillet of squared brackets stopped by heavy dots. The raised bands are also filleted with a dotted rule, also stopped by heavy dots.
Note the rough, ungilded edges of the text block. Most times the pages are gilded at top at least, others untrimmed (original deckle edge to the paper leaving ‘wide margins’ as was often preferred at the time). After that, next most common for Stikeman is trimmed and gilded all sides. Still others are left unopened or uncut, the text block bound without separating the pages individually from the larger folded sheet they are printed on. These here had nothing done to them. Because they were rebound from cheaper commercial bindings of publisher’s cloth (presumably), the text block was already trimmed, and to trim it further would have narrowed the already narrow margins unacceptably.
Other volumes of mine are slipcased (Uzanne’s “L’Art…” , the “Trilby”, Lowell’s “Democracy”), not too uncommon when dealing with art bindings, but this set is also protected by chemises which first enclose the volumes before they go into the slipcases.
N.B. (Dec. 2013); This set, among the few in as-new condition which I have handled, is now no longer in my collection. It is in the hands of the fine book dealer David Brass, from whom I received the ‘Elizabethan Songs’ volume, listed here in an update much further down this page.
Thomas Boss for a while had a shop on Boylston Street, Boston. In that area there were four incredible rare book dealers within walking distance of my day-job (Buddenbrooks, Thomas Boss, Peter Stern, and Bromer’s ), and lunchtimes I would overstay my welcome at all of them, trying to become educated about bindings, Stikeman & Co., and the trade in general. Frankly, I probably wore out my welcome. Tom was a collector of American bindings himself, and had a personal collection that was not a part of his shop inventory. The best and worst thing that could have happened to me as a neophyte collector was to stumble into this shop early on. It was great, because Tom was generous with his time, answering questions and showing me some examples of Stikeman & Co. work that he had for sale, as well as alluding to some in his collection. The down-side, though, was that in being exposed to some of the finest Stikeman & Co. bindings I was to ever see, in literally the first shop I visited, I made the assumption that such bindings abounded and could be had fairly readily. This was pre-internet, so when I walked into a store that had two superb examples for sale, and the owner had two or three more in his own collection, well… I simply took it as a given that museum-quality pieces of the Stikeman Bindery could be found easily. Fifteen years later I rue the fact that I did not pay what it took to get them then, as they are now worth considerably more. They are also now all scattered and squirreled away in other collections. Except this one. I bit the bullet (this was a big purchase at the time, what with a child on the way and a new home recently purchased), and went back to Tom’s shop and bought this volume.
An “exhibition binding” is one that was executed as a self-commissioned piece (usually), and which is often over the top in an effort to showcase the skill of the binder and to stand out among his peer’s work. The Grolier Club frequently held exhibitions, as did Charles Scribner’s and Sons, and other New York publishing houses or book clubs. The Rip van Winkle above is not a first edition, and the nature of the text is not necessarily germane to the design of the binding . The book is “all about the binding”. This binding appeared in the November 13th, 1901 Scribner’s Exhibition, and was described in the trade journal ‘The Publisher’s Weekly’ (No. 1555) later that week: “Among American
binders represented are Stikeman, MacDonald, the Club Bindery, and others. Noteworthy in the American examples is a copy of “Rip Van Winkle” in full crimson morocco, with an appropriate design of poppy blossom and leaf.”
The binding has been expertly repaired. The front board had been popped off when, as it was told to me, the book was removed from a shelf in Tom’s collection by an interested but too-relaxed visitor, and dropped. The repair is nearly invisible, but in the tradition of the best conservation work today, it is also readily apparent to the trained eye, not trying to ‘hide’ the repair so much as make it unobtrusive. The spine is very slightly sunned, and there is a minor chip to the upper front board edge. Otherwise fine.
What is important to understand about Henry’s early work, and this is an example probably from a period maybe just a few years before (or while) he took over the Alfred Matthew’s firm, is that the wide borders on the boards are pieced together from individual tools. This was not a monolithically stamped design, as if done with a stamp the size of the board itself. Each leaf or flower device was stamped individually. The Grolieresque intertwining border rules were achieved with curved (“gouge”) rule stamps and mitred rules. The human hand permitting minor enough variances to make it clear that this was done stamp by stamp. Later examples (1910-1920s)also exhibit intricate boards with much gilt ruling and stamping, but these were often done (especially on large multi-volume commercial sets) with a large stamp. See the “History of Art” volumes further below for an example.
The idiosyncratic nature of Henry’s early work derives almost undoubtedly from his time with Matthews, who in turn was borrowing from an earlier period. Matthews’ work was often made up of very delicate toolings, thin lines, lighter devices, pointillization, etc. All of it making for a heavily worked yet still ‘delicate’ appearance. Where the later work of Stikeman&C0. is often bolder, with heavier (wider) rules, larger and beefier fillet stamps, the early works are lacier and comprise light and very fine work. We can see this in the van Winkle volume above, but perhaps it is all the more evident in the following two volumes, Lowell’s “Democracy” and DeMaurier’s “Trilby”.
In these last two above volumes we can clearly see the influence of William Matthews, the one American binder of note in the mid 1800’s. A designer with whom he worked, Louis J. Rhead, was responsible ( in this Matthews example, below) for the wreaths of willow branches and the design of the stamps and devices.
Especially on the inside board (at right) of the Matthews example, it is possible to see where Stikeman developed his early affinity for the leafy delicate scrolls and tracing extra-thin ruling (see the Trilby example). The single-line extra thin rule, which loops about the interior of the board symmetrically, is something that appears somewhat often in Stikeman’s finer work, especially his Grolieresque Bindings for members of the Grolier Club, which I will discuss on another page.
