More progress on my Arts and Crafts Challenge

The copy of the Essex House Press Prayer book of King Edward VII belonging to the Court Barn Museum in Chipping Campden has recently been returned and I was able to inspect it a couple of days ago. As stated in an earlier post (An Arts and Crafts Challenge) the damaged copy I had bought at auction lacked key parts of its braided leather clasps so a close inspection was necessary in order to carry out the repairs to my copy correctly.

My copy had the remains of eight-strand braided clasps

A blurred stock image of another copy showed D-rings at the ends of the leather braids but I needed to know the exact size and the material of the rings. On the off-chance that they would be the right size I bought a couple on-line and took them with me to Chipping Campden.

The copy there was in excellent condition, un-restored and therefore exactly what I needed to see.

Two things struck me – the braid is not eight-strand but six and the recess in which the strap rests is lined with leather, the same as the hook side. My copy was definitely not lined under the strap and certainly had eight strands.

I think the explanation is that each copy is by a different binder. The Court Barn copy has this binder’s stamp:

This is the Guild of Handicraft stamp confirming the binding is by Annie Power (strictly speaking ‘Anastasia Power’ also known as ‘Statia’). My copy had the stamp of Eyre and Spottiswood on the rear turn-in.

There are other small differences: the head caps of the Annie Power binding are tiny, being hardly turned over at all and the headbands are taller than those on my copy.

So that provides a little bibliographical information – the 400 copies are bound by different hands, though how many by each binder has to be the subject of further research.

In the meantime I can get on with making the braided clasp straps. I pared two strips of the same leather as will be used for the spine and threaded a D-ring on and pasted the two ends down, creating a double-sided strip about one-and-a-half times the measured length of the finished strap. That is necessary as braiding reduces the length by about a third. The pasted strip in cut into eight strands

Braiding eight strands is tedious. Each strap took half an hour, following a good guide from Youtube. A commercial bindery such as Eyre and Spottiswood’s must have regarded the client’s requirement for braided straps as unnecessarily costly. Perhaps further research will reveal how much they charged.

Anyway, the straps are now made and fixed in position. When positioning them through the slots in the oak cover it became clear why braided straps were used as the braiding makes them a bit elastic (stretchy) so when hooked over the iron plate on the back cover they actually pull the boards together. Of course, over a hundred years later the elasticity of the leather has gone and that is no doubt why the ones on my copy have failed.

Incidentally, the D-rings I bought speculatively online were an exact match!

Next instalment – covering the spine.

PS. The idea of braided clasps was most probably Annie Power’s as she had trained with Douglas Cockerell who described plaited thong clasps in his book ‘Bookbinding and the Care of Books’ published in 1901 (see pages 259-261). But the finely shaped recesses in the oak covers would have been designed in the woodworking shop of the Guild, by the cabinet-makers there.

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