Michael Wilcox is a Canadian binder. He was born in Bristol, England in 1939. Michael began his training in 1955 as a forwarder at Edward Everard in Bristol. Then he moved to Toronto in 1962 with a five-year contract in the restoration department at the University of Toronto. During that time, he began to refine his skills and explore the freedom of designing his own bindings. He has never looked back. These days, he lives very simply in Ontario, making design bindings by commission.
Michael’s work is distinctive, precise, and beautiful. I have had the pleasure of handling a couple of his bindings: one at The Grolier Club, the other in Neale Albert’s Brush Up Your Shakespeare collection, some of which was exhibited at the Rylands Library in Manchester, England in 2012. Here is a pdf of the catalogue from the exhibit, which has a much better picture of the binding than the one I took at Neale’s apartment. A much better picture of the binding I photographed at The Grolier Club can be found in the online exhibit of his work at The Museum of Canadian History. In 1985, he was presented with the Museum’s Bronfman Award for Masters of the Craft. There are 13 fantastic images of his work. Make sure you also check out five more recent bindings on the same website. Click on each image to get a complete view of each book.
In 1998, the Fisher Library at the University of Toronto mounted an exhibit of his work. I’d love to be able to show some images from the catalogue. It would help if I could get my hands on a copy. I am hampered by my current inability to walk, having broken my foot two weeks ago, and the temporary closure of the reading room at The Grolier Club.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to track down a few other images of his work.
This blog is not dead.
Sorry for the silence. I’ve had a few things going on. I’m sure you will all be pleased to know that my husband is recovering extremely well from his cycling accident and my daughter has successfully completed the fourth grade.
You know what else is not dead?
The Guild of Book Workers New York Chapter. After a hiatus, it is up and running again thanks to Celine Lombardi, Saira Haqqi, Jane Mahoney, and Carol Margreither Mainardi. The first event organized by the new board was the Spring Swap Meet, graciously hosted by Judy Ivry at her bindery on East 4th Street, a couple of weeks ago.
I recently joined the Guild and the NY chapter. I was pretty excited to talk to binders I’ve heard of, met only briefly, or have only communicated with via email. Plus, I heard that some binders would be selling books, catalogues, and journals from their personal collections. Pathetically, I couldn’t get my butt there until 2pm, so I missed many binders and books. I heard that the fine press books in sheets sold in minutes. I don’t want to know which books they were. I’m sure it would just make me sad. Still, I managed to pick up some nice items for my collection of catalogues (thank you, Jenny Hille!), some back issues of The New Bookbinder, and a back issue of The Guild of Book Workers Journal.
The whole event was kind of a blur for me. It was a constant stream of book folk coming and going. I finally met Celine in person. We had been corresponding sporadically ever since I coincidentally met her brother in January. I was delighted to meet Judy Ivry and Ursula Mitra (with whom I have also corresponded, but never met). Then I went into a world of bliss with Christine Giard and her laptop. Her website has a very small sample from the hundreds of bindings she has created. She showed me over two hundred photos of her design bindings (and at least as many of her amazing marbled papers). Ursula asked Christine how many design bindings she has made. Christine shrugged and said, “I don’t know. Maybe 500 or 600.” Jaws dropped.
Christine’s bindings vary widely in design and materials. I was blown away by her range. She is such a tease. After a while, she started making me guess the materials just by looking at the picture. I got just a few: wood, polycarbonate and automotive paint, brass with copper wire, box calf. Here are some others: neoprene, rubber intended for shoe soles, acupuncture needles, plexiglass, rubber cut from motorcycle tires (she’s a biker), and japanese paper covered relief structures that make the binding look like pleated fabric. I’m not going to give it all away here because I am going to write at least one post about her, with lots of pictures and details. Christine takes excellent photographs, not just of her bindings.
I hear all of you saying, but she is FRENCH! Yes, but Christine has lived and practiced in NYC for over two years.
I claim her for The Americas!
