ABC’s of Book Collecting: Author’s Binding


Copies to be presented by authors to their friends or to public figures were, from the earliest times, occasionally bound to their order; normally in a superior manner, but by no means always recognisable as such. (morocco was a common style for this purpose in the 17th and 18th centuries and vellum, gilt, in the 16th.) In the absence, therefore, of an inscription or other evidence, the statement that a leather-bound book is in an author’s binding will usually be made – and should always be received – with caution, still more so the assumption (commonly made) that such a book must be the dedication copy.

Howard Nixon once said that he had never seen a letter from an author presenting his book to the dedicatee that did not plead illness, an impending journey, or just the desire to see it in his patron’s hands as quickly as possible, as an excuse for enclosing it unbound. During the age of publisher’s cloth, an author might occasionally have a dozen or more copies put up in a special style, or a different colour, for presentation to his or her friends: Lewis Carroll, Ouida and Mrs Henry Wood provide a number of examples. But since the authenticated instances of this are rare, it is usually safer to presume that such bindings were a publisher’s variant for the gift market (see gift binding) until the author’s connexion has been proved.

Previous ABC’s of Book Collecting posts

Carter, John & Nicolas Barker
ABC’s of Book Collecting. 8th Edition
New Castle, Delaware : Oak Knoll Press, 2004

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Thanks to Oak Knoll Press for permission to reprint