What’s apparent in this American (specifically, New York) work, ca, 1890, is that the binders were a small group, sharing ideas, working together, and intent on creating an American Style. Stikeman and Macdonald both worked at Matthews, Stikeman eventually taking the firm over, MacDonald leaving before then and starting his own firm around 1880. They were operating under the heavy precedent of the great English, French, and German binders, and seemed determined to create something different, yet necessarily responsive and even derived from the tradition. These American Bindings seem to me to be a bit idiosyncratic, self-consciously inventive, and perhaps not as strongly developed as the work on the continent. Still, it was clear that the Americans had something. Writing about a Grolier Club exhibition in “Bookbindings Old and New, Notes of a Booklover” , Brander Matthews asserts that although binding in America was held back not by a lack of artistic talent, but by virtue of the high cost of labor, materials, and tariffs, the “American craftsmen were capable of turning out work of a very high rank. The best of the books bound by Mr. William Matthews, by Mr. Alfred Matthews, by Bradstreets, by Mr. Smith, and by Mr. Stikeman, held their own fairly well. Considering the difficulties under which the art has developed in this country, the showing made by the American binders was the most creditable.”
The Uzanne volume is surprisingly rare. I know of only one other copy available, on the web at least. It is a hefty volume, containing color plates and lithographs of much of the then-modern work being done with regard to bookbinding and exteriors (including commercial cloth bindings). Uzanne was utterly convinced of the superiority of his countrymen’s work, especially that in Paris. The book deals almost entirely with bindings done “on the continent”, but touches (begrudgingly) briefly on the Americans, who get a single page out of some 300 pages. Stikeman gets a mention, and is listed as one among the very few excellent American binders. However, as is often the case even today, his name was misspelled (viz: “Stickemann”). It appears though that Henry took some measure of revenge, by changing Octave’s first initial (on the spine title) from an “O” to a “C”. Touche’, mon frer!
It is a fairly typical one-off all leather volume by Stikeman and Company. The corner devices are composed of individually stamped tools, rather than from one large corner stamp. The small dots and idiosyncratic composition of the corner devices is more in line with Henry’s earlier work, as compared to the bolder, thicker (ruled) and generally less “delicate” work seen in later bindings. The spine panels are also heavily tooled and composed of numerous smaller stamps. Later volumes might exhibit a single tool in each corner, surrounded by gilt rules. These are built-up in-fill designs from multiple stamps.
The Piexotto volume above appeared to me at first to have been achieved with a large stamp, embossing the entire board at once. But closer inspection reveals tiny alignment differences, and the alternating floral devices on the boards appear by themselves in the center of the spine panels. It’s clear that the rather wide (and highly successful) borders on the boards are made of individual stamps. Further evidence is that the inner dentelles (where the cover leather is turned in) are stamped, only in the corners, from one half of the typical symmetrical block/scroll device which constitutes the front borders. It’s a beautiful book. The volume is filled with early sketches of California, especially the missions, and is a wonderfully cohesive production. I see no French precedent in the front boards. The inner dentelles are almost ‘western’ in motif. It is essentially Henry being an American, on a volume with an American subject .
The Grolieresque boards of “The History of Art in Phoenicia” and “…in Chaldaea and Assyria” are gorgeous, and they certainly had me crossing my fingers that they might have been pieced together from individual tools (these were eBay purchases), but they are monolithically stamped from a large stamp roughly the size of the boards themselves. The gilt rules are later added and make up the difference in size between the larger stamp and the board edges. It’s interesting that the larger stamp seems to have been made from a casting made from a hand-stamped “master” of sorts. There are small human-error variations where the tooling appears to be done individually, but when each board is examined, it is clear that the same variation occurs in the same spot on all eight boards. Unlike a cover made up of multiple individually placed stamps, the gold here acts almost monolithically. Notice how the glare or highlight from being side-lit covers all of the gilding on the side of the board, as though the gilt work is one mirror-like surface, exactly in-plane. When the same type of work is done by hand, the angle of the tool is slightly different with each mark, where the tool tilts one way or another, just enough to make each tool mark shine at a slightly different angle than the next. The tool marks sparkle independently, rather than all at once.
Morris Kalaba, a partner in the Stikeman firm after the turn of the century, held a patent for a device to stamp or emboss a design on an entire board all at once. I do not know if this is an example directly related to that patent. The concept of embossing was not new, however. Publisher’s colorful cloth bindings were similarly embossed in the mid 1800s onward, and the idea of doing the same in leather was likely not entirely original or uncommon.
Here’s a set where the work on the boards was tooled with individual stamps. The full set (which was apparently broken up and sold in parts, a crime which ought to be punishable by death), was twenty volumes. My example numbers five.
[Note: This has since been edited; I’ve scanned the front and rear boards of one of the ‘Pamela’ volumes, and compared them by superimposing one on the other digitally. It seems clear that the gilt of the front and rear boards was in fact executed with the use of a large board-sized single die, or stamp.]
Elsewhere in this section of the site dedicated to Stikeman and Co., I will post a variant on this binding. Even when executing matching sets for a deluxe issue, Stikeman would alter things, or invert colors. If a set were done in red leather, with green doublures, Stikeman would sometimes do a set in reverse, with green boards and red doublures. Perhaps it was a nod to economy (being frugal with very expensive leather), though “economy” is not the watchword when producing full-leather sets with onlaid leather in contrasting colors, all extra gilt.
Note here the bands of the spine are very broad and shallow, as though sewn on wider cloth tape (as opposed to narrower cords), which they may have been. This is uncommon in Stikeman & Co. work, and here permits a very unusual addition of small flowers to be gilt-stamped along the bands themselves.
