Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Armorial Bindings

Newnham's collection of older books has largely been built up through donation and includes a number of books that are embellished with the identifying marks of their previous owners.

Several of them are armorial bindings. The interest in coats of arms began in the fourteenth century, as they were often included in medieval manuscripts to identify a patron.[1] Steadily the coat of arms moved from within the pages of the manuscripts to adorn the bindings of books as printing became more affordable and wealthy individuals began to build personal libraries.[2] Customising a collection became especially popular in the Elizabethan period. Although it became less fashionable in the eighteenth century, those interested in the tradition continued with the practice.[3]

Latium in situ

Newnham's collection of armorial bindings is varied. The coats of arms, monograms and initials of earls, duchesses, barons, priests and a few wealthy individuals are embossed onto the leather bindings. They give a glimpse not only into the past but into the lives of the individuals to whom they belonged, not unlike our collection of scrapbooks. Thanks to the British Armorial Bindings database, hosted by University of Toronto Libraries, the marks yield so much information with the smallest effort.

We are lucky enough to have several volumes from the collection of William Thomas Beckford (1759-1844), who was a novelist, art collector and MP.[4] As a young man he went on the Grand Tour, a journey around Europe that was undertaken by wealthy men of the period; Description of Latium: or, La Campagna di Roma deals with the architecture and sights of Rome, conveying his abiding interest in travel.[5][6] The Beckford stamp on this volume is of a heron holding a fish in its mouth. The motto 'De Dieu Tout' appears on a banner above, meaning 'from God everything'.

The Book of Common Prayer, published in 1761, was owned by Robert Hobart Fitzgibbon, the 3rd Earl of Clare (1793 – 1864). There are six armorial stamps associated with him, five of which are illustrated with boars.[6] The choice of animal seems to suggest familial steadfastness and strength.
There are even bound volumes of Tatler and Spectator belonging to Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763 – 1827). His crest, a lion standing upon an imperial crown is indicative of his status as a member of the royal family.

The Fitzgibbon stamp on The Book of Common Prayer

Volumes of Tatler belonging to Prince Frederick

The unidentified initials

However, one set of initials in the collection remains unknown. The volume of Memoirs of the life of Mrs Elizabeth Carter is embossed with the initials ‘C P’, which are up to now unidentified. Although the provenance of most of these personalised bindings has been uncovered, there are still a few mysteries to be solved…

Beyond their historic significance, the bindings are beautiful, adding to the aesthetic interest of the collection. Do take a look at the Newnham page on the British Armorial Bindings website for more information: http://armorial.library.utoronto.ca/search/armorial_search/newnham

These items are kept within our special collections, please email librarian@newn.cam.ac.uk if you would like to learn more about these or any of the works within the collection.

Kirsten Southard, Graduate Library Trainee, 2012-2013

[1] “National Art Library collection of armorial bindings”. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/n/national-art-library-collection-of-armorial-bindings/ [Accessed 25.01.13]
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] "William Thomas Beckford". http://www.stanford.edu/group/auden/cgi-bin/auden/individual.php?pid=I17121 [Accessed 25.01.13]
[5] "William Thomas Beckford". http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/1905?docPos=6 [Accessed 25.01.13]
[6] “Description of Latium: or, La Campagna di Roma”. http://archive.org/details/descriptionoflat00knigrich [Accessed 25.01.13]
[7] "Fitzgibbon, Robert Hobart, 3rd Earl of Clare (1793 - 1864)". http://armorial.library.utoronto.ca/stamp-owners/FIT008 [Accessed 25.01.13]

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