One of the highlights from the trip to the UK was visiting the Bodleian Library and receiving a behind-the-scenes tour from rare books curator, Dr. Francesca Galligan. Donovan Rees, the bookseller from Quaritch, introduced us to Dr. Galligan and joined us on our tour.
Dr. Galligan shared with us a wonderful selection of rare books from their collection. I’ll share what details I remember.
There was a book printed in Massachusetts in 1663 sent over as a gift from Harvard to Oxford.
There was a book that was an example of when books had been chained to their shelves. The spines on chained books were not visible so the librarians wrote the reference number on the other side.
The library had the original stamp for one book’s binding which is rare to find.
We saw two book bindings commissioned by Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henri II of France (Catherine De Medici’s rival). She used the intertwined H and D and also the symbols for the goddess Diana (bow and arrow and crescents).
We saw a Doves Press binding of the Kelmscott Chaucer. This was probably the loveliest binding of this book that I have seen to date. I have reviewed five Kelmscott Chaucers at different institutions and at one bookseller and this Doves Press binding was gorgeous by comparison.
There was a book by French 16th century woman publisher and printer, Yolande Bonhomme. She was a widow who took over her husband’s printing business. One copy of a book produced by her shows her husband’s printer’s mark (unicorns). A few years later when she came into her own, she switched to her own mark. Imagine what it would have been like to be a woman publisher and printer in the 16th century!
We also saw bindings by Sybil Pye, a woman who was a self-taught binder. She signed each binding with her initials. The tooling and leather work on this binding was exquisite.
Quaritch, the famed antiquarian bookshop we had visited earlier in our trip to London, sponsors a research assistant at the Bodleian. This gentleman had been making digital photographs of unique bindings in their collection and making those available online. I’ll post some of these beautiful bindings here. There were bindings with covers made with tortoise shell, ornate beading and embroidery, among other unique bindings.