Covered: Beauty and Art in Contemporary Bookbinding Designer BookbindersHot on the heels of yesterday’s fascinating tour of the London International Antiquarian Book Fair (of which more later), led by a member of Designer Bookbinders, I see there is also an exhibition currently running at the St Bride Foundation featuring the work of current Designer Bookbinder fellows, licentiates and members.

Designer Bookbinders is one of the foremost bookbinding societies in the world. Its Fellows are widely credited with an international reputation for ‘a progressive influence on the art, design and technique of the handbound book’ (Julian Thomas in Kyffin: A Celebration, 2008, p.5).  This may well be true – I have not the experience or skills to judge – but what I can be sure of is that the society’s members make some of the most stunningly beautiful books being produced today.  It was such a treat to be able not only to see such well-conceived, achingly visual books but also handle (supervised, and very carefully – I was quite nervous!) a couple during Rare Books London, that a visit to this exhibition to gorge on more is a must for me next weekend.

The ‘Covered: Beauty and Art in Contemporary Bookbinding”  exhibition, which opened on 27 May and continues to 6 June, features the work of more than 30 bookbinders associated with Designer Bookbinders. It’s open daily – from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday and 11.00 am to 4.00 pm on Saturday. It’s a selling exhibition so if you’re feeling flush, you can take a souvenir or two home with you.

Below are two recent prize-winning bindings from Designer Bookbinders members to give you a flavour of what may be in the exhibition.

Urban Birds Jo Spaul Incline Press Jeanette Kock
Urban Birds Published by Incline Press, Oldham 1999.  A collection of cuts by Jo Spaul, with accompanying poems from an English anthology of poetry through the ages. Binding by Jeanette Koch, Designer Bookbinders Fellow

This binding on Jo Spaul’s Urban Birds (Incline Press, 1999) was done by Designer Bookbinders member, Jeanette Koch. It won the 2009 J Hewitt & Son Prize for interesting treatment of leather.  Not only is the binding in itself a work of art but I love the way in which it evokes both bird feathers and an urban, industrial landscape, making it a fitting compliment to the contents of the book (even if the striking colours conjure, for me, images of Birds of Paradise than the usual avian inhabitants of Britain’s cities). Spaul’s pictures themselves are frequently framed in black or blue, so the colours harmonise too.  The binding is made from a variety of leathers, including ostrich skin and goat’s skin. The title has been blind tooled on the front board and little bird’s feet have also been tooled on the front and back.  The upper edge is coloured and the endbands made from multicoloured leathers.  Brown paper doublures precede decorated flyleaves.


Hannah Brown Binding on Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's
Hannah Brown Binding on Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s

This binding, by Hannah Brown, of a Folio Society edition of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, won the Designer Bookbinders’ Mansfield Medal last year.  According to Hannah, her design draws on a specific scene in the book when Holly Go Lightly has a party in her apartment. The front cover shows Holly smoking a long cigarette, surrounded mostly by men. On the reverse, Holly’s unnamed cat, who meant more to her than the reader initially thinks, contrasts sharply with the dark blue background.

Designer Bookbinders also often show off its members wares on its Twitter feed (@designerbookUK).



[Updated 03 June 2015. I have made a few silent corrections to this post since it was first published, with the help, sharp eyes and attention to detail of Designer Bookbinders licentiate, Hannah Brown, to whom I have very grateful. Any remaining infelicitations are of course all of my own making.]