A Lovely Example of the 17th Century English Dos-à-Dos Binding, Now Rarely Seen, Especially in Attractive Condition


(Cambridge: Printers to the University, 1628; London: Norton & Bill, 1629; Company of Stationers, 1630). 113 x 55 mm. (4 1/2 x 2 1/8"). [264] leaves; [204] leaves; 330 pp., [3] leaves.

EXQUISITE CONTEMPORARY DOS-À-DOS BINDING OF WHITE SILK SATIN EMBROIDERED with silver and colored threads, covers and spines with curling vine of silver thread bearing flowers and leaves stitched in colored silk thread, the upper cover stitched in petit point, a bird and caterpillar perched on the vine, its spine with a pomegranate and pea pods in addition to flowers; lower board and spine embroidered in satin stitch, the cover with a dove alighting on the vine, upper cover and both spines framed in silver braid (that on lower cover lacking), all edges gilt. Housed in an acrylic slipcase. Front pastedown with ink inscription "A. O. C. 1824." See Davenport, "English Embroidered Bookbindings," plate 39 and pp. 89-90. ◆White silk lightly soiled and a bit worn at joints and extremities, revealing the boards beneath in spots, silver thread a little tarnished, one embroidered ornament somewhat rubbed (minor loss), text margins trimmed a bit close (no loss), one leaf creased, other trivial internal imperfections, but A FINE SPECIMEN, the interior fresh and clean with few signs of use, and the delicate binding unusually well preserved.

This is a lovely example of a distinctive 17th century English binding style, combining embroidered silk covers with a dos-à-dos (back-to-back) structure, which joins two volumes so that they share a common back cover and the fore edge of one is adjacent to the spine of the other. Such bindings were particularly popular in England from about 1600-40 (and often comprised our titles in diminutive format, suitable for carrying in a pocket to church). Cyril Davenport writes that the earliest instance he knows of an embroidered double-binding brings together the Psalms and Common Prayer in editions dated 1606 and 1607 (see his plate 7). He also discusses an embroidered dos-à-dos New Testament and Psalms from 1630 (plate 39), the same text found here, also bound in white satin, the most common material for these side-by-side bindings. The embroidery for these bindings was often created by amateurs, usually genteel ladies for whom embroidery was a major pastime. Our volume, unusually, features two types of embroidery—satin stitch and petit point. This variety in techniques suggests our covers may have been worked as a type of sampler to display a needlewoman's range of skills. And what better way to show off such accomplishment than on the Bible and prayer book one carried to church? These delicate bindings could easily become dilapidated through use, and some were cast aside or destroyed when the somber Puritans ascended to power in the 1640s and 1650s--though the practical Calvinists often removed the valuable gold or silver threads before discarding them as fripperies. Given the nature of their construction and use, it is not surprising that embroidered dos-à-dos bindings like the present one are infrequently encountered. There was no dos-à-dos binding in Maggs Bros. Catalogue 1212, and while there was one such volume in their Catalogue 1075 (published in 1987), they say in their discussion of that volume that fine examples of such bindings were "difficult to find" even then. Our volumes happily survived with minimal loss, to be treasured 200 years after their creation by "A. O. C.," perhaps a descendant of the original owner.

Price: $20,000.00