I won the drawing for the book I wanted in the InsideOUT exhibit: Cathy Adelman‘s binding of The Bicycle Diaries, text by Richard Goodman, color wood engravings by Gaylord Schanilec, published by Midnight Paper Sales, 2011.
Everything about it is right for me: American binder, American press, American artist, meaningful New York topic, and drop-dead gorgeous binding. Plus, my husband is an avid cyclist.
In celebration of my first acquisition (commissions not yet delivered don’t count), we are going to have a little Cathy Adelman fest. Make sure you take a look at her stunning portfolio on her website as well. I’m hoping to avoid duplication.
In early December, I wrote a post that generated the most comment activity on this blog…so far.
I created a set of rules; guidelines for what a binder should bind if left to his or her own devices. I’ll reproduce the list below for easy reference, embarrassing though it is.
- Bind books in English if you live in an Anglophone country
- Follow the flag: an axiom in the book trade with few exceptions. Ex. US author, book must be published in the US.
- Is the author still in print? You’re on the right track.
- Were you forced to read the book in school? This is a good sign.
- Is the author or illustrator alive? Don’t risk it.
- Do not bind books on books, collecting, reference books, or anything of the sort.
- Avoid Franklin Library and Easton Press.
- Is the book signed or inscribed by the author? Do not bind.
- Does the book have the original dust jacket? Do not bind.
- Is the book collectible in original condition?
I was wrong.
At the time, I had the collecting market in 20th and 21st century first editions on my brain. That’s been part of my day job for 14 years so far, so you’ll have to forgive me. It’s a kind of brainwashing. Forget first editions (not ALWAYS, but for the moment). I know design binders love fine press books. I am aware that binders love to sink a needle into fresh signatures of quality paper. Certainly, that is one reason to love fine press books. But what about the content? I’m fussy.
Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about the upcoming InsideOUT exhibit (thank you for changing the name!). In order to do that, I have spent quite a bit of time looking at fine press books, including a painfully brief visit to the Fine Press Book Fair. I have concluded that I should toss out most of the above. I still think Franklin Library and Easton Press should be shunned. I still believe you should not bind books on books, binding, printers, typographers, and the like, unless for your personal collection. I still think you should bind books in the language of the country where you practice. I’ll add that if any of you bind yet another copy of Fleurs de Mal, I’m going to puke. Binding that title isn’t a requirement for becoming a binder, is it? It sure seems like it. Please stop.
Anyway, contemporary fine press books; I think I’m starting to “get” them. I’m still pretty opinionated (stay tuned for the inevitable I Was Wrong, part 2 post). There still has to be a magical marriage of typography, layout, art, and text to make me care. If the binding is just right in design and craftsmanship, I’ll melt. One book in the InsideOUT catalog hit me just right. I’ve entered the lottery for purchase of the bindings, which occurs on May 14th.
I’m pretty excited about the lottery. I’ve commissioned bindings (which aren’t ready yet), but I’ve never purchased one. A lottery may seem like a weird way to make my first purchase, if I am so lucky as to have my request for that binding drawn before anyone else’s. I feel like I’m going about my entry into collecting backwards. Don’t most collectors start with buying bindings from a dealer? Maybe I’ll do that one day, too.
Lucky me! I got my catalogue early. Another example of my motto: You Don’t Ask; You Don’t Get. To tell the truth, I asked for something totally outrageous and impossible. Sayaka Fakuda, who is doing much of the administrative work for the exhibit on behalf of Designer Bookbinders, let me down gently and offered some nice consolation prizes. One was an advance copy of the exhibit catalogue. I cannot thank her enough. It is delicious. I can’t stop looking at it. These bindings are sexy. I want to fondle them.
So I took a leap of faith. Even though I cannot be at the collector’s preview at St. Bride’s on May 14th from 4:30-5:45, when the books can be fondled, sorry, examined, I have submitted a lottery form for a binding. That’s right. Just based on the book that was bound, two photos of the binding, and a description, I am attempting to purchase a binding by a binder whose work I have never seen in person. When I say “attempting,” I mean that it’s a lottery. If my form requesting this binding is picked out of a hat first, I get to purchase it. If another collector’s form is pulled first, with the same binding listed as first choice, I lose. Keep your fingers crossed for me. It’s the only one I want.