Note the deckled edge of the paper/pages. Many of these “deluxe sets” were left untrimmed, with perhaps the only top edge gilded. Wide margins, extra illustrations, unopened pages, tipped-in letters, author’s signatures… All of these were intended to elevate the publisher’s deluxe binding from that of the lower tiers, and are indicative of the growing American interest in collecting books at the turn of the century.
[Update: Nov 2011]
A mention in issue No.13 of “The Book-Lover” magazine, dated August 1902 describes these very volumes:
Note the cost of the full 20 volume set: $2000. In 1902, a brand new top of the line Packard was $2100. Adjusted for inflation, their cost would be $50,000 dollars in today’s money.
These three volumes below are large folios, and contain over 1500 engravings published in twelve monthly volumes (bound as three) by the otherwise unknown “A. Raguenet”, of Paris, around 1860-1870. They contain a fantastic wealth of historic information regarding structures all over France, from the medieval period forward, including cathedrals, churches,manses, houses, graveyard structures, and even farm buildings.
The volumes were published fifty years before World War I, and some 70 before World War II, the most destructive war in European history. In both, France lost uncountable historic structures, especially in and around the invasion areas. These volumes record hundreds of structures no longer existing.
In addition to books, I also have an interest in World War II and though I am no historian I do have some familiarity with the subject. I’ve read many books, seen many photographs, and watched many snippets of film recording the war, ecpecially the events concerning D-Day and the invasion of Normandy. I was shocked, then, when I recognized a building in one of the engravings:
After digging through more than a few of my books I stumbled on a photo I had subconsciously stored away: A background building in a photo from Dan Vand Der Vat’s excellent “People’s History of D-Day”, p. 183
Enlarging to read the street sign…
A bit of Googling…
…and she still stands, 140 years after Raguenet engraved this building for his encyclopedia, lasting through two wars fought literally at her doorstep, and now simply recorded incidentally in a drive down the street by omnipresent Google.
Perhaps the most custom production in the collection is this folio (below), standing about sixteen inches tall, in full green morocco. It is an “armorial” binding, done for a private press edition of a history of the Sayles, Dorr, and allied (related) families. Copies in wrappers may be found on the web easily enough, and I do not know how many of these deluxe versions were done up as a part of the production. In order to produce the coats of armor on the two boards, custom carved stamps were created for the griffins’ heads, tudor roses, ribboned mottos, quatrefoils, and scrolls. The onlaid coats of armor are done in black crushed morroco, with silver leaf and gilt.
This photograph provides a beautiful look at the grain of the leather. Stikeman used, almost exclusively, a goat’s leather from the Near East (hence the term “Levant” ) which is interchangeably, though probably incorrectly, also referred to as “Morocco”. Morocco is actually a subspecies of Levant. The distinction is due partly to the type of tannins used in producing the leather. Today, Morocco seems to be the term used most often, whether it is technically ‘Morocco” Levant or not. Suffice it to say, the grain is what we care about here, and thankfully whether the correct term is used or not, the difference between contemporary leather and the leather of a hundred years ago is blatantly obvious. The goats from which this came a hundred years ago are (I understand, anyway) now extinct. Today’s bookbinding leather comes primarily from Northwestern or Southern Africa (making it “Niger”), and isn’t nearly as beautiful. The dyes today are very opaque, also. Leather available now has no depth what so ever, as if the color lies on top. Here, the leather is actually stained to its depth, and you can see variation in the color of the grain. Even the best of today’s leather looks like embossed vinyl.
The dentelles and their corner quatrefoils are similar to those of “The Medici”, above. The binding is unsigned.
The added freehand dots are also very typical of earlier Stikeman work, and this photograph again provides a nice closeup of the leather used. In this case, the leather is very slightly “crushed” , where the raise pebbly grain of the leather has been suppressed a bit. Refer back to the “Bettens” volumes, and you will see a more heavily crushed or flattened example, which has also been (bone?)-polished. In the best of the work, the tooling, as extensive as it is, is never done with an eye to obscure the leather.
The collection is growing, slowly. I may eventually do a page on those that “got away”. Early on I encountered examples whose kind I have yet to see again. I let them go because I knew little, the prices seemed high (little did i know…), and they seemed to fall into my lap whenever I asked for them. I figured there were more out there, to be stumbled upon fairly easily. Such is not the case… As I add books, I will add to this page.
January 2010 :: Milton’s Poetical Works
In the fall of 2009, I was asked by Jeff Weber (in a comment to this page) whether I had ever encountered a Stikeman & Co. binding with a fore-edge painting signed by M. (Morris) Kalaba. Jeff is writing a book about fore-edge paintings, and had discovered a description of a binding formerly in the William Randolph Hearst collection (sold at his death) which mentioned a fore-edge painting on a binding by Stikeman. After nearly twenty years of looking at every Stikeman binding I could find, my answer to Jeff was an emphatic ‘no’. I have never seen an example. …three months later, I stumbled on one.
They were produced (if we may date them by the dates on the fore-edge paintings) just as or just after Henry Stikeman retired from the art bookbinding profession. He had been binding for over 30 years, starting under William Matthews, and was president of Stikeman & Co. since founding it in1887. This pair of bindings was produced in the first year with Morris Kalaba at the helm.
They are wonderful examples of post war (WWI) , pre-depression American bindings, and carry the bookplate (oddly slapped on the front doublures) of James Augustine Farrell, President of U.S. Steel, and the first businessman to build a billion-dollar company. They were not inexpensive to produce.
The spines, boards, and inner boards (doublures) are sprinkled with 200+ onlays of red and green. In keeping with Stikeman’s penchant for showcasing the leather, the gilt and onlay work is relegated to borders, with large open panels of crushed Moroccan leather in deep mauve.
