The Secret Language of Rare Books

The Secret Language of Rare Books: Cosway-Style Bindings

  • May 5, 2015

Does the specialized vocabulary of rare book descriptions read like a secret language to you? In this series we will unveil the meanings behind a few of the more unusual and interesting terms that can read like a secret code to the uninitiated. Today: Cosway-style bindings.

 

The Definition: A binding style in which delicate miniatures, mostly portraits, often on ivory, are set into the covers (or sometimes doublures) of fine bindings and protected by thin panes of glass.

 

The Context: In the early 20th century John Harrison Stonehouse, managing director of London’s renowned bookshop Sotheran’s, hired the illustrious Rivière bindery to create bindings with miniatures embedded. They employed Miss C.B. Currie to imitate the style of the famed miniaturist Richard Cosway and named the technique Cosway binding. The painter Cosway, who died in 1821, never created a Cosway binding himself.

As with all quality ideas, mimics soon appeared. Bindings produced with miniatures in the boards but not executed by Currie are named Cosway-style bindings. Unlike most replications, these bindings can also be tremendous.

 

The Look:

A true Cosway binding by Miss Currie, with a beautiful miniature painting of Alfred Tennyson executed on ivory, number 811 of the Cosway Bindings invented by J.H. Stonehouse. This volume is signed on the limitation page by both Currie and Stonehouse:

Limited edition of Alfred Tennyson’s selected poetry in an exquisite Cosway signed binding, with a beautiful miniature painting of Alfred Tennyson executed on ivory (BRB 73972)

Limited edition of Alfred Tennyson’s selected poetry in an exquisite Cosway signed binding (BRB 73972)

 

This stunningly executed Cosway-style binding by Bayntun-Rivière (a later incarnation of the Rivière bindery) includes a replica of Cosway’s famous miniature of Mrs. Moffet on the cover, framed by precious stones:

Cosway1

Cosway

The Life of Cosway, bound in a Cosway-style binding (BRB 47331)

 

In this volume the front doublure is employed by Sangorski & Sutcliffe for a hidden Cosway-style binding:

The first collection in book form of Charles Lamb’s Elia essays, beautifully bound by Sangorski & Sutcliffe in an exquisite full red morocco Cosway-style binding, inset on the front doublure with a wonderful watercolor portrait of Lamb (BRB 80867)

The first collection in book form of Charles Lamb’s Elia essays, with a watercolor portrait of Lamb (BRB 80867)

 

Because Cosway-style bindings of their beauty, enthusiasts seek after collections of Cosways on their own terms, as in this group:

A collection of six Cosway-style portraits of literary luminaries: Wordsworth, Whittier, Longfellow, Burns, Bacon, and Ruskin (BRB 73626)

A collection of six Cosway-style portraits of literary luminaries: Wordsworth, Whittier, Longfellow, Burns, Bacon, and Ruskin (BRB 73626)

 

Cosway

 

Have a term in mind you’d like to see in this series? Write it in the comments below.

Rebecca Romney

Rebecca Romney joined Bauman Rare Books in the fall of 2007 to 2016. In 2011 Rebecca began appearing on the History Channel’s hit TV show Pawn Stars as the rare books expert. She has contributed several posts to our blog.

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Comments

4 Responses to “The Secret Language of Rare Books: Cosway-Style Bindings”

  • Rudolf Zaras says:

    The treasures of literature encapsulated in artistic treasures. Magnificent!

  • Michael says:

    Very interesting article Rebecca. Do binders still create ornamental bindings or are they done as a one off for collector editions?

    • Rebecca Romney

      Rebecca Romney says:

      Thanks. Most certainly there are still binders who create elaborate ornamental bindings, although Cosways in particular are considered more of a “trend” of the early 20th century. For example, here is an article about a recent exhibition of contemporary bindings: http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2014/05/fine-bookbindings

      • Michael says:

        I appreciate the further information Rebecca…enjoy your day.

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