I just got back from the opening of “The Poet of Them All.” It’s a must see. Whether or not you like miniature books, you’ll never see so many works by great binders on display in one exhibit. Fortunately, I’ve had the great privilege of handling many of the bindings in the past few years, otherwise it would have been totally overwhelming. Leave yourself plenty of time and buy the catalog. You won’t regret it.
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.
Usually, my husband is my captive audience when I want to talk about design binding. He nods and smiles, and says that it is nice to see me so animated. He’s very sweet. What a pleasure it was then, to jabber with someone who actually wants to talk about the subject!
I spent about three hours with Neale. He is so generous with his time and his books. The bindings are absolutely wonderful. He showed me so many, some by binders whose work I’d seen online or in exhibit catalogs, but some who were completely new to me. I could hardly believe that I was holding books that most people have never seen and, even when exhibited, will not be able to hold and examine closely. I am very, very lucky.
Neale told me many stories of binders of the past. He showed me his favorite binding, and a book bound by that binder’s son, now in his 90s, using the tools inherited from his father. We talked about commissioning bindings. He believes, when commissioning a binding, one should issue no instructions: the binder is the artist. It works. He has commissioned hundreds of bindings and has only once been disappointed enough to call the binder. That is an excellent recommendation for letting a binder do whatever he or she wants. We also talked about patience. It takes as long as it takes. I’m trying to learn patience. It’s not my best trick.
The afternoon went by so fast. I could have spent half an hour with each book, examining the design and execution of each, but I wanted to make the most of my time with Neale. I had fun trying to play guess-the-binder. I nailed Jim Reid-Cunningham, Del Hood, Hannah Brown, Paul Delrue, Alain Taral, and Jan Sabota, but I really don’t know the range of styles of most binders well enough to guess. I was just lucky with those. They were stylistically close enough to other works I’d seen recently. My binding crushes on Hannah Brown, Del Hood, and Alain Taral are firmly in place (yes, I know none of them work in the Americas, but who cares?). So many binders, not just those listed above, have a degree of finesse that just doesn’t translate in photographs, no matter how good.
In an afternoon of highlights, looking at around 30 interpretations of the same text was an incredible experience. The text was one that Neale had published in miniature format: the music and lyrics to Cole Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from the musical “Kiss Me Kate.” I love that scene in the movie, and it fits right in with Neale’s lighthearted love of Shakespeare. We ended up sitting on the floor of his library among piles of boxes, each one containing a jewel of a binding. It really was a little piece of heaven.
I was so absorbed that I took no notes and managed to take only two pictures: