Monday, March 02, 2009

Question from Ciara - Bookbinding, illumination and bibliophiles

Hi all,

I have a question regarding bookbinding and illumination. Do any of you know if there is anywhere that people still produce books by hand?
Or anywhere that does illumination for books, broadsheets, etc.?

Is there a place where you can learn this trade?

And were any of the Tudors great bibliophiles?

Thanks so much!


Anonymous said...

Yes, a number of Tudor-era figures were definitely bibliophiles in the sense that they collected large numbers of books (including a few women), often commissioned special bindings made of exotic leathers embossed with their own ciphers and coats of arms, etc. Aristocratic women often embroidered special bindings for the family's books. Inventories for a goodly number of personal libraries have survived to detail what titles were most popular and "who owned what and when."

Books still produced by hand: Yes, there is a press in San Francisco that still produces very elegant books entirely by hand. See Arion Press at I'm sure there are others out there. I feel sure that there must be at least one in the UK.

Book illumination is more problematic, since traditional illumination was always unique to a single given manuscript (handwritten) book. Each copy of a book had different illumnations so that no two copies of the same book were exactly alike. I am not aware of any early printed books being illuminated, since true illumination cannot be accomplished by printing. Illuminated manuscript books were made using vellum (a.k.a. parchment), which is manufactured from sheep skin. Printed books were printed on paper made from plant-based materials. I am not sure that traditional illumination methods used on vellum would work on paper. I suspect the pigments would "bleed through" to the reverse side more readily than they sometimes did with vellum.

I know that the modern College of Arms in London still has master illuminators for creating illustrations of the "coats of arms" granted by the College. And at least one company in Paris still offers traditional-style illumination to paying customers, though the cost would make illuminating an entire book unaffordable to most of us:
As with hand presses, I assume there are others offering illumination in the traditional style.

nakedmartyrdancing said...

Thanks so much.

You mentioned inventories of personal libraries, where could I find those?

Anonymous said...

I tried my hand at illumination (I transcibed the 1533 coronation text for Anne Boleyn). You can see it at:

Anonymous said...

Ciara, there are several inventories reproduced and/or discussed in a variety of articles and books produced by historians and scholars. You would proabbly have to access them via the library at a large local university. But here is a list of some books and articles that came across while working on my PhD dissertation.

Bowden, Caroline. “The Library of Mildred Cooke Cecil, Lady Burghley.” The Library: Transactions of the Bibliographical Society 6 (2005): 3–29.

Coppens, Christian. Readings in Exile: The Libraries of John Ramridge, Thomas Harding & Henry Joliffe, Recusants in Louvain. Cambridge: LP Publications, 1993.

Fine Bindings 1500-1700 from Oxford Libraries. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1968.

Foot, Mirjam M. The History of Bookbinding as a Mirror of Society. London: British Library, 1998.

Marks, P. J. M. The British Library Guide to Bookbinding History and Techniques. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Middleton, Bernard C. A History of the English Craft Bookbinding Technique. London: British Library and New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1996.

Needham, Paul. Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings, 400–1600. New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1979.

Nixon, Howard M. Five Centuries of English Bookbinding. London: Scolar Press, 1978.

Szirmai, J. A. The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1999.

Tait, Hugh. “The girdle-prayerbook or ‘tablett’: an important class of Renaissance jewellery at the court of Henry VIII.” Jewellery Studies 2 (1985): 29–57.

There are also numerous Tudor-era library inventory lists at both the British Library in London and the National Archives at Kew, though access to them is limited. Other than that, you would probably have to piece the information together from other sources. Susan James listed some of the books owned by Katherine Parr, for example, in Catherine Parr: Henry VIII's Last Love. I'm sure a good biography of Thomas More would name some of the books he owned, as well.