Friday, September 5th, 2014...11:16 am

The masterful work of the “Naval Binder”

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Binding by the Naval Binder (detail).  EC65.B6595.695m This story starts with a little database clean-up. (Hold that yawn!) Two unrelated items in HOLLIS had the same call number. There are any number of reasons why this might have happened, but figuring out that riddle was less important than finding the erroneously-numbered book. The title in question was a curious little volume, an entirely engraved book on shorthand, Samuel Botley’s Maximum in minimo, or, Mr Jeremiah Richs pens dexterity compleated with the whole terms of the law, thought have been printed in London around 1695. The late 17th century saw a growing interest in shorthand systems, which flourished under a variety of names depending on who was promoting it – semography, brachygraphy, and tachygraphy among them; Rich’s title was particularly popular. Given the place and date of printing, it was natural as part of our investigation to consult our reference copy of Donald Wing’s Short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America, and of English books printed in other countries, 1641-1700. What a relief to find that an earlier diligent librarian had penciled in the call number. Voilà – book found!

Botley, Samuel, 1642-1696? Maximum in minimo, or, Mr. Jeremiah Rich's Pens dexterity completed, 1695. EC65.B6595.695m

And what a find. Our copy was bound close to the time it was printed in a spectacular example of a Restoration binding. “Restoration” bindings are morocco (i.e. goat skin) bindings so called as they were executed during the forty years following the accession of King Charles II to the throne in 1660. They are characterized by their sumptuous and intricate decorations consisting of elaborate tooling, gold leaf, and varying brightly colored leather onlays. They are specimens of exceptional craftsmanship, so it is no wonder that Howard Nixon, in his English Restoration bindings, dubbed the period in which they were made “the golden age of English bookbinding.” Their colorful outfits proudly reflect the opulent fashions of the decorative arts following the austere period of the Commonwealth.

Binding by the Naval Binder. EC65.B6595.695m

There were a number of shops producing these ornate bindings. Unfortunately, most of the master printers’ names are unknown. So they and their shops have been given such evocative monikers as the Royal Heads’ Binder, the Centre-Rectangle Binder, the Small Carnation Binder, and the Spaniel Binder, each identified by an intimate examination of the tools employed and the patterns favored. Our binding has been identified as being the work of the Naval Binder, so named because he/they worked for the Naval Office. Bindings originating from this shop are distinguished by the massed gold tooling on their onlaid corners and the narrow pointed ovals featured in their centers, resulting in patterns reminiscent of Persian designs. Our volume fits this description precisely with its red and yellow onlays and intricate handiwork.

The Naval Binder was working at the same time as the celebrated Samuel Pepys was Chief Secretary to the Admiralty and it is believed that it was Pepys who commissioned the Naval Binder’s work. Further evidence of this theory are the additional examples of the Naval Binder’s work in Pepys’ grand personal library. Given Pepys’ deep knowledge of stenography, it is tantalizing to think this little volume might once have rested in the diarist’s hands.

[Thanks to Karen Nipps, Head of the Rare Book Team, for contributing this post.]

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