I visited Sangorski and Sutcliffe’s shop in Mayfair on my day off yesterday. I was curious because a ‘dummy’ of the Diamond Jubilee Bible – a joint endeavour – has arrived in the office, and we’ve all been admiring it. You can see it here. I wanted to see a few other examples of this legendary bindery’s work.
My husband watched in distinct trepidation as I cooed over bindings and endpapers, but he needn’t have worried – they were beyond even my elastic book budget. I was particularly interested by the varied choice of books on display. There were a number of classics to which Folio has also given a unique treatment – Laurie Lee’s As I walked Out One Midsummer Morning, for example, but also some more unexpected choices – a stunning Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Savoy Cocktail Book. They are amazing – the way the leather is cut, the onlays fitted – the binding almost makes me want to own a four-volume history of Association Football …
A lot of the books are bound to order – they run a special service offering cloth or leather. When visiting a stately home, I am always fascinated by the libraries, filled with books in wall-to-wall red or tan morocco and gilt. The books were often bought as blocks and then rebound to fit the owner’s chosen colour scheme. Nowadays, those wishing to make their libraries look more impressive can buy ‘vellum dust-jackets’ to recover even a humble paperback – not really quite as desirable!
It made me think about which books I would choose to have rebound… I already know that even if I owned a stately home (about as likely as being able to buy the complete stock of Sangorski and Sutcliffe) I wouldn’t go for matching bindings. I love the different colours, shapes and sizes on my bookshelves – looking at the mixture gives me far more pleasure than a mass of matching leather could do.
But I think I might pick one or two personal favourites to give a bespoke binding treatment: the copy of The Lord of the Rings that I read and reread as a child (complete with biscuit crumbs and fingerprints); Troilus and Criseyde in memory of days curled up in front of the two-bar electric heater at college, and perhaps Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber – the first book I got into a feminist argument about.
But since Folio publishes editions of all of those, I don’t think I’m ever going to justify the idea of a personalised rebinding… My husband can breathe a sigh of relief. The book budget remains safe from the temptations of Sangorski and Sutcliffe for a little longer.