Fine Binding

Omar Khayyám (1050?-1122). Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Rendered into English verse by Edward FitzGerald. London, Bernard Quaritch, 1872. Third edition. The jeweled binding was designed by Francis Sangorski and is dated 1912, London. The front cover has an oval sunken panel with an onlaid snake (of snakeskin) surrounded by 14 sapphires and the back cover has an inlaid sunken panel and 12 garnets. The endpapers are elaborate leather doublures inlaid with colored leathers and heavily decorated with gold tooling.

The first edition of the Rubáiyát was published in London by Quaritch in 1859. Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883), had it printed in modest form without illustrations. Story has it, the book did not sell and was reduced from half a crown to a shilling, then finally to a penny. Algernon Charles Swinburne and Dante Gabriel Rossetti discovered the book in the penny box and had much to do with its revival.

Mr. Posner purchased this book in 1951 from Maurice Inman. It is a tour-de-force in his first collecting phase which focused on books with extra-special traits such as fine bindings. The binders, Francis Sangorski and George Sutcliffe, studied at the London Central School for Arts and Crafts under Douglas Cockerell. They started a bindery in 1902 and became the leading craftsman binders in England under the firm name of Sangorski and Sutcliffe.

Thomas Gray (1716-71). Illuminated manuscript on vellum entitled An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard Together with a Full Biography of the Poet. Penned in a highly decorative manner on 14 leaves of vellum and enhanced with three full page miniatures and 17 smaller illuminated pages with initials and elaborate borders by Alberto Sangorski. Bound in full blue crushed levant, with gilt edges at the Oxford University Press, about 1931.

Gray (pictured here in the miniature by Sangorski) was a friend of Horace Walpole and Richard West and a professor of history and modern languages at Cambridge, but he is known to us as the foremost English poet of the mid-1700s. The Elegy in a Country Churchyard was started about 1742 and finished in 1750.

Alberto Sangorski (1862-1932) started his career as secretary to a goldsmith's firm. At the age of 43, he was attracted to the calligraphy and binding work of his younger brother Francis Sangorski and George Sutcliffe. He quickly developed unusual skills in calligraphy and illumination. One of his greatest achievements was an illuminated manuscript of Omar Khayyám's Rubáiyát which went down in the Titanic disaster. This work of Gray's Elegy was completed in 1931, only a year before Sangorski's death.

The front cover is elaborately tooled leather inlaid with floral designs. A sunken gold medallion bears the initials T.G. studded with approximately 22 diamonds and ringed by approximately 30 additional diamonds. A floral pattern surrounds the medallion, each flower inlaid with citron morocco, intricately dotted, and set with a diamond. There are approximately 70 diamonds in all. The spine is decorated with similar tooled and inlaid flowers. Doublures and flyleaves are of white silk moiré. The whole makes a breathtakingly beautiful yet subdued binding.


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