The following quotation is taken from an explanatory note in the front matter of my bound copy of The Last of the Mohicans, the first volume in a set of classics in an early 20th century printing by The Spencer Press*.
Can anyone say the same kinds of things about digital books published on e-readers?
THE SPENCER PRESS
The services of Mr. Leonard Mounteney, a master craftsman who had served for twenty years as a binder in the studios of Robert Riviere & Sons of London, England, were engaged for this artistic undertaking. Mounteney has in the last ten years won for himself considerable acclaim as one of the wold’s most eminent binders. He approached the task of designing these books with all the fervor and interest of a skilled artisan who loves his work, applying the same thought to these volumes as is usually accorded to the bindings of museum masterpieces, incunabula and priceless first editions. Mounteney was well aware that the name “Spencer” had become identified with handsome illustration, fine printing and exquisite binding and he was most anxious to create books of surpassing beauty.
“The Spencer Press” is named in honor of and as a tribute to the memory of William Augustus Spencer, the son of Lorillard Spencer and Sara Johnson Griswold. Spencer was born in New York, was educated in Europe and made his home in Paris, frequently visiting the United States. Spencer became an inveterate book collector, specializing in fine French bindings. He soon became a patron of the fine binders of his day and his collection, now on permanent exhibition at the New York Public Library, is rated as one of the finest of modern collections. Unfortunately, Spencer perished in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 cutting short a career of great promise.
The books collected by Spencer were mostly nineteenth century works. These volumes represent a definite advancement in many spheres of book production. The authors, publishers, printers, engravers and bookbinders are all representative of what is modern in their several arts, for Spencer was a true collector who insisted upon a high state of perfection in every creative phase of the bookmaking art.
This type of publishing depends more than anything else upon patronage for its existence. The history of fine bookmaking is linked with the social history of the countries where is it practised. The wealthy nobility were usually the patrons of this fine art. The Kinds of France were notable collectors forming libraries of considerable merit. Jean Grolier, Viscount d’Aguisy (1479-1565), Treasurer-General of the Duchy of Milan, friend of Francis I, and ambassador to Pope Clement VII, friend of Aldus, the great printer, was perhaps the most lavish patron of the art of binding and collecting books. To Grolier is accorded the first place among all the great names in book collecting history, and to him is owed the dignified standing in which book collecting is esteemed amond the gentler arts. To Grolier also goes the honor for creating a most important and fundamental style in the decoration of book covers.
From Grolier to Spencer we find the names of many illustrious notables who have fostered and patronized the advancement of this art. Jean Baptiste Colbert, statesman and minister of finance under Louis XIV, was the founder of the Academy of Inscriptions which concerned itself greatly with book decoration. Then there was Mazarin, Italian and French cardinal and statesman, who founded one fo the great libraries of the world which bears his name. During the intervening years there have been thousands of collectors who have patronized the art. In America one thinks of such great names as Weidner, Morgan, Huntington and Hay in this connection.
Such affluent patronage has given aid to many different interpretations of beauty. Books have been handsomely bound in paper, in wood, in parchment, in cloth and fine leathers. They have been inlaid with materials of contrasting colors, hand painted, encrusted with rare and valuable jewels. They have contained gorgeous end papers and fancy doublures. Men have spent years in the binding, tooling and decoration of a single volume.
These bibliophiles collected not only fine titles, bindings and illustrations but fine printing as well. Gutenberg, the father of fine printing, set an early standard which has been difficult if not impossible to excel. The books created by Gutenberg still rank as among the finest examples of book ornamentation ever produced. Then came the handsome volumes of the East with their arabesques, graceful lines and fleurons which found many an eager collector among the gentlemen of Venice. Aldus, the printer, patronized by Grolier, created many examples of fine printing influenced by these same Eastern designs.
The history of fine binding and bookmaking is a long and interesting one filled with many glorious stories of exquisite books. In the creation of this set of the “World’s Greatest Literature,” Mounteney has copied the designs of Roger Payne, the one truly great English binder of the nineteenth century. Payne’s work has known to have a French influence, a delicate decorative scheme of dots, lines and simple designs. Mounteney has added certain elegant refinements of his won an has endeavored to create a set of books that would be a credit to the memory and name of one of the greatest of all modern collectors . . . a set of books within the reach of the true book-lover so that the appreciation of fine and beautiful books need no longer be a kingly prerogative alone.
The publishers do not claim or even dare to hope that these books are to be compared for richness of binding or makeup with the volumes of the Spencer Library, for some of those books cost thousands of dollars and occupied many years in the lives of master craftsmen. It is true, however, that Mounteny in his careful designing has created books possessing rare beauty of design and exquisite good taste which vie in appearance and handsomeness with the Spencer masterpieces. It should be remembered that the original Spencer volumes were designed by hand, tooled by hand, and often printed by hand, whereas these books were created by one of the world’s greatest printers employing every advancement of modern science and efficiency to bring to you books you will treasure over the years . . . books that will add to the richness and fullness of your life.
Reading, Pa. 1936. LEONARD S. DAVIDOW
*Manufactured in the United States of America by the Cuneo Press, Inc. No copyright notice.
(Regular readers of this blog are aware of my preference for books bound in paper. This is not only a Luddite eccentricity, but also a necessity born of a visual disability that makes it impossible to read for pleasure from a screen. If you are an Indie Author, please publish your works on paper, for those of us who need to read physical copies of books.)