Important acquisitions

De imitatione Christi libri quatuor. Editio novissima.

Author Thomas a Kempis
Title De imitatione Christi libri quatuor. Editio novissima.
Imprint Mechliniae [Mechelen] : H. Dessain,
Date of Publication 1885.
Language Latin
Notes This edition of medieval monk Thomas a Kempis's famous devotional work, "The imitation of Christ" has been acquired for its modelled goatskin binding. It has been done in the style of Annie MacDonald, the Scottish bookbinder. Annie MacDonald herself invented the technique for modelling leather for bookbindings used for this binding, and other bindings produced by her and her pupils. She and a few other women in Edinburgh had only begun binding books a few years previously. Walter Biggar Blaikie (whose collection of Jacobite-related books and manuscripts is now in NLS) of the publishers A. & J. Constable let them use his workshops after hours. From 1895 two of Constable's workmen, a finisher and a forwarder, taught the group of women, who soon became known as the Edinburgh Arts and Crafts Club. MacDonald tried various types of leather for modelled bindings but found that natural goatskin, before any curing processes, could be moulded as she wanted. The modelling was done after the book itself was covered in the goatskin. It involved neither cutting nor raising the leather to relief. The design was traced onto the dampened leather and worked with one small tool called a 'Dresden', which was used to carefully press the background and mould the relief design. Using glue rather than paste to cover the books, the leather was a pale ivory when completed which developed into a richer brown once aged. Silk endpapers were used because the goatskin tended to stain both paper and vellum. The work of MacDonald and the other Edinburgh-based women inspired London bookseller Frank Karslake to found of the Guild of Women Binders in 1898 as an outlet for the sale of work by women binders who lived outside London. This particular binding is listed as no. 93 in the 1898 "Catalogue of the first exhibition of bookbinding by women", organised by Karslake. The binding is attributed to one "Miss MacLagan". The identity of the binder is further confirmed by an inscription on one of the front endpapers: Kathleen from M.D.M. 'M.D.M.' is almost certainly Mary Dalrymple Maclagan (1878-1815), one of the Edinburgh women binders. Mary Maclagan's mother was a founder member, along with Patrick Geddes, of the Edinburgh Social Union (ESU), a philanthropic organisation established to improve living conditions in slum areas of the city through housing provision, education and training, and the decoration of public spaces. Both Maclagans were active members of the ESU's guild of women bookbinders, which met regularly at the Dean Studio under the guidance of Phoebe Traquair. 'Kathleen' appears to be one Kathleen R. Pearson who has also inscribed the endpapers with: Bound Dec. 1896 K.R. Pearson - 4th Novr. 1907. This binding has an additional significance as a photographic illustration of it was used in a promotional leaflet printed in 1898 for Karslake, which described the work of the Guild of Women Binders. The binding was chosen as an example of 'the new "Edinburgh binding"; a revival of the monastic bindings of the Middle Ages & (specially suited for early printed books and Church Services)'. The design for the front board is taken from a painting of 1878 by Sir Edward Burne-Jones of an angel playing a flageolet, now held in Sudley House, Liverpool. The date of the binding, 1896, has been included in the design. On the back board there is a crucifix with hearts. The endpapers are green and gilt patterned silk. There are also two quotations concerning the text taken from Matthew Arnold and George Eliot written on the front endpapers, as well as pencil annotations at the start of the book. A further mark of provenance is a ticket on the back pastedown of the bookseller T.B. Mills, Buckingham Gate, London.
Shelfmark Bdg.s.950
Reference Sources M. Tidcombe, Women bookbinders 1880-1920, London, 1996. http://womenofscotland.org.uk/women/mary-dalrymple-maclagan
Acquired on 23/12/11
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