Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shelfie Wednesday: Binding by Bayntun

1812 Froissart in 2 volumes
When I printed up my business cards, I listed "Medieval Books" as one of my areas of expertise. Of course, there was bit of intentional ambiguity and imprecision there: I buy and sell medieval textual material (mostly binding fragments and charters or other documents) as well as books about the middle ages.

I'd love to deal more often in actual medieval books, but so far at least, there's a kind of price barrier in place: I'm not really selling enough to spend the money it takes to buy a complete medieval manuscript. Much less an inventory full of them.

But, as I hope to show today, there's plenty of other books to fall in love with.

So I was at an antique auction this past weekend, where they were selling a lot of stoneware crocks, and Staffordshire china, and furniture, and primitive American iron-work, and many other interesting things. At the end of the auction were a hundred or so lots of books, and they came to the block around 11:00 at night. I think there were two bidders remaining in the auction house, though there were phone bidders and internet bidders enough to make our presence unnecessary.

I bought five lots. One was the set of books I am writing about today, the 1812 reprint of Pynson's early sixteenth-century printing of an English version of Froissart's Chronicles.
Title page of volume 1.

Froissart's work, off course, is well known to medieval historians, and the Pynson edition would probably count (for me at least) as one of those medieval books I'd love to deal in, though English language books from the 1520s are very, very scarce on the market! I bought this set, thinking not only that they would be fine books to take to Kalamazoo, but also because, from just a brief glance, I saw they were very handsomely bound.

I was doubly pleased, then, when I got the books home and looked more closely at the bindings, which turned out to be signed by Bayntun of Bath. This, of course, was one of the most notable fine binders of the first half of the twentieth century, known for handsome bindings of this very sort, as well as more opulent ones.

It is a foolish proverb, indeed, that tells us not to judge a book by its cover, and there are collectors, of course, who focus primarily upon fine bindings themselves, rather than upon their contents. Surely, though, it is the literary or historical (or, indeed, monetary) value of the contents that first prompts an owner to invest in a fine binding: the visible sign of how the contents are valued.

These books are an ornament to my shelves, and I will be delighted to bring them to Kalamazoo in the spring, to show them off, and to hopefully find a new home, where they can ornament someone else's shelves for a time. Or not, in which case they will still be treasured here.

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