Bindings in the Spotlight [3]

Image of binding by Paul Bonet for 1937 edition of Alphonse Daudet's Tartarin de Tarascon

Designed by the famous French binder Paul Bonet (1889-1971) in 1949, this is one of 28 different copies or versions of the 1937 edition of Alphonse Daudet’s ‘Aventures prodigieuses de Tartarin de Tarascon’ (Kessler.a.28).  Daudet’s 1872 novel concerns the town of Tarascon and the misadventures of a certain Tartarin:

“The Provençal town of Tarascon is so enthusiastic about hunting that no game lives anywhere near it, and its inhabitants resort to telling hunting stories and throwing their own caps in the air to shoot at them. Tartarin, a plump middle-aged man, is the chief “cap-hunter”, but following his enthusiastic reaction to seeing an Atlas lion in a travelling menagerie, the over-imaginative town understands him to be planning a hunting expedition to Algeria.

So as not to lose face, Tartarin is forced to go, after gathering an absurd mass of equipment and weapons. On the boat from Marseille to Algiers, he hooks up with a conman posing as a Montenegrin prince who takes advantage of him in multiple ways. Tartarin’s gullibility causes him a number of misadventures until he returns home penniless but covered in glory after shooting a tame, blind lion.”


For more of Bonet’s designs, have a look at these wonderful examples.

From the Crewe Collection: Books belonging to Robert Southey

Robert Southey by Mary Dawson Turner (née Palgrave), after Thomas Phillips etching, (1815), NPG D15738

The Crewe collection contains two items belonging to the British poet, Robert Southey, who was born in in Bristol in 1774 and died in London in 1843.  He lived much of his life in Keswick where he supported, in addition to his own family, the wife of Coleridge and her three children after the poet abandoned them, as well as the widow of poet Robert Lovell and her son.

He published his first collection of poems in 1795 and in 1813 became Poet Laureate, a post he held until his death. Southey was a prolific poet, essayist, historian, travel-writer, biographer, translator and polemicist. Although he is little read today, Southey was an influential and controversial figure in British culture from the mid-1790s through to the mid-1830s.

Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797), made use of letters Southey had written to friends during his time in the Iberian Peninsula, blurring the boundaries between private and public correspondence. In 1807 he returned to the epistolary travel book genre, publishing Letters from England under the pseudonym of Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella, an account of a tour supposedly from a foreigner’s viewpoint. This was one of Southey’s best-selling publications. He also published a History of the Peninsular War, in 3 volumes between 1823 and 1832.

Crewe 31/17

Southey’s interest in Spain is reflected in his ownership of a rare copy of the book, Memoires Curieux Envoyez de Madrid (1690) [Crewe 31.17] which he inscribed on the title page and dated London 1820.

This book covers topics such a bull-fighting, maxims and proverbs of Spain and the custom of infant betrothal in the Spanish Royal family.




Crewe 31.5

The second book in the Crewe collection owned by Southey is Les imaginaires, ou, Lettres sur l’heresie imaginaire by Sr. de Damvilliers (1667) [Crewe 31.5 & 6]. This bears an ink inscription on the verso of the flyleaf preceding the title page: Robert Southey, Rouen 5 Sept. 1838. This work is a defence of the Jansenist schools of Port Royal against the Jesuits who brought about their closure in 1660. Southey was interested in religious topics (he wrote The Life of Wesley in 1820 and The Book of the Church in 1824).


Footnote: The etching of Southey at the start of the post is by Mary Dawson Turner. Mary was the wife of the botanist, banker and antiquary Dawson Turner (1775-1858) whose extensive collection of letters is kept in Trinity College Library (catalogued here).


‘Free Object’

This photograph of Sir Antony Gormley’s ‘Free Object’, a sculpture which stands on the College Backs, was taken by James Kirwan and recently won second prize in a College-wide competition. James says his photograph seeks to capture ‘the texture and geometry of the statue’. When he is not taking photographs, James manages the Library’s project to digitise the College’s medieval manuscripts. The project has been running for almost 5 years and over 700 manuscripts can be viewed online. The Wren Digital Library includes, not only treasures from the medieval collection, but also some of the more significant modern manuscripts.

