The Lost Art Of Hand Bound Books

During the Christmas season of 2014 I came across a pair of books that would keep my interest for several weeks.  Both sets of books were leather bound editions of European classics with intricate gold leaf designs.  These were not the mass produced imitations you find once in a while at Barnes and Noble.  These were works of art created by hand over a century ago.  

 The First one I picked up is a two volume set of The Confessions of Rousseau.  The blood red covers displayed intricate designs not only on the outside but also the edges of the spine and inside the cover meeting a marbled paper.  Looking over the two books I could not find any stamps or marks that said who made them.  

 The second book was also a two volume set called The Life of Cellini. These books have dark green covers with the same intricate designs on the covers.  The same marble paper meets the inside of the cover.  The only difference is the Cellini has a stamp, the Stikeman company.  

 It didn’t take long to find a few websites dedicated to the works of Stikeman.  They operated in New York City at the turn of the last century creating limited edition books for publishing companies.  They like to specialize in European literature.  To this day there are people who search and collect these books as a hobby.  If one is able to put a set together, consisting of matching covers and designs, they have been known to sell in the tens of thousands.  

 On my journey to Stikeman I found other book binding companies along the way.  Bayntun Binding located in Bath England has been binding books by hand for over a hundred years.  Not only are they still in business but they are contracted to work for the royal family to produce books for their libraries. Many of their books are literally works of art and it a person owned one it should not be read.  I came across a volume of theirs, likely from the same collection as the Stikeman books, titled Queen Hortense and Her Friends.  This is another turn of the century piece from 1907 similar in appearance to the Stikeman books.

 If one is interested in looking at some book porn and eyeballing some books well out of most people’s price range I recommend browsing their website.  Not only do they post new books they are currently producing but they find and buy older books produced by their company and resell them once they have been authenticated.  

 Who knew books could be such highly valued sought after pieces of art.  I thought my 1964 leather bound copy of the Hobbit, with slipcase, was awesome. Then I took the red pill and my eyes were opened to a new world.  Why do I keep taking the red pill?  My wallet can not handle it.  

Matthew Gilman can be contacted on his author Facebook page and found on Twitter.

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