The onlays work to unify the design rather than stand out from it.
The fore-edge paintings, signed “M. Kalaba 1919”, are taken from illustrations in the text. There may very well be examples dated earlier. But the Hearst example also dates from 1919. Still, they are highly unusual, and exceptionally rare on a Stikeman & Co. binding, even a later period binding. They must be noted, and for that reason, I decided I needed to add them to the collection.
The text block of both volumes is gilded on all edges. Edge gilding protects the leaves from dust infiltration and oxidation. When a fore-edge painting is present, the gilding entirely hides it, making it impossible to see when the book is closed. Only when opened can one see the hint of an image. Viewing a fore-edge painting requires some inelegant man-handling of the text, especially in small 8vo volumes like these. Kalaba’s paintings here seem sketchier, rather than highly formal. It will be interesting if any more are encountered whether they are similar, or more finely executed.
The volumes were purchase from David Eastwood, of Exeter, Devon, England. At present they define the latest period in my collection of Stikeman & Co. work, although the firm was in operation late into the 1930’s.
February 2010 :: A Matched Pair of Derome Bindings
Between you and me, the whole “February” thing is a bit of a white lie. I got these in January too, about a week after the Milton set above. If my wife knew I was buying four books a month, she’d kill me. After a bit of a delay, they were delivered the 3rd of February, which is close enough for me. So, “February” it is then. >cough< Well, what she doesn’t know, won’t hurt her me.
This pair of books is not quite a “set”. They are matched, and appear at first glance to be identical, but they were bound perhaps two years apart, and are very different on closer inspection. The likely scenario is that an owner had the first volume bound, in 1892, and then returned with another volume from the series when it was published in1894 and had it bound similarly. They are both in the style of Nicolas Denis Derome.
Derome developed a technique where a small number of individual tools (scrolls, dots, stars fillets, quatrefoils, etc.) were used repeatedly, over and over hundreds of times, to build up a wide foliate border while leaving a broad center panel. The style of Derome permits infinite invention in the variation of pattern from just a relatively small number of stamps. Where in later years Morris Kalaba would speed Stikeman & Co.’s production by embossing the boards in one move with a large board-sized stamp, here Stikeman is making literally hundreds of individual impressions. The effect is phenomenal. Two years later, the second binding was executed in the same color, with the wide border leaving a center panel in the same rough shape as the previous, yet using different tools in different patterns.
Here’s an enlargement of a typical corner/quarter of the board panel for each volume. At top is the 1892 volume, at bottom, the 1894. I roughly count 50 to 60 individual impressions for each corner, meaning that the boards alone for each volume are built up of 400 or so individual tool impressions. The scale of the tools, their delicacy, and their fineness all fit with Henry’s earlier work. These are about five years into the establishment of Stikeman & Co., and about the time he was preparing for the World’s Columbian Exhibition.
The earlier volume at top is done in a blue Moroccan leather that has been only slightly crushed or flattened. The later volume is in the same blue, but the leather is smoother and more highly crushed.
The spines of both were handled similarly, with the same tools used on both volumes, only spaced more closely together on account of the narrower spine of the second. At the middle top and bottom of each of the narrower spine panels, a smaller tool was substituted for the longer scroll of the first (wider) volume, which would not have fit. Otherwise they are essentially handled the same. There were nearly 200 individual tool impressions required for the spine of each volume.
The inner boards have fairly wide dentelles (turn-ins), including along the gutter (hinge). Each curl, scroll, dot, asterisk, fleuron, or dart represents a single tool impression.
There are some 150-160 stamps for each board’s inner dentelle, say 300 per volume for the dentelles alone. Note the pasted paper inserts (with matching endpapers). The insert and endpapers of the right volume are the same used in the “Trilby” volume, mentioned earlier on this page.
Tooling in the manner of Derome requires great skill, as the work is done without a cartoon or pattern, freehand. Edith Diehl taught that normally a finisher (who applies the gilt tooling) would often blind-in the mark (with no gilt, making just the impression) through a paper pattern taped to the leather as a guide. Then he would remove the pattern, reapply the same mark this time with gilt, then come back again a third time (either with more gilt or without), in order to polish the gold. But a highly experienced finisher however, according to Douglas Cockerell in his “Bookbinding and the Care of Books”, 1902, could accomplish the work without a pattern to guide him. The finisher merely followed a general pattern marked up on the boards denoting centers, layout lines, etc. and followed them freehand, filling in as required. No ordinary finisher would have blinded these stamps, gilded them, and polished them a third time. They were executed in one pass. Tooled in this way, they still required nearly 2000 total individual tool impressions to complete.
April 2011::An Early Stikeman Paneled Binding
This arrived at the beginning of April from the book dealer Richard Aaron of “Am Here Books”, near Springfield, Illinois. Richard is handling the sale of the Gerald M. Goldberg Collection of Oliver Goldsmith’s Works and related materials. This is a first edition from that collection, Goldsmith’s “The Traveller: or a Prospect of Society”, from the 1765 J. Newbery printing in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, London.
It’s what’s called a ‘paneled’ binding (a border around an open inner rectangular panel), and the design is startling.
An inner rectangular deeply blind-stamped thick fillet forms the inner panel, which is ruled in gilt by thin fillets again, and then bordered each side by dots and individual scrolls. Outside that, large floral stamps, with lots of black breathing space between them, run around the boards in an equal rhythm pierced by graphic, long sharp needle-like darts. The inner panel border is of smaller tools, with the same needles used diagonally at the inner corners. The scale is quite large, and the effect is a cross between a traditional Roger Payne binding, and something from the English Arts and Crafts.
