A Sombre Binding

By: samuelfeinstein

Apr 11 2013

Category: Uncategorized

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This is a binding on Percy Shelley’s Adonais, an Elegy on the Death of John Keats.  The text itself is a 1927 replica of the first edition of the poem from 1821, but I chose to bind this book in a pastiche of a sombre binding.  Stuart Bennett writes in his “Trade Bookbinding in the British Isles 1660-1800” (Oak Knoll Press, 2004), “Sombre bindings began to appear in the 1670s and remained in vogue until about 1720.  Booksellers probably laid in stocks of them before Lent, when more ostentatious bindings may have seemed inappropriate, but they would also have kept them on hand year-round for mourners.”  I also have to thank Stuart for advice on the decoration of this book, the design is a panel design with elements from a sombre binding in his own collection.

In my period-style work I strive to create an aesthetic experience harmonious with the text.  Which means for a text that has no covers or spine, I will bind it in such a way that is unoffensive in its novelty–lightly aging the endpapers, dulling down the gold tooling, and working with a gauged inaccuracy that would be normal for how the book would have originally been bound.

All of the details are meant to be period appropriate for a sombre binding, the only exceptions being: the kind of text (instead of a devotional text), the time period of the text (a 1927 reprint of an 1821 text instead of 1660s-1720), and the leather used (normally I would use something with less of a grain on a period binding).  Since this is a rather personal binding, I chose to use a nicer leather than would be common on this kind of binding.

The book was sewn on five raised cords, laced into boards.  The edges are stained black.  The silk headbands are sewn in a light red and an off-white.  The endpapers are plain, though they could also be marbled paper.  The covering leather is black.  The tooling is done all in blind, quite elaborate, including a decorative roll on the board edges and on the leather turn-ins. 


This binding was done in the memory of my dear friend Sean Murphy, a brilliant musician, one of the kindest human beings on this earth, a loving friend, brother, and son, gone much too soon.  No amount of praise could possibly do justice to how wonderful a man he was.


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