A 20th Century Binder’s Scrapbook

It was initially presumed that this binders scrapbook, acquired by the Club in 2014, was part of the Curwen Press archive, as it contains numerous drawings of bindings for Curwen publications, as well as correspondence from Harold Curwen, director of the Press. It is well known that the Curwen Press had a bindery on their factory premises, however, Curwen produced mostly pamphlet and limited edition trade bindings, and was otherwise known to have sent out most of their binding work to other firms.  This, coupled with the observation that many of the titles listed and the binding styles documented are not representative of the work or aesthetic of the Curwen Press prompted further research into the origins of this unique volume.

Over the years, the Curwen Press facilities grew to be expansive enough to allow the Press to be an entirely self-contained operation. The purchase of new machines in the mid 1930’s allowed them to pursue more ambitious book projects and produce larger runs, but in all likelihood the work done in the bindery was still limited to collation, folding, sewing and attachment of paper wrappers for pamphlets and paperbacks. All of the hardcover books, which required more time and hands-on labor for finishing, were done elsewhere.

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Among the binders who did work for Curwen are Sangorski & Sutcliffe, Wood, and McLeish.  This scrapbook adds another name to that list, that of Nevett, one of the oldest British trade binderies. Included in the scrapbook is a TLs from Harold Curwen to Thomas Harrison, who worked at Nevett, detailing specifications for the production of coronation record boxes in March of 1937.  The first few pages of the scrapbook also contain reference to Curwen Press “Gramophone Record Books,” including spine rubbings, tracings, leather samples, and drawings.

The scrapbook contents are not, however, limited to work done for or commissioned by Curwen, which makes it clear that it is not part of the Curwen Press archive. With dates ranging from 1934-1939, there are numerous references to Desmond Flower, who worked for Cassell publishing house, as well as mentions of Henry Good & Sons, business printers; Tregaskis, the London bookdealer; and Sir Arthur Crosfield, the baronet and soap magnate. The bindings represented are mostly done in leather over boards, with some cloth and marbled paper covers, and gilt lettering.

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Spine rubbings, 1934
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Cover samples and rubbing, 1939.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are also a few drawings for stamped and gold-tooled bindings with intricate decoration, including a monogrammed binding for Crosfield and an elaborate cover for an edition of Le Morte d’Arthur.

An additional reference to Nevett, this time in an unsigned letter pasted onto a page with the name of Desmond Flower at the head and detailing instructions for a special binding for the Nonesuch Press edition of Latin Portraits, suggests that this scrapbook was compiled by a member of the Nevett staff as a record of some the bindings produced there.

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“This design for a special copy of the Nonesuch Latin Portrait, to be executed by Nevett in dark blue morocco, is pretty accurate to millimetres…”

Whether or not the compiler was Thomas Harrison remains unclear, though a sketch of a binding for Harrison’s The Bookbinding Craft and Industry which closely matches the final design (executed by Wood, where Harrison worked until the 1930s) does make it seem likely that some of Harrison’s work is reflected here.  Before Harrison joined Nevett in 1934 as their technical adviser, he worked with such firms as Fazakerley’s, Zaehnsdorf, and T.H. Wood, where he eventually became manager and then proprietor.

The variety of titles, the level of detailing in the finishing work, and the range of stylistic decoration all suggest that this scrapbook is a record of bindings not made for one specific person or firm, but rather by a single firm for a wide clientele.  The evidence at hand points to this firm as being Nevett Ltd of Colindale.

By Sophia Dahab

Additional reading about the Curwen Press:

Bruce Peel Special Collections Library. A Spirit of Joy. Edmonton: University of Alberta, 1990.

Simon, Herbert. Song and Words: a History of the Curwen Press. Boston: David Godine, 1973.

Simon, Oliver. Printer and Playground: an Autobiography. London: Faber & Faber, 1956.

Additional reading about Thomas Harrison and Nevett Ltd:

Foot, Mirjam. M. Studies in the History of Bookbinding. England: Scholar Press, 1993.

Peachy, Jeff. Checklist of Writings by Thomas Harrison. https://jeffpeachey.com/2012/05/15/checklist-of-writings-b-thomas-harrison-readings/ (retrieved June 15, 2018).

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