Last week (March 31-April 6) was Rare Book Week in Manhattan.
New York is always the greatest book city in the world (I’m biased), but Rare Book Week is really something special. Living in Manhattan, and working for a local antiquarian bookseller, I have advantages and disadvantages during this time:
- I’ve already seen some of the exhibits at NYPL, Morgan, and Grolier Club, but if I haven’t yet, I’m still here and so are they
- I get paid to go to the book fairs, look at the books, and read as many dealer catalogs as I can get my hands on in advance
- I already know many of the dealers and they are a fun bunch
- I get to set up our booth at the ABAA fair the day before it opens, which means that I have extra time to see the goodies
- I can sleep in my own bed and sometimes see my family
- I’m working, not playing, so I have to keep to an agenda and timetable
- I work a six day week (lucky it wasn’t 7 this year), and some of those days are 12 hours or more
- I staff the store some days during the week, limiting my ability to chase after bookish novelties
- I have to squeeze in personal book interests after my professional duties are fulfilled
- I don’t get to spend nearly enough time hanging out with my dealer friends who I see only 2-4 times per year
The week was awesome, if exhausting. There was one event I wish I hadn’t bothered to go to (title of event withheld to protect the well-intentioned), and another, the Fine Press Book Fair, which deserved way more time than I had.
But what about the bindings, you may ask? The ABAA fair was full of them. I barely scratched the surface.
The award for Best in Show was independently awarded, both by me and Richard Minsky. We kept going back to visit it. I showed it to whomever I thought might care. Those guys at Chez Les Libraires Associés (Paris) were bemused, baffled, and finally, resigned to the attention. It’s a first edition, first issue of Camus’ L’etranger bound by Pierre-Lucien Martin, who was widely considered to be the successor to Bonet, in the 1950s. It stole the show.
I also saw some great North American bindings.
Robert Wu‘s miniature “On a Favorite Cat” by Thomas Gray is a jewel. It really wanted to come home with me, but my bank balance forbade it. Bromer’s had that Wu, as well as a full size Michael Wilcox with a matching mini. Take a look at Bromer’s Facebook page for images of their booth. The Wilcox is on the upper left. That’s a Silvia Rennie on the bottom shelf in the middle. The collection of miniatures the Bromers commissioned for the book fair is arrayed in the front case. I’d like to point out that, as far as I could tell, all but one book in this group was bound by either a fellow or licentiate of Designer Bookbinders (UK). Robert Wu is a Canadian practicing in Canada (yay Americas!) and therefore not eligible for DB.
I saw a pair of Tini Miura quartos (Barbier, George and Georges LePape–Louys, Pierre. Aphrodite. Paris: Les Bibliophiles de L’Amerique Latine, 1954) at Sims-Reed which were not on display because they had already been sold. They were very nice and showed them to me twice. I suppose it helps that I have known them for more than a decade. Priscilla Juvelis had a new Donald Glaister that I didn’t have a chance to get a close look at, but she promised me some pictures. I’m so grateful to Priscilla. I finally got a chance to sit down with her and talk about design binding and other book arts. She is so kind and generous. I can’t wait to speak with her again.
At the Fine Press Association fair, I saw some of the books that have been bound for the Contemporary Bindings of Fine Press Books exhibit and had a great conversation with Graham Moss of Incline Press. Nine binders chose books from his press to bind for the exhibit. I can’t wait to see the results. Also at the Fine Press fair, I met and spoke briefly with Coleen Curry who is not only beautiful and delightful, but also a fantastic binder. She has lots of pictures on her website which is a must see. I also met the elusive Lang Ingalls, binder and fine printer. Erin Fletcher recently wrote a month-long feature on Lang on her blog A Flash of the Hand, which shows more of Lang’s bindings in one place than I have ever managed to ferret out (that’s why I said elusive — I’m sure I could have simply asked for pictures). Definitely take a look.