Les Oeures Maistre Francoys Villon

Villon, François. Les Oeures Maistre Francoys Villon: Le Monologue du France Archier de Baignollet. Le Dyalogue des Seineurs de Malle Paye & Bailleuent. [Paris]: On les vent à Paris à la rue neufue nostre dame à lenseigne de Lescu de France, 1533.

Seven Most Beautiful Bindings


This intricate binding consists of a brown morocco background inlaid with vari-colored leathers which have then been outlined in gold. The creamy vellum pastedowns are also exquisitely adorned with a gilt flower and leaf pattern surrounding the outside of the page and forming an oval in the center. According to Brunet, this small work contains the same text as the 1532 (first) edition of Villon sold for Galiot Du Pre; however, this is a much rarer and more desirable copy.

Les Oeures Maistre Francoys Villon, edges

 Les Oeures Maistre Francoys Villon, edging

The gilt edges of the text block have been decorated by impressing heated engraved tools to indent a small repeating pattern. This decoration, called gauffering, was popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but was used only in the finest bindings or for the wealthiest patrons. Note that the box which was made to encase the book repeats the gauffering design.


Le Theatre des Bons Engins

La Perrière, Guillaume de. Le Theatre des Bons Engins; Auquel sont Contenus Cent Emblemes. [Paris]: On les vend a Paris en la rue neufue nostre Dame a lenseigne sainct Iehan Baptiste, pres saincte Geneuiefue des Ardens, [1539].

La Perrière

Proof that a binding needn’t be elaborate to be beautiful is this restrained work by Thibaron-Joly. The blue morocco covers are lovely to the touch and remind one of the pleasure of holding a book. To all outside appearances this book could hardly be more subtle or sedate; however, upon looking inside, it becomes clear that "you can’t judge a book by its cover." The inside covers express the liveliness lacking on the outside, with red morocco and a gilt embossed leaf design. Together this combination creates a delightful balance between plain and fancy, showing that each has its own special beauty.



Le Bocage de P. Ronsard Vandomoys

Ronsard, Pierre. Le Bocage de P. Ronsard Vandomoys, / dedié a P. De Paschal, du bas païs de Languedoc. Paris: Chez la veuue Maurice de la Porte, 1554.


This exquisite binding was inlayed using pieces of hand-colored leather, set out in a mosaic design. This is a highly elaborate and unusual example of sixteenth-century leather binding



La Mesnagerie de Xenophon

Xenophon. La Mesnagerie de Xenophon; Les Regles de Mariage, de Plutarque; Lettre de Consolation de Plutarque à sa Femme. Paris: De l’imprimerie de Federic Morel, rue S. Ian de Beauuais, au Franc Meurier, 1572.


Europe, and in particular the French, have for centuries valued beautiful and elaborate bindings. Entire studios, or ateliers, existed (and still exist) to bind books primarily for the aristocracy and the clergy, that segment of the population in the past most likely to be able to read and to afford the costly bindings. Many of the finest bindings were signed by the binder, providing valuable information for research on these usually unknown artists/craftsmen. This red morocco binding is intricately decorated in a pointillist fashion, with each gold leaf dot made individually by hand. The binder’s signature can be seen at the bottom center of the front cover: Simier R. Durol.



Pindari Olympia, Pythia, Nemea ...

Pindar. Pindari Olympia, Pythia, Nemea, Isthmia, Caeterorum Octo Lyricorum Carmina : Alcaei, Sapphus, Stesichori, Ibyci, Anacreontis, Bacchylidis, Simonidis, Alcmanis: Nonnulla Etiam Aliorum. [Geneva?] : Apud Henricum Stephanum, 1586.


Bound by Clovis Eve, this heavily gilt binding in calf shows the work of a master craftsman. The format is unusual, but the exquisite design, the double ruled rectangles dividing the gold fleurons, and the fleur de lys device in the center are beautiful representations of the period. All edges are gilt and the spine and back are similarly decorated.



The National Temperance Offering

Cary, Samuel Fenton. The National Temperance Offering, and Sons and Daughters of Temperance Gift. New York: Published by R. Vandien, [1850].


Bound in dark blue leather, heavily stamped in gold, this book is a magnificent example of early 19th century decorative binding. Around 1830 technological advances led to the proliferation of decorative bindings, usually in cloth, the covers stamped on heavy presses, replacing forever the bindings worked from various types of leather. Blind stamping led to the elaborate use of gold and silver, and combined with a variety of stylistic experiments, the Victorian era produced some of the most beautiful bindings ever made.


Trois Contes d’Edgar Poe

Poe, Edgar Allan. Trois Contes d’Edgar Poe, traduits par Baudelaire. Eaux-forts de Emilien Dufour. Paris: René Kieffer, [1927].


A modern example of a French limited edition of three stories by Poe. This beautifully bound book contains an original painting and is one of 50 copies that also features all of the four states of the etchings that illustrate the text. It seems typically French that great attention is paid to the binding and the illustrations, but very little to typographical design or high quality paper.