News & Updates
A second FIRST prize for the 15th Breslauer Prize goes to Jan Storm van Leeuwen
When Dr. Storm van Leeuwen’s monograph, De achttiende-eeuwse Haagse boekband in de Koninklijke Bibliotheek en het Rijksmuseum Meermanno-Westreenianum, appeared in 1976, its reception was eagerly welcomed for at least two reasons. Here was a new work on historical bookbindings – and important studies in this field were and are relatively few – by a young, accomplished scholar; here an area of the applied arts in 18th-century Holland was being disclosed, about which almost nothing was hitherto known or published. It was natural to hope for more – similar documentation for Dutch cities other than The Hague perhaps – and occasional articles by the same author fed this hope. Well, now thirty years later we truly have the work of a life-time, four monumental volumes on 18th-century decorated bookbindings from all cities and towns in the Netherlands where the art was practised. Dr. Storm van Leeuwen’s 1976 book, published by the State Press, was handicapped by the limited spread of the Dutch language; this time it was rightly decided to publish in English, although it must be said that the translation by several hands is uneven and infelicities abound.
Following an extensive general introduction on the organization of Dutch 18th-century publishing, book selling and binding, with some comparison to the previous and following century, discussions of luxury bookbinding and reproductions of rubbings of finishing tools, rolls and armorial blocks, are arranged by province, city, binder or atelier, and date. These examinations are not limited to decoration, but also treat forwarding and other technical aspects. The study of bookbinding must be inextricably linked with the analysis of markets, the identification of patrons and dedicatees, sponsors and beneficiaries of gifts, givers and recipients of school prizes, as well as contemporary and later collectors. None escapes the attention of the author, although he is obliged to classify most binderies under invented shop names; the occasional lettered signature and a certain amount of archival research in a few cities yield some actual names. Named or unnamed, binding shops are determined by the contents of their tool kits, and we can be sure that most of them have now been documented for the Dutch 18th century. 3200 surviving luxury and semi-luxury bindings are catalogued or listed in somewhat varying detail and it seems unlikely that more than the occasional unrecorded decorated binding will turn up. The author has trawled institutional libraries in the Netherlands and abroad, while he has not neglected private collections and the frequently ignored reproductions in auction sale and booktrade catalogues.
Although the systematic study of historical bookbindings is a fairly young discipline, specialists from the Low Countries have made significant contributions to our knowledge of Medieval and Renaissance bindings, as well as of the gold-tooled bindings of the 17th century, in literature that is widely scattered. Dr. Storm van Leeuwen’s comprehensive work on the 18th century in essentially two publications, three decades apart, is a huge accomplishment.