This binding shares about 6 stamps with another binding in my collection, the Rip Van Winkle described already, a good bit further up the page. Young binders do not have as many tools in their stable, and we see Henry here developing a pattern and design which is wholly different from the other, yet comprises mostly the same tools.
A more direct comparison below, board to board, shows the tools used on the covers more clearly. The lancets or darts on the covers of the larger binding were also used on the interior of the Van Winkle, which can be seen in the previous photographs of that volume.
The inner boards of the “Traveller” are marbled paper, and the leather from the front returns inside as narrow tooled dentelles . An interesting tool to note here is the small bud at the very corner. It appears on other Stikeman bindings of this early period, specifically the Grolieresque binding below, and two other very similar variants. On a lesser note, the marbled paper of the inner boards is from the same batch as that in the Octave Uzanne volume mentioned earlier, which also shares a few stamps with the Van Winkle. They all date from the same early period in the firms’ work.
These two volumes taken together are, to me, what the finishing (gilt work) on a binding should represent: a pattern developed from repeating tools, applied one at a time by the binder/finisher. Each tool mark was first blinded-in, to establish the pattern in the leather without any gold at all. Then gold leaf was laid down and another impression made to set the gold. Often, a third tooling was required to fill in bits of missing gold, or to polish the design. It is labor-intensive, and is why to me Henry’s earliest bindings are so much more important, before the decline of the level of execution began under later management, prior to the dissolution in 1932. In my opinion, this binding is from very early in his career, about five years out from his taking over the Matthews’ Bindery .
November 2011:: A Miniature Gem, Collection of
Samuel P. Avery, President of the Grolier Club
This volume, tucked among 24 others in an otherwise nondescript auction lot described thinly as simply “Lot 44: Classical Literature; Miniature and small-format books”, was part of the June 2011 sale of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Christie’s, New York. Small, hidden, and very rare, it is the definition of a gem…. Measuring just under 1-1/2″ wide and 3″ tall (48vo), printed in famously tiny 4-1/2 point font, this collection of ‘Catullus, Tibullus, et Propertius’ is a miniature from the Pickering “Diamond Classic” series of Imprints, printed 1824. It was bound in 1890 at the latest, by Henry Stikeman.
The binding is an immaculate Jansenist example, plain and reserved on the exterior, but with multi-colored inlaid doublures (inner boards/covers) after the style of Padeloup. It was likely bound for, and was certainly once in the collection of, Samuel Putnam Avery; art dealer, book collector, benefactor, founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and early president of the Grolier Club in New York. Avery had a special interest in miniature books, as well as inlaid bindings. This volume is an important American example of both.
It dates just three years after Henry Stikeman founded Stikeman & Co. (1887) as successors to the Matthews Bindery, the most important bindery in America to that point. It is an important early binding in the Stikeman firm’s history, having appeared in a number of very early seminal New York bookbinding exhibitions. These first exhibits stoked the desires and imagination of the first serious great binding collectors of the period, and they fomented a frenzy of escalating design and execution during what was arguably the high-point of American bookbinding. They also demonstrated unequivocally that Stikeman and a small handful of American binders were certainly capable of equaling the French work of the same period.
The binding’s first appearance at exhibition (according to my records) was fittingly at the Grolier Club, in the “Exhibition of Recent Bookbindings, 1860-1890, Executed by American, English, and French Book-Binders”, which ran Christmas Eve, December 1890, to the 12th of January. This was only the second Grolier exhibition dedicated to bindings, and the first following Henry’s establishment of the firm. It would have been the first opportunity for Stikeman to exhibit under his name. His work had previously appeared as the finish work on (some of) Matthews’ bindings.
One of five bindings attributed to Henry Stikeman in the exhibit, four of them heavily inlaid, this appeared as item 193:
Ten years later it appeared in another Grolier Club Exhibition, one dedicated solely to “Mosaic” (or inlaid) bookbindings. The show, entitled simply “Mosaic Bookbindings”, ran from January 23rd through the 22nd of February, 1902. It was one of three inlaid Stikeman bindings in the exhibition, number 249:
It is worth noting that the ‘Cicero’ binding, number 248, appears in these same two catalogues (and yet again in the catalogue of Avery’s collection, see below). It seems to have traveled the first dozen years of its life with the Catullus. They’ve since parted, but I have faith Cicero will turn up again and they will be reunited.
Whether the Catullus (or the Cicero, for that matter) was directly commissioned by Avery we do not know, but it did at one point become part of his famous collection. Samuel Putnam Avery last exhibited this binding in 1903, the year before his death, in the exhibition “Works on Bookbinding: Examples of Bookbinding from the Collection of Samuel Putnam Avery”. Henry bound a number books for Avery (as he also did for many of the members of the Grolier Club) before, during, and after the period of the Club Bindery. Avery seemed especially taken with inlaid bindings, and Stikeman did at least three heavily inlaid bindings for him in the period between 1890 and Avery’s death fourteen years later. One of thirteen Stikeman bindings in the show, it was catalogued at number 233 as follows (note the description of the inner boards/doublures):
In its earliest catalogue appearance, the binding is referred to as ‘Jansenist’, with the inner boards ‘in the style of Padeloup’. For anyone not familiar, a quick run to Branders Matthews’ famous “Bookbindings Old and New” (1895, NY) to revisit the terms:
“In the reign of Louis XIV, by sheer reaction against the leaden showiness of the fashion set by the king, there arose the simple style of binding called after Jansen. The Jansenists bound their books soberly, with no gilding whatsoever on the sides, relying on the simple beauty of the leather in which their volumes were clad and decorating only the inside.” “These under-decorated books were better bound in a technical sense than those of an earlier day, ….were more solidly prepared, more carefully sewn, more cautiously covered”.
