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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dreaming of garnets

A recent acquisition for the Rare Books Collection at the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, is a gorgeously hand-bound poem by Alfred Tennyson.

The binding is blue-green goatskin, embossed with a floral design and inset with five garnets and eight turquoise cabochons. Jeweled or "treasure" bindings have a long history, monarchs and monasteries commissioning bindings adorned with gold, silver, gems, and enamel-work, sometimes with carved ivory panels.  Naturally, because they were so hugely expensive, there are very few examples around.  So this is a wonderful acquisition.

This particular volume of A Dream of Fair Women was created by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, a leading firm of craftsmen binders that was founded in London in 1901.  Probably the pinnacle of their work was a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that was so extravagant that it was known as "the Great Omar."  As well as gold tooling, it was embellished with 1050 jewels.

Who knows what it would be worth today?  At the time it was created, Sangorski put it on the market, first by sending to New York in the hope of a better price than it would fetch in London. Stalled by Customs, it was sent back again, and finally sold at less than its intrinsic cost to an American customer.  So back to New York it sailed ... on the doomed Titanic.

Watch the strange story of the cursed Great Oman here:


Dale said...

There's an account of the fabulous lost Rubaiyat in Rick Gekoski's "Lost, Stolen or Shredded: Stories of Missing Works of Art and Literature".

NB video link will not load for me.

Joan Druett said...

Sounds a fascinating book. Thanks for the tip. But how odd you could not load the video. Which browser do you use? Internet Explorer? I use Google Chrome on my desktop and had no trouble picking up the video from that, but Safari on my iPad can't see the link at all. I'll embed the link in the text just above, and see if that works.