An early Valentine?

Trinity manuscript R.2.70 is a parchment fragment which has a Middle English love lyric written onto one side.  While at some point in its history the parchment formed part of a binding, its original function is unclear. It is within the bounds of possibility, though, that this decorated poem was composed and copied out as a missive for delivery. It may thus constitute a very early example of a Valentine’s day message.

The verse is written in a late fifteenth-/early sixteenth-century hand and is addressed to a woman named ‘Susane’, asking for merciful treatment and offering compliments of a mostly conventional kind. Late medieval poems were sometimes addressed to named individuals and it is tempting to believe that ‘Susane’ was a real woman. Ballades such as this were often designed as lovers’ petitions with the envoy (the concluding lines) offering the opportunity for the lover to sign off in some way. The two couplets at the end of this lyric apparently identify the writer in the form of a cryptic puzzle: “By him that in forestes walkethe wyde/Where noone may passe with out his gyd/Nor kene may in dale nor doune/But that he is other blake or broune”. This may be a hidden message to the recipient hinting perhaps at the name Darkwood, Greenwood or Whitewood. This address to a named person and final cryptic signing off are still recognizable today as characteristic features of a Valentine.

Furthermore, the verse is carefully decorated and embellished with calligraphic initials, some containing profile faces.

At the bottom a bleeding heart is pierced crosswise by two arrows, above which is a small four-leafed clover that contains words which are now indecipherable but which may include ‘true’ and ‘ I love’.

In the late medieval period these symbols – the pierced heart and the quatrefoil – would have been familiar in devotional contexts, but also in secular ones. Occasional poems were written for St Valentine during the fifteenth century and although this poem does not explicitly refer to the saint, its allusions to frosty weather (line 9) and to summer as a season expected in the future (line 11) allow for the possibility that it was composed at the end of winter and conceived as a Valentine’s day gesture.

Medieval Valentine poems are now mostly preserved within longer works. However they were presumably also sometimes passed from person to person on single sheets of parchment or paper in a similar way to the exchange of other love tokens such as rings. It is tempting to suppose then that this carefully composed and decorated poem may have been sent to the woman who was its subject, in much the same way that Valentines are exchanged today.






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 bookbindings – 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.

Inside, the manuscript 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’. It can be viewed here. The volume has been in Trinity College Library since 1931 and is currently on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours.

Rebinding Hannah’s Diary

The following guest post is by conservator, Gwendoline Lemée:

Unusual and unique objects have the power to intrigue and fascinate us, and one such object is Hannah’s Diary which arrived on my bench in the summer of 2017. How delightful it is to work on a unique object and extend its life beyond what could have been hoped.

Front page before and after treatment

Hannah’s Diary is a fairly small manuscript made of 79 bifolia of ivory letter paper wrapped in a poor-quality greyish card and roughly assembled with two treasury tags pierced through the spine margins. It is written in black ink all the way through, without gaps, paragraphs or images, but the text gives us a rare and intriguing glimpse into the daily life of its author.  The manuscript records every activity of every day that Hannah Cullwick, who was a servant and married to Trinity College’s alumnus Arthur Munby, undertook in the year 1863. It is part of the Munby Archive.

The manuscript was examined in the Wren Library and the treasury tags were removed to allow this work to be done.  The holes the tags left behind were worn and most of them had torn out to the edges of the leaves.  In addition, the manuscript had been repaired in the past with gummed paper saved from the edges of sheets of postage stamps. It was clear that conservation was needed to prevent the damage from becoming worse and to prevent loss or further damage to the edges of the loose leaves. The original binding – if we can call it such – was causing damage to the manuscript, and preserving the leaves in it was therefore not a suitable solution. This is why, after consideration of the use and condition of the manuscript, it was decided to rebind it in a limp vellum binding.  This structure provides protection to the leaves, is durable, and has good opening characteristics, allowing readers to use the book safely in future.

