Rare Book Week

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:

  • Advantages:
    • 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
  • Disadvantages
    • 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.

Albert Camus. L'etranger. Librarie Gallimard: Paris, 1942. First edition, first issue. Bound by Pierre-Lucien Martin.
Albert Camus. L’etranger. Librarie Gallimard: Paris, 1942. First edition, first issue. Bound by Pierre-Lucien Martin. 5″ x 7″

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.

Wu Gray
Robert’s photos of “On a Favorite Cat.”


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.

My buddy Melissa Sanders of Red Queen Book Arts introduced me to the work of David Esselmont, resident of the USA since 2005, and showed me a mock-up binding by Jim Croft.

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.







Silvia Rennie, Tini Miura, and Hugo Peller

Laid into my copy of the Silvia Rennie catalog is a 1986 letter from Rennie to the recipients of the catalog, in which she refers to Tini Miura: talking to her on the telephone and trying to retrieve the camera that Miura left for her over a year before. I will not be posting it here.

Copyright fun fact:

The owner of the copyright of a letter is the creator – writer – of the letter, not the recipient, or the owner of the document

Don’t panic. I will not be writing a lecture on copyright law and managed risk.

I mention the letter because it demonstrates a point that I was going to get to eventually, but Mark Kirchner  reinforced it’s importance in his comment on my Treasures of The Strand, Part 1 post: teaching lineage.

As I wrote in the Introduction to this blog, contemporary design binders didn’t spring from nowhere. Tradition and technique are learned from a master binder. Binders teach (or copy) each other. They take students. They teach and take master classes. No one knows everything. There is always more to learn. I could say that the tradition of binding apprenticeships goes back to the invention of the codex. It’s sort of true, but I’d rather not be pompous.

Both Silvia Rennie and Tini Miura (and many, many others) studied with the Swiss master binder Hugo Peller. Works of both Rennie and Miura were on display at the GBW 75th Anniversary Exhibition (I’m going to have to abbreviate the exhibit title if I’m going to keep writing about it).

tini 75tini 75-bio

Rennie biorennie-poe 2

At the time of the exhibit, in 1981, Miura had already studied with Peller, but Rennie had not. I can’t be sure of the chronology, but it seems to me that Rennie must have studied with Peller in order to have created the work for her solo show in 1985.

I don’t know what Rennie and Miura were up to in the early- to mid-eighties. Rennie indicates in her letter that her life was a bit topsy-turvy in late 1984. But they obviously had a quite friendly relationship.

One of the books in Rennie’s show was My World of Bibliophile Binding by Kerstin Tini Miura, “Bound in homage to the author.”

rennie's tini