From the Foremost English Bookbinder of the Half Century


(London: Hamish Hamilton, 2001). 222 x 138 mm. (8 3/4 x 5 1/2"). 5 p.l., 236, [2] pp. FIRST EDITION.

INTRIGUING SALMON PINK GOATSKIN BY PHILIP SMITH (signed in ink and dated 2001 on rear pastedown; lettered label bound in before title page), cover with wide band of abstract maril onlays in shades of brown, gray, red, and violet, upper cover with inlaid square "sign" of turquoise morocco at head, lettered in black: "Ore stabit fortis aqui et placet ore stat" ("O rest a bit for 'tis a quiet place to rest at"), a penny set into the maril onlays near the foot of the board; lower cover with inset oval of tan morocco painted with a ghostly portrait; open spine with three gray morocco yokes, the middle one lettered with author and title; endpapers of gray and pink Mi-Teintes Canson paper, head and fore edges painted gray. In a felt-lined red cloth solander box, light blue morocco label on upper cover lettered in gilt. ◆In mint condition.

A masterful combination of the alluring and the lurid, this arresting binding was executed by Philip Smith (1928-2018), the person generally recognized as the foremost English bookbinder of the last 50 years. Smith graduated from the Royal College of Art in London and subsequently did binding and conservation work with Sydney Cockerell. A past president of Designer Bookbinders (in 1977-79) as well as a respected author, Smith was a pioneer in the field who consistently explored the potential of the physical form of the book as an alternative art medium. He added several new terms to the vocabulary of bookbinding and was awarded patents for new inventions, both visual and functional, as well as making innovations in structural and visual design now applied by an ever-growing number of bookbinders. The present binding was executed in 2001, the same year that Ali Smith's "Hotel World" was published and became a finalist for both the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize. The narrative focuses on five female protagonists whose stories intersect at the generically named Global Hotel, following the tragic death of a chambermaid. Each section is stylistically different and told from the perspective of a single character, beginning with the ghost of the chambermaid, followed by a homeless woman, the hotel receptionist, a travel writer, and the sister of the deceased, who is searching for the motives behind her sibling's death. Through their stories and interactions, the novel explores various stages of grief and meditates on life, death, and the passage of time. Smith's use of a material called maril may seem metaphorically appropriate with this binding (albeit it is something he also employs elsewhere). Composed of various scraps of leather that are bonded together and compressed, maril produces a variegated grain and gives the effect here of the salmon-pink goatskin boards having been pulled away to reveal secrets hidden underneath. A coin, a ghostly portrait, and small leather strips suggestive of bones are also incorporated in the design of the binding, playing off motifs and characters important to the novel. It seems not too much to say that, with his impressive imagination and skill, Smith has executed a binding manifesting subtle but firm relationships to the work it covers. At the very least the binding is curious, intriguing, and engaging.

Price: $7,500.00