As we are getting ready for PAGES|Leeds with our gold embossed covers - which will house a new publication for GUTTER project - I have been looking around at gilding practice in contemporary bookmaking.
Fabulously rich gilded bejeweled bindings were frequently used on grand illuminated manuscripts in Middle Ages. As manuscript culture faded, so did the bindings.
In the XXth century Sangorski & Sutcliffe emerged as the binders of exceptional extravagance, using multi-coloured leather, jeweled inlays and precious metals. The history of their most famous work The Great Omar, is as spectacular a story as the work itself.
The Great Omar was commissioned by Sotherans Bookshop. It was indicated that the cost of the book was not to be a consideration. With that carte blanche, Sangorski & Sutcliffe outdid all previous efforts: after two and a half years they created a sumptuous binding containing over a thousand jewels. The front cover was adorned with three golden peacocks, their tails made of inlaid jewels and gold, as were the vines winding around them.
When the book was finally completed in 1911, it was listed for sale at £1,000 and shipped to New York for display. Customs, however, demanded a heavy duty on the shipment and Sotherans refused to pay. The Great Omar was returned to England, where Sotherans had it sent to Sotheby’s auction, where it sold to an American named Gabriel Wells for mere £450. The first ship scheduled to transport the Great Omar sailed without the book, so it was packed safely into the very next option, a luxury liner called the Titanic. The book went down with the ship in 1912. Weeks later, Sangorski also drowned in a bathing accident off Selsey Bil.
Sutcliffe took six years to recreate a second copy from Sangorski's original drawings. As soon as the new Great Omar was completed, it was stored in a bank vault for safety. Unfortunately, the bank, vault, and book were destroyed in the bombings of World War II.
The firm passed into the hands of Sutcliffe’s nephew, Stanley Bray, in 1936. After his retirement, Stanley created the third The Great Omar, which took another fourty years. He worked to his uncle’s original specifications. This final copy lives in the British Library still today. (from Biblio and Guardian)
The place of Sangorski & Sutcliffe is taken today by designer bookbinders. Contemporary bindings look remarkably modest as compared with the above. I have discovered some very skilled bookbinders (such as Robert Wu or Sol Rébora). I have failed, however, to find jeweled lashings of gold (even though, I am sure they exist!). As a result, I have diverted to mock gold leaf, i.e. metallic foils.
Here are my top-ten book covers:
1. F. Scott Fitzgerald anniversay book cover editions by Coralie Bickford-Smith
2. by Julia Kostreva
3. by komma (a platform for presenting projects of students of the Design Faculty of the University of Applied Sciences, Mannheim)
4. Laus 2015
5. by Keith Hayes
6. by Coralie Bickford-Smith (again)