Case 4. Book Couture

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This case shows the stylistic variety of book coverings from simple and inexpensive to lavish. Additionally, in Case 7: Musical Instrument Tutors, you will see an example of a volume covered only in a wrapper: the violin tutor by Winner.

Jean Jacques Rousseau (b. Geneva, 1712; d. Ermeonville, 1778).
Traité sur la Musique.

Geneva, 1782.
Contemporary tree-calf (acid- and iron-red-stained).

This binding is contemporary with the text block: it is polished, honey-colored, mottled tree calf. This example is stained with acid to created black flecks and iron red to resemble an expensive burled-hardwood cover.
Note the raised bands horizontally across the spine: these conceal the five raised cords onto which the stacks of gatherings have been sewn. They create spine compartments that have been elaborately gilt-tooled with decorative stamps and panel lines, as well as the author's name, volume number and title. The edges have been sprinkled red, and handsomely marbled pastedowns and endpapers greet the reader upon opening the book. This is an example of 18th-century bespoke or specially-ordered, designer binding.


William Billings (b. Boston 1746; d. 1800).
The Continental Harmony.
Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Ebenezer T. Andrews, 1794.
Paper-covered pine boards.

An American publication through and through, this oblong volume exhibits the medieval hold-overs of a wooden (pine) board cover, as well as its musical content by our first American composer. (Because the frontispiece and title page are detached, we are able to show those too.)
This was an inexpensive binding for an inexpensive publication: a music book used in Protestant church singing schools or house-music gatherings. Pressboard was difficult to come by and more expensive than a skived piece of pine such as this book's, probably cut by a shingle maker. Traces can be seen of the inexpensive gray-blue paper that once covered the board. The color in this paper was probably determined by the color of the cloth from which it was made. For example, by this time "jeans" cotton, dyed with the strong color of indigo, was being imported from India. If cotton jeans fabric was used to make paper, the bluish color would have been retained in the paper. In addition to the paper being thin and ephemeral, the wooden boards easily split and cracked, making this somewhat of an insubstantial cover.
The missing spine cover reveals horizontal saw cuts in the spine area of the text block for the once-recessed cords now missing, to which the gatherings were sewn, creating a flat spine. The glued-on tapes that hold the board cover to the text block, may be a repair because they don't line up with the spine cords as was typical, but given that there is no evidence of them having been glued in that position, they may, in fact, be original and in the original position.

Jean Benjamin de Laborde (Paris 1734—1794).
Essai sur la Musique, ancienne et moderne. Vol. 3 of 4.
Paris: Eugene Onfroy, 1780.
Half vellum (spine covering lacking revealing sawn-in cords) and pastepaper.

The impermanent character of this publication has been addressed in Case 3: its contents seem unfinished. The cover, too, is inexpensive. It is half vellum (the spine and corners are protected by vellum) and pastepaper, a cheap version of marbling. Created by decoratively smearing paste on paper, the wet paste sometimes picks up a small amount of the paper's pigment and takes on a pale tint. The paste also adds thickness to the surface making it slightly unsmooth.


The Compleat Tutor for the Violin, claiming to be by Geminiani for commercial reasons.

London: C. & S. Thompson, [1797].
Contemporary quarter leather and marbled boards.

This cover is quarter leather: only the spine is leather. The remainder of both boards is covered with a handsome marbled paper contemporary to the publication.

George Bickham, Jr. (b. London 1706; d. 1771).
The Musical Entertainer. 2 vols. in 1.
Vol. I: London: for George Bickham; vol. 2: for C. Corbett, ca. 1737-1739.
Contemporary burgundy grained and rolled sheepskin, gilt dentelles.

The elegance of this cover matches its contents. One of the most beautiful bindings in the Selch Collection, this tome is covered in grained sheepskin, dyed burgundy with a rolled decorative surface to suggest an exotic animal skin. All three edges are gilt, and the dentelles, the outer and inner edges of the cover, are gilt-tooled.
Bickham was an engraver, celebrated in music circles for these two folio volumes luxuriously bound here as one. Bickham originally issued the Musical Entertainer fortnightly from January 1737 to December 1739, in four-plate parts. Each plate bears a handsome vignette illustrating the song below. The vignettes are engraved by Bickham, some after well-known artists such as Watteau and Gravelot. The songs consist of the vocal line and figured bass followed by additional verses and a flute part at the bottom of the page. Many of the songs are by or arranged by well-known composers including Handel, Green, Stanley, Purcell, Corelli, and Howard and some are identified with famous singers such as Isabella Young and the castrato Senesino.

Eugène de Briqueville (b. 1854; d.?).
Notice sur la Vielle. Second edition.
Paris: Librarie Fischbacher, 1911.
Binding by Frederick R. and Patricia Bakwin Selch: rouge and black polished calf, gilt title on both covers and spine.

Initially a collector of musical instruments and books about them, Dr. Selch chose this volume about the charming French vielle or hurdy-gurdy on which to lavish his and Mrs. Selch's attention. Dramatically using two colors of polished calf, he created a design on graph paper, inserted extra material to make a [raised] matlassé of the hurdy-gurdy form, they then onlaid a black leather sound hole on the vielle and an outline/background between the instrument and the spine leather to create this handsome binding. The marriage of the two colors of leather is done so skillfully, it is difficult to tell whether the black leather is onlaid or inlaid.


Robert Bruce Armstrong.

Musical Instruments: Part I. The Irish and Highland Harps. Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1904. Presentation copy: no. 24 of 180 copies, autographed by the author to A. McGougan, May 1904.
Edition case of gilt die-stamped, dark green twill, the die designed by the author with his monogram.

The production of this beautiful volume is in complete harmony with the quality of this work, still one of the best books on the subject. This cover is a book case from the machine-press period; it is not a sewn-on binding done during the hand-press period. Except for specialty work, edition bindings were produced by the printer-publisher and sold in combination with the text as a finished product to the booksellers: all the books from a given printing bore the same cover. Book cases such as this were created separately from the text block then when finished, glued to the latter.
Covered in a dark green, fine twill cloth, the die-stamp decorations are by the author himself. The very detailed front image was created from the author's photograph of the great Fitzgerald harp (1621), now in the Dublin Museum; that on the back is a thistle, emblem of Scotland and the Celtic culture.
Three more steps were required to produce this image. 1) The cover was stamped 'blind' (without gilt); 2) an adhesive was applied to the areas to receive the gold in the recesses, the surface wiped clean then gold leaf was laid over the area; and 3) the dye was carefully 'registered' (positioned precisely) over the first impression and stamped again, after which the excess gold was carefully brushed off and saved for reuse.


Last updated:
June 18, 2016