Bindings in the Spotlight (2)

Poems and Song of Mary Queen of Scots (O.3.63)

This binding is royal blue morocco with an inlaid border featuring Scottish thistles. The Scottish arms in the centre are 18 carat gold, set with pearls, rubies and diamonds. It was designed by Alberto Sangorski around 1925-26 and bound by the firm Wood of London (est. 1875).

Alberto (1862-1932) was the elder brother of Francis Sangorski (d.1912), one of the founding partners of the bookbinders Sangorski and Sutcliffe established in 1901. This company is regarded as one of the most important bookbinding firms of the 20th century, known in particular for sumptuous jewelled bindings using genuine stones. Jewelled bindings – or treasure bindings – use gold and silver inlay, rich fabrics, jewels and ivory. Very few medieval treasure bindings in England survived the dissolution of the monasteries (for examples see here and here and here) and the practice waned over the following centuries until the early 20th century revival.

Alberto developed skill and reputation as a calligrapher and illuminator working for Sangorski and Sutcliffe. However, after a quarrel with his brother around 1910 apparently over his refusal to acknowledge Alberto’s work on the books they created, Alberto left to work for a competitor. Later, when the market for luxury bindings declined after the First World War, Alberto worked as freelancer with various binders and booksellers.

The manuscript – Poems and Song by Mary Queen of Scots – was written out and decorated by Alberto and illuminated with a series of miniature watercolours. The signed colophon states ‘This manuscript will not be duplicated’. The volume has been in Trinity College Library since 1931.