Personal Luxuries | The Reconnoisseur

The bindery where books are brought back to life

Traditional craftsmanship is thriving in Clerkenwell

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The bindery where books are brought back to life

August 16 2010
Julian Allason

Books may make beautiful gifts, but they are no longer a joy forever: thanks to economies in binding, they soon seem to fall apart. My solution involves a visit to Clerkenwell, one of London’s last outposts of traditional craftsmanship. Next door to an old-fashioned watchmaker is The Wyvern Bindery. Entering, one is greeted by a pleasing aroma of seasoned hides, glue and books. Lots and lots of beautiful books. Some are being compressed in Victorian screw-presses, others are in the process of assembly by a largely young crew trained up by master binder Mark Winstanley.

I head first for a drawer of beautiful hand-marbled papers for the cover, each unique. Having selected a psychedelic example in electric blue that would have stopped Dr Timothy Leary in his tracks, there follows a rummage through swatches of hide to find a rich umber to match one of the shades in the cover paper. This will be used for half binding, the leather reinforcing the spine and corners.

When my father’s memoir Ringside Seat was published, I had the proof copy half-bound to the same specification. “Ah ha! An instant heirloom,” he laughed when presented with it. In fact many of the books restored and rebound here are the real thing, the earliest so far being the sixth-century illuminated Abba Garima Gospel (third picture), restored in situ by Lester Capon, assisted by Winstanley, for Ethiopian Heritage. They also bind for Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum and, ah, Hogwarts School.

Buckram or cloth binding, from about £60; quarter binding in goatskin, from about £140.

See also

London, Books