“Shortly after the death of Louis XIV was produced one of the most remarkable bindings in the history of the art. Its chief characteristic is that it is a mosaic – that it has a polychromatic decoration formed by inlaid leathers of various colors. ” It is attributed generally to Nicolas Padeloup, who “found models in ecclesiastical stained-glass“.
The condition of the binding is virtually as new, with all spine hubs crisp, corners un-bumped, and leather flawless. Polished Crushed Morocco in crimson red, with citron yellow doublures inlaid in peacock blue and crimson. It was acquired from Phillip J. Pirages, the famed Fine Book and Medieval Manuscript dealer, whose knack for turning up fine bindings is unmatched.
May 2013:: Two Items titled “Gothic Architecture”;
one by Pugin and another by William Morris
I recently acquired these three volumes within the same week. Their common subject and title, “Gothic Architecture” is a complete coincidence. Their size differences a happy accident also; Pugin’s in Tall Folios about 12″ tall, and Morris’ Hand-Press piece at only 5-1/2″.
The three-hundred-plus Plates of the Pugin set are printed on very stiff card stock, and as a result, they have been “guarded”, so that they can open wider and turn more easily than they might otherwise (being very stiff). “Guarding” involves creating a continuous linen hinge, more flexible than the paper, between the plate and another narrow strip of similar paper. This narrow strip of paper is then sewn together on cords with the others to make up the text block. These strips form the back of the book, with the plates free to turn on the linen hinge.
The corner devices of the front and rear boards feature subtle purple-black ovals, flanked by small comma-shaped curlicues, also onlaid in black. The corner devices on the bright purple doublures (the inner boards) are architectural in style, gilt (no onlay).
The set is made up of more than 300 plates depicting plans, sections, elevations, and enlarged details taken from field measurements and surveys conducted by Pugin in the early 1820s-1830s. The plates here were issued loose, in five volumes (here bound into two).
The plates are exacting and to scale, and provide complete dimensions, details, and rotated sections as necessary to record the subject in its entirety. The survey was extensive and exhaustive.
Auguste Pugin was an artist, an architectural draughtsman, and a writer on medieval architecture. His son, with whom he produced this survey, was Augustus Welby Pugin, an architect and the leading advocate of Gothicism in 19th century England. He is most remembered for being the designer of the Palace of Westminster, home of the United Kingdom’s Parliament. The plates may be viewed in their entirety HERE.
In contrast to the size and heft of the Pugin set is a small, thin 16m0 piece in a deep red full-leather crushed-morocco binding. The text is from the famed Kelmscott Press, a transcript of a lecture given by William Morris to the Arts and Crafts Society, also entitled “Gothic Architecture”. It was published two years into the Kelmscott’s life, and was the first piece published by them in 16mo size.
Like “The Medici” set well-above, this volume is in as-new condition, well protected by the chemise and slipcase which have held it since being executed.
The inner boards have proportionally wider dentelles than usual, with mottled paper paste downs. The top edge is gilded, but all others untrimmed, with original deckled edges as straight from the press. The style points of the binding put it ca. 1920, based on my experience.
I’ve said before that I am generally less concerned about the content than I am the binding. The fact that these are both architectural titles and, even further, that they both concern specifically Gothic architecture, has less to do with my profession (as an architectural illustrator) than it does with serendipity. But it’s a happy bit of serendipity. I’ll use any excuse to buy a book that I can get.
August 2013:: A Privately Printed
Collection of English Verse, 1894
In late July I received an email from a fellow binding collector with whom I correspond occasionally. Often, to be truthful. He, I, and another binding collector trade a good number of emails discussing various binders, techniques, our hidden gems, mistakes, and (with much complaint) rising prices.
He attached a photo he’d copied from a catalogue description he’d seen of a fine binding which he found interesting. The catalogue described it as ‘unsigned’, but he wanted to run it by me, and his question was simply “What do you think? Is it a Stikeman?”
I wasn’t sure if he was going to be buying it, or even if it was his already, in-hand. I took a quick look at it, and my heart sank immediately because it was a Stikeman. Assuming that he was buying it or owned it already, that meant I had missed it. I emailed back, admiring his keen eye in spotting ‘Stikeman’ in an unsigned binding, from a single simple photograph. ‘Til that moment, I’d have bet I would be the only one to be able to do that. Many dealers know of Stikeman, and a few collectors, but hardly anyone knows the small differences which constitute a ‘tell’, and give the thing away when it is unsigned.
The tooling was done with numerous small scroll tools, simple gouges, and dots, stars, and circlets. The front and rear boards each have about 200 separate tool impressions, not including the gilt rules and dog’s tooth scroll at the board edges. The spine is fairly heavily wrought, with each of five tooled compartments comprising about 33 individual stamps each. Together with the tooling on the hubs and bordering the compartments, the spine required a further 200+ tool impressions.
I replied, knowing I missed out on it, that yes, it was a Stikeman binding. I asked whether he’d purchased it already. “No. It’s yours if you want it” he replied, and passed along the dealer’s name. An email later, no questions asked (other than confirming condition), and I bought it, having offered a third less than asking. It arrived in a few days and I turned it over front to back, giving it a quick look. I already knew it was a Stikeman, despite the seller being very adamant that it was unsigned. I opened the front board, quick peek down at the bottom, and sure enough saw what I had expected to see. “Stikeman& Co”, stamped in impossibly small gilt, perhaps 4pt high.
So the question remains: How do you attribute an (in this case ostensibly) unsigned binding to a particular binder? How did my colleague know that it was likely a Stikeman? …and why would I be so convinced that it was?
