Event Report: German Bookbinders in London

As with all our seminars, this one was live-only, and this event report highlights some things that struck me from Karen’s wide-ranging and detailed presentation. If you have a chance to hear her speak on the topic, please do – this blog post is no substitute for the information she shared in her talk.

From the point of view of librarians at the coal face of cataloguing book collections, one of the most important messages came in response to a question about identifying bookbinders. The British Library’s online database, https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/bookbindings/Default.aspx, is a fantastic free resource, but sometimes there is no substitute for inspecting a binding in real life. Karen reminded us that the British Library has a collection of rubbings of bookbindings that its staff can access, and so encouraged us to contact them if we have tried all the online resources and come up empty. It’s certainly true that this is an area of Bibliography and Book History in which there is no substitute for seeing many, many examples in order to be able to make an identification with any level of confidence.

Karen herself has studied bindings over a long career, and those she presented today were mainly from her work on the Grenville Library at the British Library. This provided her the opportunity to see first hand the range of luxury bindings produced by German nationals in London for Grenville, and sparked an interest that took her to explore those in the libraries of other well-known collectors.

Famous binders for whose work we should look out include Johann Andreas Linde, Johann Ernst Baumgarten, Christian Samuel Kalthoeber, Charles Hering, and, of course, Charles Lewis. The last of these was responsible for many of the bindings in Grenville’s collection and became the pre-eminent bookbinder of his day.

If attending her seminar or reading this short event report has whetted your appetite to know more about bookbinding, Karen is teaching the Rare Book School’s online Introduction to Bookbinding this summer.

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