Manuscript before and after treatment

The bifolia were cleaned of loose surface dirt with a soft conservation rubber called smoke sponge. Tears and holes were then repaired and infilled using various types and thicknesses of Japanese papers adhered with purified wheat-starch paste. Bifolia were then guarded in pairs (leaving a 10mm gap between bifolia to allow for a good opening) to form gatherings of six bifolia which allowed for the textblock to be sewn through the folds of the new guards. Narrow strips of western paper were inserted on the inside and outside of each gathering at the spine fold to compensate for the thickness of the guards and build up a strong spine. The original grey card cover was also guarded and sewn with the rest of the textblock.

Six bifolia guarded into pairs, with added loose guards of western paper on the inside and outside of the spine fold
Pre-piercing the gatherings with an awl

In order to hold the loose guards in place during sewing, the gatherings were held together temporarily with loops of thin polyester thread. Three sewing supports were made of alum-tawed skin lined with linen braid.  The two materials combined created a tear-resistant but fairly soft sewing support. They were then split in the middle to allow for a herringbone stitch sewing which makes for a very strong and flexible structure. Once the manuscript was sewn, the spine was pasted and lined with Japanese paper. The manuscript was now safe to read.

Herringbone sewing with a curved needle.
Opening after sewing

The covering was made of three pieces of calfskin parchment, cut, shaped and folded following a combination of various techniques found in the literature and adapted slightly to suit this particular manuscript. The parchment cover is entirely removable as it is held to the manuscript only by the laced-in sewing supports and tucked endleaves, not by adhesives. It is a sound binding, bringing enough support and protection to the manuscript as well as being well-suited to the nature of the paper leaves.

Finally, a bespoke cloth clam-shell box was made to protect the manuscript and keep it together with the remains of the original binding: the treasury tags and old stamp-paper repairs.



Bindings in the Spotlight [1]

Image of a James Brockman binding for Goethe's Faust

This year a regular monthly blog post will highlight some of the most interesting book and manuscript bindings in our collection. To begin, we are featuring a beautiful contemporary binding by James Brockman (b. 1946) of the French translation of Johann Goethe’s ‘Faust’ (  Covered in full maroon Harmatan goatskin, the design has been tooled in gold leaf with toned vellum and goatskin onlays.  The design is inspired by the famous illustration opposite page 15 (see below).  The gold linear tooling suggests wings over the black and red towers.  The other three towers are toned vellum.

Image of a winged man from p. 15 of 'Faust'
Image of a winged man from p. 15 of ‘Faust’


‘An excrescency upon the head of a deer’

This curio – an abnormal outgrowth from an antler – was given to the Library in 1682 by William Mainstone (d. 1683). A list of his donations, including the ‘excrescency upon the head of a deer’, can be found in one of the library’s registers. The list includes a number of other remarkable items including a rhinoceros horn, poisoned arrows, antidotes and a sheet of Malay papyrus.

Add.Ms.a.106, f.26r

Mainstone had worked for the English East India Company at the English station established at Bantam (Indonesia) and complied one of the first Malay grammars. The manuscript of the grammar (Bodleian Ashmole 1808) was partially transcribed in the 19th century and is now included in the Digital Library of the British Library [Add ms 7043].

By the time of his donation to Trinity, Mainstone was living at Woodberry Hall in Gamlingay, south Cambridgeshire. His gifts came into the library during the period of construction of the Wren library building which was financed, in part, following a public appeal for funds. Mainstone’s donation (amongst others) reveals that this was also a period in which the Library’s collection was enriched not only by books, but also by objects of interest.




