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THE

THE SPENCER COLLECTION

BY HENRY W. KENT
Secretary, Metropolitan Museum of Art

HE Spencer Collection of modern book-bindings is now displayed at the Central Building of The New York Public Library. It consists of one hundred and seventy-five titles (two hundred and twenty-two volumes) by twenty-eight different binders, and illustrated by more than two hundred artists. A descriptive catalogue of the books appears in the following pages.

The donor, William Augustus Spencer, was the son of Lorillard Spencer, of New York City, and his wife, Sarah Johnson Griswold of Lyme, Conn. He was a grandson of Captain William Augustus Spencer of the United States Navy, and greatgrandson of Judge Ambrose Spencer of the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

Mr. Spencer was born in New York City, and was educated in Europe, partly in Geneva. He made his home in Paris, frequently visiting the United States. He began book collecting as a diversion, many years ago, making a specialty of modern French bindings and illustrated books.

On his last visit to New York he inspected the Central Building of The New York Public Library, not then entirely finished. He was greatly interested, and declared his intention of leaving his books to the Library. Mr. Spencer perished in the sinking of the "Titanic," April 15, 1912.

Even a hasty glance at the books named in the following pages will disclose the fact that nearly all are the product of the latter half of the nineteenth century. With few exceptions, the authors, the publishers, the printers, the engravers, and the bookbinders are all representative of what is modern in their several spheres. Taken together, they present material for a study of bookmaking in France during a period, which, though short when compared with its whole history, has been long enough to be full of vital and lasting results.

The story of the Book, with all of its chapters on printing, illustration, binding, publishing, and collecting, is one in which the French people have had a larger and more important share than any other; in

deed, they may be said to have made the fields of book collecting and binding their

own.

Fine bookbinding more than anything else depends upon patronage for its existence. Its history is inseparably linked with the social history of the countries where it is practised. The covers of the books of French binders reflect in their polished sides as vividly as literature does in its pages the story of society in France. Johannis Guigard in his "Nouvel Armoria du Bibliophile," (Paris, 1890) says: "The love of books has always been the special domain of the kings of France; all have formed collections of considerable merit for their times." We have to-day the evidence of the aristocratic taste of a long line of kings, emperors, and princes, beginning with Louis XII and Anne of Brittany, in the bindings from the princely libraries of Louis XII, covered with decoration in the fashion of the architectural ornament of his time- diapers and stripes of repeated forms interspersed with coatsof-arms; of Francis I, with their strong feeling for the bindings done in Italy, but with the king's crowned shield or cypher; of Henry II, reflecting the Italian influence also, but with French innovations; of Francis II, with a series of cyphers and fleurs-de-lis; of Charles IX, Henry III, Henry IV, Louis XIII, down to the last Emperor, in all, we may trace the history of book-collecting in its wisdom and its vagaries.

That the love of books and their suitable care were not kingly prerogatives alone, we learn from the recital of the long list of distinguished collectors whose names add lustre to the chapter. Jean Grolier, Viscount d'Aguisy (1479-1565), TreasurerGeneral of the Duchy of Milan, friend of Francis I, and his ambassador to Pope Clement VII, Treasurer-General of France, friend of Aldus, most lavish patron and promoter of the art of collecting and of binding books, heads the list. To him is accorded the first place among all the names in the history of bibliophilism, and to him, more than to any other one person, we owe not only the dignified position that book collecting occupies among [3]

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the gentler arts, but also the most important, fundamental style in the decoration of book covers. A worthy successor to Grolier was the celebrated historian of his times, Jacques Auguste de Thou, or Thuanus, as he is more often called, a statesman of repute and a distinguished character. Coming upon the scene at a time when bookbinding was in the golden age of its development, he played an important part - how important, the volumes of his library show-if not as the originator of a new style of decoration, as some writers would have us think, certainly as a lavish and discriminating patron.

The importance of the lay-collector in the book arts is amply illustrated by these two men, but there were many others of their time each distinguished in his way. There was, for instance, Jean Baptiste Colbert, the statesman, and minister of finance, under Louis XIV, an encourager of commerce and the industries, and the founder of the Academy of Inscriptions. Nor may we fail to mention Mazarin, the Italian and French cardinal and statesman, and the founder of one of the great libraries of the world, which bears his

name.

The lives of such men as these, "standard-bearers of culture in the citizen-army," covered the period of the French Renaissance, and, as Sidney Lee says, in his "French Renaissance in England," "help to indicate the alluring versatility of the culture" of the period.

of

To what extent the patronage of kings, princes, and the great ones of the earth is responsible for styles in binding would require nice discrimination to determine, because into such a discussion must enter the consideration of the interdependence of the arts, great and small; the subtle influence of the grand styles of the different periods; the question of tools and of materials; the economic and commercial conditions affecting the uses leathers, papers, gold; and a knowledge of the associations of binders, or guilds, with their laws, masters, and apprentices. The guilds cannot be overlooked, not only because of their immediate influence, but also because of their later effects upon styles. Last, but by no means least, we should be obliged to consider the influence of the individual binder, with his taste and inventive faculty.

The first of the bindings made in France, like the products of the other arts, show the signs of forms transplanted from Italy,

but with certain changes in design and in handling of materials strongly tinged with the individuality of the race, and of the royal and noble patrons. The unsurpassed books bound for Grolier in Italy by unknown workmen, like the first fruits of Gutenberg's press, although the genesis of them all, are among the most perfect examples of the art of book-ornamentation ever produced. In their strongly designed and painted interlacing bands, and gold-tooled arabesques of graceful lines and fleurons, may be found the reflection of the absorbing interest felt by Venice for the decoration of the East, -especially for the painted manuscripts and lacquered covers of the Persians, introduced by Aldus, the Printer, together Iwith the technique of the goldsmith's art of her own Renaissance. Thereafter, little influence from the outside seems to have affected the binders of France, except, when, the Revolution having laid its ban on all symbols or tools suggestive of the past, they turned to England for help from Roger Payne (the only great binder that country ever produced), and when, later, in our own day, they once more adopted a style of English manufacture.

The effects of the other arts upon binding design are not difficult to unravel. To the early binders of the printed book typography gave of its ornament which it in turn had received from the illuminations on the manuscripts and from the lovely rolls and stamps of their pig-skin covers. We see in successive periods the influence of architecture, of iron-work, of lace-work, of the Chinese porcelains and stuffs, of Boule's inlays in wood, brass, ivory and lacquer, his designs for his cabinet-work, of many things, monumental, grave, and dignified, or, again, flippant and even silly.

During the whole of the period from Louis XII down to the beginning of the nineteenth century, leather was the material chiefly used for the bindings of printed books, with ornamentations in gold stamped on with many little tools or rolls brought to a heat, or with small pieces of varicolored leather, inlaid to form the pattern with the gold. Other materials had been used before and our binders could not have been entirely ignorant of them, like the ivory covers of the Romans, the enameled metal covers of the Byzantines, the jeweled gold and silver covers of the Italians, the lacquered paper of the Persians, as well as the stamped pig-skin and vellum of the Middle Ages and the painted leather of the Italians.

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