Mortimer Rare Book Room History

Fine Printing and Bookbinding

“You can’t judge a book by its cover” is not a strict rule in the Mortimer Rare Book Room, which houses many finely designed and crafted bookbindings. The collection does include bindings as early as the fifteenth century, but the earliest one shown here is by famed British binder, teacher, writer, and collector of fine bindings, Sarah Treverbian Prideaux (1853-1933). This elegant full morocco goatskin binding, with gilt edges and gold tooling, was done by Prideaux in 1899. It is on a copy of The Romance of Sir Degrevant, printed and published by William Morris’ Kelmscott Press in 1896. Morris, well known for his fabric and furniture design, also looked to the medieval ideal of the book for his English private press, the progenitor of a multitude of British, European, and American private presses into the 21st century. Many Kelmscott Press books feature Morris’ own typefaces and intricate borders and illustrations by Edward Burne-Jones. Many of Morris’ books were issued bound in a simple linen spine and blue paper over cardboard, such as Child Christopher shown here, with the intention that the purchaser would commission a more permanent binding.

Henry L. Seaver was an immensely generous donor to the rare book room. His gifts included books from notable fine presses (including Kelmscott), such as an edition of Boccaccio’s Decameron  printed by the Ashendene Press in Chelsea, England  (a part of London) in 1920. This was C.H. St. John Hornsby’s private press, operated from 1895-1915, and after World War I, from 1920-1935. The book features three-color printing and generous margins surrounding the text. The full leather binding is a prime example of the work of Peter Franck, a German-trained binder who lived in Connecticut and rebound many books for Seaver in the 1940s-1960s.

The Romance of Sir Degrevant. Hammersmith (London): Kelmscott Press, 1896. This book contains bookplates of two former owners: Annie Burr Jennings, daughter of Oliver B. Jennings, an American businessman and one of the original stockholders of Standard Oil, and John Saks, an heir to the eponymous department store, who was a member of the Grolier Club from 1975 until his death in 1983.
PURCHASED ON THE FUND ESTABLISHED IN MEMORY OF ELIZABETH MCCONNELL, CLASS OF 1918,
AND ANNE L. BOHNING, CLASS OF 1915

William Morris. Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair. Hammersmith (London): Kelmscott Press, 1895.  PRESENTED BY THE CLASS OF 1891

Boccacio. Decameron. Chelsea: Nella stamperia Ashendeniana, 1920. Henry Seaver designed and printed a special bookplate which was placed in this and a number of other books he gave to Smith. It oddly states “in memory of Susan R. Seaver;” this book was donated in 1950, but Mrs. Seaver lived until 1964.
PRESENTED BY HENRY L. SEAVER

prideaux-front-web.jpg (This is probably the better one to use.)
prideaux-full-web.jpg
child christopher-web.jpg  (may be too out-of-focus to use)

permalinks:
Romance: http://fcaw.library.umass.edu/F/?func=direct&doc_number=001516567&doc_li...
Morris: http://fcaw.library.umass.edu/F/?func=direct&doc_number=000460623&doc_li...
Boccacio: http://fcaw.library.umass.edu/F/?func=direct&doc_number=011126860&doc_li...