Binders have a certain style, even when working in traditional patterns (of which this is one). Their ‘hand’ is often apparent. I’ve said before for example that I can usually pick a Stikeman out sometimes from the titling on the spine alone, independent of the rest of the tooling. In this case, my friend was prompted perhaps after seeing so many of my Stikeman bindings. And we’ve talked a good deal about Stikeman’s habits and tendencies (delicate tools, rules exceptionally close to the boards edges, tendency to build patterns from hundreds of tool marks, etc.). He had a “feeling”, and passed it along. I saw the same things, but additionally, I simply spotted a number of tools which show up on my other Stikeman volumes from the same period. It’s that easy. Same tool (tools, in this case), and you can be 99% sure. In this case, the binding shares a majority of its tools with a volume described much further up this page, the “Democracy” by Lowell. Here they are together.
About 8 years ago I stumbled on a volume for sale on eBay. I missed this one, losing to a bid of a only few dollars more. I was new to eBay, and it cost me. It is not in my collection…. Note the tools and the style of the front board, very much in keeping with “English Verse” above, and sharing a number of the same stamps with it and the “Democracy”.
The text of “English Verse, Chiefly Lyrical” is a collection of “the Best of English Lyrical Verse”, with “Ballads and Romances excluded”, compiled by Louis Henry Bristol, an “expert in Fine Bindings” and “Member of the Grolier Club since 1890” according to his obituary. He studied English and Law at Yale, and joining his father, became a prominent Lawyer in the New Haven area. A noted book collector, he gifted Yale with an incunabula collection in 1909.
The volume was executed on what was at the time called “Japanese Vellum”, in only 15 copies, for private distribution by the author.
It’s not clear if this binding represents the manner in which all 15 were bound. If so, it would have been a very expensive proposition.
This copy was, by all apparent accounts, owned by James TenBroeck Hillhouse, and bears a pen inscription ” J.T.H. from L.H.B”. The front inner board bears an engraved bookplate executed by the famed New Haven artist and engraver William Fowler Hopson.
This bookplate is a known work of Hopson’s but, given the exuberance in the monogram, is everywhere catalogued as reading “J H H” rather than the “J T H” visible on closer inspection, and which concurs with the author’s inscription. James TenBroeck Hillhouse was a Yale man as well, won the same prize for English Essay that Bristol had, both were members of Phi Beta Kappa, and both were from very old, very prominent Connecticut families.
The binding has a wonderful scale difficult to appreciate from photographs, and which was certainly not evident in the seller’s photograph; a straight-on flatbed scan devoid of subtlety. The fineness and delicacy of the tiny tools is indicative of Stikeman’s earlier, especially pre-1900, work.
Here it is again, with bindings from the shop which date from the same period (and earlier described above). The effect of the hundreds of tool marks, coalescing from single tool marks into a broad textural pattern across the boards and filling the spine compartments, is fairly phenomenal when viewed in “real life” as opposed to a photo. The highlights rising and falling, almost literally ‘twinkling’ (to use a term offered up by exhibition correspondents a hundred years ago). The effect is hundreds of small sparkling gold bright points, as the book is viewed from a number of angles or turned from side to side in the light.
December 2013:: ” Elizabethan Songs”
An Inventive Asymmetrical Binding, ca. 1893
I have been watching this volume for a couple years. There are a small number of bindings in various book dealer’s inventories which I roll around in the back of my mind, debating whether to add them to the collection. Few of them have been as curious to me as this one.
What’s interesting to me about this binding, and it’s important to note that it was executed by Henry himself only about five or six years into the firm’s 45 year history, is that it does not quite follow the standard approach of the period for bilaterally symmetrical design of the boards. Typically, almost universally in fact, the English and New York binders (and the vast majority of the French) tended to design a binding whose individual covers were identical in design, with each board itself being symmetrical in pattern from side to side, and top to bottom. There was an axis of symmetry horizontally in the middle of the board, and vertically down the center, with the design mirrored in each direction.
This Binding is different. The boards mirror about the spine only, and each board is decidedly asymmetrical. Only when the book is fully open is the entire design visible. It’s highly unusual for a New York binding of the period, and for Stikeman.
The volume is about 7 inches tall, and the scale somewhat different than in the photos, where we almost always imagine the binding to be larger than it really is. This means, generally, that the tooling reads more delicate and fine in the hand than in the somewhat clinical photographs of a catalog, or web page, for that matter. Both boards, being mirror opposites, are obviously hand-tooled, with the minor differences indicating the human hand rather than the brief brutal impress of a block stamp, an inelegant economizing machine prevalent and used in all binderies at the time (including on occasion, Stikeman and Company).
The issue of symmetry has occasionally been implied to be somewhat of a shortcoming, as though it were a crutch. If so, it was a crutch used by just about every binder who had ever took up a brass stamp. I remember though the specific assessment of a rare book and binding expert, binder, highly respected instructor, and historian whose take on Stikeman’s work, though highly positive in toto, offered clinically too that it (to paraphrase) “exhibited conventional bilateral symmetry”. Oh dear.
In truth, I’ve seen literally thousands of volumes executed by the bindery, spanning their 40-45 year period of production, and the assessment is a little premature, or at least limited in scope. In the earliest years, experimentation was the order of the day, not the exception. There are bindings which I have encountered in my deep scouring of available auction records and trade literature of the period, and if anything, asymmetry and non-standard design seemed to be the thing the bindery was known for.
Because they are ‘lost’, and because I am looking for them (and competing with dealers to acquire them), I have to speak in generalities. But there are perhaps fifty decidedly unconventional bindings which I know of off hand, done in an experimental manner that upends the ‘typical’ expectation of an American binding executed ca 1885-1910. I’m glad at the moment to have this one.
