Bindings

Another collection that is accorded special housing is that of books bound by American bookbinders. These volumes come from four principal sources, Isaiah Thomas, Michael Papantonio, Kenneth G. Leach, and George T. Goodspeed. Thomas had the books in his library beautifully bound up for his own pleasure. Michael Papantonio, 150 years later, began to collect books bound in America during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries for his own pleasure. Not only are the books handsome to look at, but many are of outstanding importance as historical or literary works. The greatest binding in the collection is that done by John Ratcliff for the Boston merchant Thomas Deane. It appears on Nathaniel Morton's New Englands Memoriall (Cambridge, Mass., 1669) and came from the Papantonio Collection.

But bindings on books have more than aesthetic importance. They, like other examples of the decorative arts, have a good deal to tell us about the taste and world views of original owners and the milieu from which they sprang. This aspect is particularly evident in the collection of bookbindings made by Kenneth Leach. His collection of some 1,000 volumes, purchased by the Society in 1989, is focused on books in edition bindings as issued by their publishers. Thus the Leach Collection demonstrates the commercial side of the presentation of books to the public rather than, as in the Papantonio Collection, bindings executed according to the tastes of many collectors, or, in the case of Isaiah Thomas's books, books bound to suit the wishes of a single individual.

Such is also the case of the small collection (just over 150 titles) of publishers' bindings created by George T. Goodspeed and given to the Society by his daughter, Carol Goodspeed Smith, upon his death in 1997. The Goodspeed Collection is especially strong in the Ticknor and Fields editions "Books in Blue and Gold" (first issued in 1856 and so called for their characteristic bindings of gold stamped decoration on bright blue cloth), and the imitations of this extremely popular binding style marketed by other publishers. Anyone interested in publishers' bindings will also find notable examples in the Society's collections of Albums and Annuals.

Guides to the bindings at the Society are found in Early American Bookbindings from the Collection of Michael Papantonio, 2nd ed. (Worcester, 1985) and in Hannah D. French, Bookbinding in Early America: Seven Essays on Masters and Methods (Worcester, 1986). The Society has published a series of illustrated articles on bindings in its collections in issues of the Proceedings. Current cataloging practice calls for the inclusion of physical characteristics terms to describe the various elements of bindings on pre-1877 imprints. These terms, some taken from an approved thesaurus and others established locally, allow interested persons to search the online catalog for such charateristics as "Aniline dyed cloth," "Binders' tickets," "Gilt edges," "Gold stamped cloth," and "Gold tooled leather." The Bindings Collection, when combined with the holdings of "ordinary" bookbindings on the shelves in other collections, presents unparalleled opportunities to students of the American book arts.

- Marcus A. McCorison, President Emeritus; updated by Doris O'Keefe, Senior Cataloger