I have always been interested in the art of hand bookbinding, since the day that artist Julie Beinecke Stackpole showed us her entry in a competition for the binding of a rare copy of Moby-Dick. Her husband Renny was director of the Penobscot Maritime Museum in Searsport, Maine, at the time, and he and Julie invited us to their beautiful old house in Thomaston, where Julie had a studio. From memory, six book binding artists had been given a copy each of the historic edition of Melville's immortal tale, and a certain amount of time to make and attach an appropriate cover. Julie had etched a pattern of ratlines -- the ladderlike ropes the seamen used to climb the shrouds to the top of the mast -- on textured leather. The result was striking and memorable.
A story by Roberta Smith in the art and design section of the New York Times today discusses the glories of hand bookbinding over the centuries, a sampling of which can be viewed at the Morgan Library and Museum. Called "Protecting the Word: Bookbindings of the Morgan," the exhibit presents 55 of the thousand-plus holdings in its special bindings collection.
The show spans fourteen centuries, dating back to a time when books were entirely handmade The earliest is an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels, made in Coptic Egypt about the seventh century, and one of the most recent is an op-art binding made in 1959. A particular gem is a binding of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Poems (pictured), made by Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson.