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.
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:
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:
In this volume the front doublure is employed by Sangorski & Sutcliffe for a hidden Cosway-style binding:
Because Cosway-style bindings of their beauty, enthusiasts seek after collections of Cosways on their own terms, as in this group:
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