October 2014:: “The Passionate Pilgrim”
A Finely-Tooled Binding, ca. 1896
I had been aware of this binding for some time. It was sold at auction in 2002, and quickly vanished. A number of years ago though, it reappeared in the catalogue of a highly regarded dealer specializing in rare bindings. The photos were small, and its unusual quality wasn’t readily apparent. So I let it percolate in the back of my mind for the better part of a decade, as I sought out other examples which could be had more readily, or without the premium that going through a dealer typically requires. It’s on a Vale Press imprint, with a woodcut by Charles Ricketts, and some of the premium was tied to the content as well (understandable).
But I collect bindings, often over content. And this was an unusual one. The tooling is deceptively reserved, the design seemingly simple and not overly bravura. Overall the scale is quite small and fine, diminutive, delicate even. The majority of the tools (comprising left-and-right-facing leaves, curved gouges, flower tools, and dots) are miniscule, and built up impossibly close to each to form the curving vines.
Altogether, the effect is pretty astounding though. Like simply strung pearls, the individual leaf and tiny dot tools are linked together to become the twining vines. It creates an effect more striking than the sum of its simpler parts. It’s like a thousand whispers becoming a loud clear high note. Each front board exhibits approximately four hundred separate gilt tool impressions, but the entire design not more than five inches high, and the vines less than a half inch wide.
Now, counting tool impressions is not simply a numbers game, as though a book is better for having more. It’s merely an attempt to emphasize what skill and effort is required to tool what appears to be a deceptively simple design. There is after all only one ‘element’ on each board here. It’ just that each required 400 impressions, and each impression at least a few repeated efforts to be completed.
The binder William Matthews trained Henry in tooling (more properly “finishing”). And so witness here Matthews’ comments on tooling specifically, from a lecture he delivered to the collectors of the Grolier Club, a few years after Henry took over the operation of the Matthews’ Bindery:
For the last year or so, this binding has been one of a very few volumes offered anywhere in a binding executed by Henry himself, and I finally decided to enquire about it. but the dealer and I weren’t able to come to terms on it, unfortunately, and I was resigned to let it ride on the open market a bit longer. We can’t have everything.
At the beginning of October, I heard that it was to be offered in a new catalogue mailing. With regard to seeing it again, let alone owning it, that would likely be the kiss of death. Someone else would likely acquire it. I enquired a last time, but it did not come together. Still, there are always others out there. We just need to practice patience.
I connected with David Brass (see the “Elizabethan Songs…” binding, above) around the same time and we were talking about ‘Stikeman’ bindings in general, and what examples there were which were known and available. The “Pilgrim” came up of course, and I mentioned my lack of success in acquiring it. We agreed that collecting is a waiting game, and one unfortunately often lost.
A day or so later, a return phone call from David, and he said that, as luck would have it, he now actually had the ‘Pilgrim’ in-hand himself and wanted to know if I was interested, whether we could make something work. Um. Yes. And we did, obviously, “make something work”. It arrived by the end of the week, the deal conditional on my approval of the binding, and his acceptance of my offer for it. It was better than described, and perfect ‘in-the-hand’. And all that remained was a phone call in thanks.
I’ve been studying and collecting the Stikeman Bindery’s work for perhaps 20 years, and have certainly missed many more books than I have acquired. But the history of collecting is filled with stories like these, where objects and collectors suddenly, finally, come together, whether serendipitously or by design, even after they have been given up for lost. Apparently, this time it just so happened to be my turn. With many thanks to David Brass of David Rare Books, who this year is celebrating his 50th anniversary as a Rare Book dealer.
November 2014 :: An Examination
The ‘Autopsy’ of a Stikeman & Co. Binding
This month I purchased a damaged copy of a rather common title. Common, at least, for a book in only 250 copies. It’s not a highly collected title, but it was done in a very high grade binding, and so proved the perfect specimen for deconstructing and recording the process. The link here will download a fifteen (15!) page PDF of my “Autopsy Report”, for lack of a better phrase. If any comments or corrections, feel free to let me know.
A White Whale
A Grolieresque “Maioli’ Binding by Stikeman, ca. 1892
I wish I could say this one was in my collection, but it is currently “off the market”. For me, though, locating it was almost as good as acquiring it. It, and its two similar siblings (in different patterns and colors), are among my ‘white whales’, bindings I hunt like an obsessed Nantucket whaling captain, hell bent on taking down my own ship in the quest to land it. I have a number of these which haunt me, just out of reach.
It is the third variant of a Grolieresque Stikeman binding on the Grolier Club Publication “A Life of Jean Grolier”, by William Loring Andrews. I knew of two copies, one I missed out on when I was just starting to collect. I turned up this copy in an obscure mention of an old catalogue, and suspecting it was another inlaid binding, finally tracked it down to its present location. Sorry to be so obtuse, as these things are so rare, it’s best to not blather about where they are.
Suffice to say, it is, I think, a spectacular American example of homage being paid to the fantastic bindings associated with Grolier. It is ca. 1892, and both boards are done in the same pattern. all tooling is by hand, built up of multiple individual impressions, including the offset filets and thin gilt lines which follow the onlaid strapwork. These same tools were used on the other two binding variants, in similar, but entirely different patterns.
An enlarged portion of a quarter of a board shows the minute variations in the application of the tooling by the human hand.
To reiterate… this volume is not in my collection. But all good things come to those who wait. Eventually, volumes like these re-enter the market, as indeed they are intended to, passed from one collector to another. None of us really “own” these. We merely act as stewards, and take care of them until the next poor soul who shares our disease comes along to take their turn protecting them.
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