Advent Calendar: 24 images from the Wren Digital Library




Day 1: B.11.4; Day 2: B.11.5; Day 3: B.10.24: Day 4: R.14.23; Day 5: R.14.9; Day 6: B.11.7; Day 7: Crewe_Athena; Day 8: O.7.46: Day 9: B.11.19; Day 10: Crewe_Kaladlit: Day 11 R.15.21; Day 12: B.11.11; Day 13: O.3.58: Day 14: R.17.22: Day 15: Crewe_1.4: Day 16: R.16.2: Day 17: B.11.31: Day 18: O.2.48: Day 19: B.10.2: Day 20: B.11.22: Day 21: R.15.18; Day 22: B.1.46; Day 23: B.11.32: Day 24: Sraffa

A Piece of the Shakamaxon Elm

Curio B4

The curio we are exhibiting over the next few weeks is reputedly a piece of the elm tree under which the English Quaker, William Penn signed a treaty with the Lenni Lepae (Delaware) Indians in late November 1682. Penn had obtained a charter to colonise a tract of land in the area from King Charles II. The elm tree stood at a meeting place on the Delaware River called Shakamaxon and tradition says that, soon after Penn’s arrival in the country, it was here that promises of friendship were exchanged. The colony of Pennsylvania (named for Penn’s father) was established with the seat of government in the city of Philadelphia. Today ‘Penn Treaty Park’ lies on the border of that city.

In fact, no written treaty exists but the tradition of this agreement has given rise to a powerful mythology. The treaty was referred to by Voltaire in his Dictionnaire philosophique published in 1764 where he stated that Penn had made an agreement with his neighbours, the American Indians and declared:

C’est le seul traite entre ces peoples et les Chretiens qui n’ ait point ete jure et qui n’ait point ete rompu. [Dict. phil., 7, 17-18]

This is the only treaty between those persons and the Christians which has not been sworn to, and which has not been broken.”

The event was also realised by a number of artists; the most famous being a picture by Benjamin West (1738-1820) now in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia (see here). It depicts the group on the banks of the River Delaware gathered underneath the ‘Treaty Elm’.

The original tree blew down during a storm in March 1810. An obelisk marking the spot was subsequently placed there by the Penn Society in 1827 and this is now within Penn Treaty Park established in 1893. Many artefacts were carved from the wood of the tree after it blew down and Trinity’s piece of the tree was brought from America by John Sholl in 1842 and was given to the College by Mr Arnold Lloyd.

The library also owns a number of related books as follows:

Map from Thomas, G, An historical and geographical account of the province and country of Pensilvania etc, W.26.23

An early colonist, Gabriel Thomas, wrote An historical and geographical account of the province and country of Pensilvania etc in 1698. He dedicated the work to his friend William Penn: “Thou wilt find here a true and genuine Description of that (once) obscure tho’ (now) glorious place”.

Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Etliche zu dieser Zeit nicht unnütze Fragen über einige Schrift-stellen, printed by Benjamin Franklin, Crewe Collection

Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was born in Boston Massachusetts to Josiah Franklin who had emigrated from England in 1683 to practice his Puritan faith. Known later in life as a writer, political revolutionary and scientist, in the period 1726-48 he ran a successful printing press in Philadelphia. As owner of the newspaper the ‘Pennsylvannia Gazette’, this was the period in which his political influence began to grow. This book, in German, on the Moravian Church was published in 1742 and printed by Franklin. It is the only known copy in a UK library. For a digital version see here.

Emmanuel Domenech, Manuscrit pictographique américain (1860), Crewe Collection

Claimed by abbé Emmanuel Domenech, a Catholic priest and missionary, in his ‘Manuscrit pictographique américain’ (1860) to be Native American drawings these illustrations were later surmised to be the doodlings of a German child, one clue being the (badly spelled) German words sometimes included with the drawings.  The German orientalist Julius Petzholdt refuted the claim in his ‘Das Buch der Wilden’ (1861) but, obviously not one to give up a cause lightly, Domenech then wrote a rebuttal in ‘La vérite sur le livre des sauvages’ (1861).  These three works are here bound together and are an example of the diversity to be found in the Crewe collection.

Further Reading: