Sunday, May 31, 2009

Judging books by their cover: A history of bookbinding at the Bodleian

This summer, the Bodleian Library will celebrate the art and craft of bookbinding from both traditional and contemporary perspectives with two major exhibitions:

An Artful Craft: Historic Bookbindings from the Broxbourne Library and other collections features masterpieces from two of the greatest bookbinding collections of the 20th century: the Broxbourne Library collected by Albert Ehrman (1890-1969) and the Wormsley Library formed by Sir Paul Getty (1932-2003). It also draws on other world-renowned historic collections in the Bodleian.

This exhibition treats bookbindings as piece of art in their own right, as things worthy of curiosity and admiration. It celebrates the creativity of bookbinders across the centuries and from different cultures. The exhibit will feature the extraordinary range of the craft of the bookbinder, using materials as diverse as straw, leather, wood, ivory and gemstones. It will also demonstrate how Islamic bookbinding styles influenced the way books would look in the West for over five hundred years. The display will reveal how bookbinding developed from being a craft practised by unsung individuals in the Middle Ages, to being a vehicle for artistic expression by some of the greatest artists of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections and Associate Director, Bodleian Library, said: "Bookbindings are an often overlooked aspect of our past. The Bodleian is delighted to have the opportunity to demonstrate the way bookbindings reflect major social, artistic and historical trends. We are also pleased to exhibit some of the great treasures in the Broxbourne Library - one the most important gifts to the Bodleian in recent times."

Bound for Success: Designer Bookbinders International Competition 2009 showcases 117 shortlisted submissions out of 240 entries in the first Designer Bookbinders International Competition. Entrants representing 29 countries offer highly creative and surprisingly diverse interpretations on the theme of water.

Using a variety of media, the exhibits represent a wide assortment of modern approaches to the art of the hand-bound book. An Israeli book incorporates sprinklers and irrigation tubes, a French binder uses a real bath plug in his design, whilst an Estonian binder sews his (or her) book with fishing line on perch and pike skin.

The first Sir Paul Getty Bodleian Bookbinding Prize will be awarded to the first two winners. For more information please contact: Oana Romocea, Communications Office, Bodleian Library, Tel: 01865 277627 E-mail:

Founded in 1602, the Bodleian Library is home to over 9 million volumes and a large number of manuscripts and rare printed books. It is the largest university library in Britain and the second largest library in the UK. Of its over 50,000 registered users, almost 60% come from outside Oxford, and 5,000 of these are researchers from
overseas. The Old Bodleian is also a major visitor attraction, drawing over 300,000 visitors a year. More information about the Bodleian Library and its activities can be found at The Broxbourne Library comprises of more than 2000 bindings. It became part of the Bodleian collections in 1979, when it was donated to the Library by John Ehrman, Albert's son.

The Wormsley Library is considered to be the world's most comprehensive private collection of bookbindings. Built over 30 years by Sir Paul Getty, the Wormsley Library is renowned for its important and unique volumes in unusually fine condition.