Volume 46 - Autumn 2018


Bindings from the National Leather Collection

A Hidden Treasure - by Graham Lampard

This article first appeared in the April 2018 edition of 'The Society of Bookbinders Newsletter' and appears here with the kind permission of its author Graham Lampard and the Society of Bookbinders.

There are a number of excellent bindings at the National Leather Collection, that form part of a leather literary body of work ranging from samples of the Dead Scrolls, 9th Century Qu'ran pages through to a first edition of John Waterer's Leather in Life, Art and Industry, which was superbly bound in a traditional full grain, black, goatskin binding by Trevor Lloyd, MBE.

The founder of the National Leather Collection, John Waterer, was a true antiquarian. A magpie, essentially. He began acquiring curiosities because of the incredible stories that they told, or the unusual histories that they held. As a result, the museum holds a large library, open to the public, of books and journals about leather and the industry. However, there are also exquisite bindings, that have been collected over the years, starting with a beautiful Zaehnsdorf bookbinding from 1895.

Leather Collection

Zaehnsdorf binding from 1895

Extraordinarily enough, this bookbinding is the link between three uniquely separate events during the 19th and 20th Centuries. It was purchased by Waterer in 1948. The book was published in Paris, 1895 and is colour illustrated - something which was not typical at the time. The binding is beautiful; green Morocco leather with gilt tooling by George Page.

The work itself, Émaux et Camées, was written by Théophile Gautier in 1852. A French poet and dramatist, Gautier is known as a defender of romanticism. Émaux et Camées, however, is regarded as a seminal work. It introduced the antithetical literary tradition of Parnassianism. This text demonstrates Gautier's abandonment of romantic style, favouring instead a more modern approach which focuses on poetic form, rather than content. Therefore, Gautier's work itself is significant in terms of the literary legacy that it created.

Leather Collection

Gold Tooling by George Page

In addition to poetry, however, Gautier was also a celebrated abandonné of the romantic ballet. He worked on the original production of Giselle as a librettist - writing the prose, or the story of the ballet in book format. Ever the romantic, Gautier fell in love with the first ever ballerina to dance the lead role, Carlotta Grisi. This love remained unrequited and so, ever the romantic, Gautier married her chanteuse sister Ernestina.

As if this book wasn't already interesting enough, this particular edition was acquired from the personal library of Alexandra Feodorovna. The wife of Nicholas II of Russia and granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Alexandra is usually remembered as a faithful follower of the 'mad monk', Grigori Rasputin. Perhaps more famously, the Tsarina and her family were assassinated by Bolsheviks during the communist revolution in 1918. This gruesome Yekaterinburg murder still enthrals the world to this day.

Leather Collection

Letter Pieces in the Museum Collection

The Museum also has a collection of letter pieces from bookbinders and traders, most of whom would have long since closed. We will be looking at the British Library's catalogue of bookbinders [https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/bookbindings/About.aspx] to find out further information, and hope to have a complete catalogue of the bindings available, online, for anyone to review, and to come and study.

John Waterer seems to have been a bit of a polymath. He was a copious reader and held a wide range of interests. He was a designer and his professional life took him into the design of luggage. In the book, Leather in Life, Art and Industry, Waterer says that only "function and utility, allied to beauty of form, texture and colour: these two, integrated, complete 'fitness for purpose'." It is this passionately held belief that led to the collection of such objects in the Museum of Leather Craft, and the Library, and the bindings reflect something of how he came to this point. He had written widely on design but we see how, gradually, he was drawn into the wider leather world. He became what might now be called 'the go-to guy' on leather. Leather in Life, Art and Industry is 320 pages of what he called 'an outline' and deals, firstly, with leather in the past. It is in this section that you will find examples of the kind of objects found in the Museum collection. He writes on the Leather Guilds, always with some fascinating detail, derived from his research. The Saddlers Guild fined George Marr "...for a Side Sadle very faulty, beside evil workmanship" and, in case George did not get it, the 'Sadle' was condemned to be "... burned at his doore." He takes the leather crafts, which the Guilds regulated, one by one: tanners, curriers, skinners, girdlers, glovers, cordwainers, pouch makers, cofferers, and Leathersellers and he writes about both historical and more modern objects, from medieval purses to smart 1940s luggage. Saddles, bookbinding, and other important uses get sections to themselves. He says at the beginning that he wants to leave the reader with a sense of the uniqueness of leather and a desire to know more. As a result of this work, he succeeds. Such enthusiasm is difficult to resist.

Leather Collection

Bindings by Roger Powell (left), Trevor Lloyd (centre) and Bernard Middleton (right)

There are three copies of the book in designer bindings, one by Bernard Middleton. one by Roger Powell and the most recent by Trevor Lloyd. It is interesting to see how they have been bound: the Museum asked Trevor to do a 'high Victorian' style, black goatskin binding. However, the other bindings are personal interpretations: the one by Roger Powell has, bound in the back, a description by him of what he did. It reads:

John W Waterer, 1946. In publishers' case binding, sewn on three tapes, spine lined with mull and paper, blue cotton-buckram case, titled in gold on red skiver label. 'New end leaves of Wiggins Teape's "Goatskin Parchment" made onto Japanese paper and linen joints; fold of "Goatskin" round first and last sections (surplus removed after gluing); frontispiece swung on paper guard; sewn with Barbour's linen thread at original sewing holes on ten single linen cords, all laced into Jackson's 171 millboard; edges gilt by SG Coates; headbands of Pearsall's '"Rokfast" embroidery twist sewn over vellum and morocco formers; spine lined with Russell's "Oasis" morocco; and gold tooled; Solander case. Adhesives:- boards, endleaves, spine lining, Solander case, National Adhesives' "Spynflex" 232 - 1720; cover: boiled flour paste plus alum, precipitated chalk and thymol; gold; bleached shellac glaire.

A fascinating insight into how a master binder bound the book.

The museum is open to the public every Wednesday and Saturday, and tours can be arranged.
If you would like further information please e-mail: philip.warner@nationalleathercollection.org

Leather Collection

Graham Lampard - Graham studied leather technology, with Roger Barlee, at the National Leathersellers Centre. His first job was with the British Leather Confederation, and he then had a very enjoyable 10 years with Leather International magazine travelling the world writing about the leather industry during which time he also completed a PhD investigating the interaction of obscure metals with collagen - tanning! A minor excursion into the pharmaceutical industry, before being made redundant, led him into bookbinding, when he bought an old Northampton bookbinding company, Craftsman Binders, without any experience of bookbinding! In his spare time he works as a Clerk to a number of school governing boards, and volunteers at the National Leather Collection.


Skin Deep - Volume 46 - Autumn 2018

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