Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2010 Issue

Gilding the Lilly Revisited: <i>New book a market-maker for US decorative bindings</i>

Richardminsky

Richard Minsky (photo by Richard Grosbard).


By Susan Halas

One of the oldest wisdoms of the antiquarian trade is: "If it was considered beautiful once, it will be considered beautiful again." The problem is how long do you have to wait?

Some older folks remember the 1950s when the public cleared out Arts & Crafts or Mission style objects by the truckload as taste shifted to bolder modern looks and colors. That cycle held true for books too: many of the limp leather bindings and ornately foiled boards of the late 19th century languished in obscurity or were unceremoniously shoveled off to the Goodwill. As the 20th century passed the decorative binding was replaced by the more pedestrian dust jacket as the outside face of the book. Though some antiquarian specialists saved these earlier volumes for their distinctive style and decorative appeal, for nearly a hundred years they were mostly ignored.

Comes now Richard Minsky
And all that's about to change.

AE Monthly readers may know Minsky for his affiliation with the non-profit NYC based Center for Book Arts, or they have heard of him as Minsky the book artist extraordinaire whose papers were recently acquired by Yale. Then there's Minsky the writer, designer, curator, scholar, lecturer, or developer of book related exhibits, leading to Minsky the bookseller who recently hosted three important and distinctive shows of decorative bindings at his own gallery in Stockport, NY. The three shows together displayed of about 1,100 volumes. Portions of the first two exhibits are still on view at his web site www.minsky.com, and the third is up through May 15 in Stockport by appointment, and can also be seen in part on the web.

However, with the publication of his new book, THE ART OF AMERICAN BOOK COVERS 1875-1930, (Braziller 2010 ISBN 978-0-8076-1602-4 - Link), it wouldn't be surprising if "Minsky the market-maker" can soon be added to the list.

You can buy this new book in a variety of formats, some of them with hefty price tags. But for most readers the first trade edition, which sells for $35 and has a press run of 2,000, is a winner. This lovely volume with bright gold cover illustrates 150 superb examples of decorative bindings of the period. It includes a bibliography, as well as an illustrated check list of notable designers and their marks/monograms. The text is brief but instructive and covers some of the people, companies, artistic points and distinctions that may have escaped popular notice till now.

It's highly unlikely that these niceties will be considered obscure much longer. That's because Minsky puts the era into a new context and makes it much easier for the average non-specialist to understand the creative high points.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions