([England: 1898]). 240 x 188 mm. (9 1/2 x 7 1/2").  blank leaves.
REMARKABLY BEAUTIFUL SCULPTED CALF, STRIKINGLY GILT, BOUND BY MARY ANN BASSETT OF THE GUILD OF WOMEN BINDERS, covers with delicate floral gilt border at edges and central panel formed by two gilt rules, the panel of the back cover blank, the panel of THE FRONT COVER WITH FINELY SHAPED DECORATION, INCLUDING THREE LARGE TULIPS ENCLOSED BY GRACEFUL FOLIAGE, and, in the corners, a number of small charming cinquefoil blossoms, THE PANEL SCENE DRAMATICALLY DEFINED BY A BRILLIANT BACKGROUND OF GILT POINTILLÉ AND EMPHASIZED BY THE EXQUISITE MODELLING OF THE CALF, simply ruled smooth spine with blind-tooled "L" and a falcon perching on a branch at foot, turn-ins with multiple plain and decorative gilt rules and fleurons at corners, all edges gilt and gauffered in a very appealing diapered pattern. Housed in a fine new custom clamshell box backed with tan morocco. Verso of front free endpaper WITH THE BOOKPLATE OF LÉON GRUEL; pencilled note on front pastedown asserting that this is a "Replica of the Book purchased by H. R. H. the Prince of Wales." ◆Skillfully applied narrow one-inch patch at top of front joint, otherwise IN VERY FINE CONDITION, with only trivial imperfections.
Reminiscent of Dutch Master flower paintings, the abundant sculpted bouquet here is brought into sharp relief by its glittering gilded background, the whole design being a very successful and pleasing creation of Mary Ann Bassett, a major figure in the Guild of Women Binders. The Guild was established in 1898 by Frank Karslake to provide an organizational identity to a group of women already at work binding books in various parts of Britain, often in their own homes. With a showroom at 61 Charing Cross Road in London, the Guild was closely associated with the Hampstead Bindery, the two groups exhibiting bindings together at the Paris Exhibition in 1900 and elsewhere. Bassett was clearly a star in the Guild's firmament of binders: in the catalogue of the second exhibition of the work of the Guild (held at the Charing Cross Road premises from 1 December 1898 to 31 January 1899), nine bindings by Bassett, including the present item, are featured (there are four by Miss M. Sophia Smith, and the other bindings are listed generically, rather than by their creators). Among the pupils Bassett trained was Alice Shepherd, whose work for Cedric Chivers in Bath is well known. The present binding was exhibited in June and July of 1898 at "L'Exposition de Reliures d'Art Modernes Exécutées en Angleterre," held at Boussod, Manzi, Joyant, et Cie at 24 Boulevard des Capucines in Paris. The provenance of this volume could scarcely be more notable or appropriate. Prideaux says that the Gruel firm of bookbinders, founded in 1811, "has always had the highest reputation . . . for initiative in artistic matters, as well as for irreproachable execution in the detail of its many-sided achievements." The business was managed by several family members over the years, and the list of binders who trained at the Gruel atelier is the most distinguished in Europe. Léon Gruel (1841-1923), who took over the firm in 1891, was the single most famous person associated with this bindery. He amassed a very fine collection of early bindings, which formed the basis for his widely used "Manuel Historique et Bibliographique de l'Amateur de Reliure" (1887), and at the same time that he was an authority on binding history, he was at the forefront in the movement pressing for the acceptance of revolutionary ideas in the decoration of modern bindings. (ST17263-02)