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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Jan Storm van Leeuwen

During my career in the National Library of the Netherlands (Koninklijke Bibliotheek), I bought important and quite expensive bindings professionally. It never crossed my mind that I could ever collect for myself. Then my courses in Rare Book School brought me into contact with cheap and charming nineteenth-century French publishers’ bindings in paper. It seemed prudent to have some of these alluring pieces at home, only some. That unleashed the beast. Three soon became twenty-five and then a hundred was not far off, then 200, 500 and so on. Now, ten years later, I possess more than 1800 of them.

I collect those in embossed paper printed in a color and with a metal that looks like gold and often with a lovely colored litho in the center of the upper cover, and also those in other types of paper, in binders’ cloth, gold stamped with or without colored onlays, in leather or in just a printed paper wrapper. These books were often given away as prizes in schools. The firm of Mame in Tours, publisher and binder, is my focus. I gradually discovered that copies of the same book in the same edition would get different publishers’ binding. Three copies of the history of Theodosius the Great (346-395), emperor of Eastern Roman Empire, in the 1860 edition may elucidate this.

Histoire de Théodose le Grand.

[Esprit] Fléchier. Nouvelle éd. Tours, Ad Mame et Cie, 1860. 8, 235 pp. 12mo.
(Belongs to the series Bibliothèque des écoles chrétiennes). 3 copies.

Copy 1 is bound in black leather (possibly goat), which is blind stamped with a large block on the covers with a play of interlacing ribbons and mauresque ornaments. It is outlined by a line in gold. Although it looks like a bespoke binding, it is a Mame publisher’s binding without doubt. This de-luxe, most expensive copy was given away as a prize in an imperial lyceum (gold stamp upper cover).

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Copy 2 is bound in dark green paper with an all-over impression mimicking the more expensive binders’ cloth. The paper is stamped with decorative blocks in ‘gold’ on the covers and the spine. This simpler copy was given away in the primary school directed by the fathers Maristen (label on front pastedown).

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Copy 3 is bound in white paper, printed light blue and in ‘gold’, with a chromolithography on the upper cover, which refers to the eastern origin of Theodosius. There is no trace of a prize dedication in this simplest and cheapest copy.