Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - November - 2009 Issue

The Zaehnsdorf Reference Library from Oak Knoll Books

Oakknoll292

Books from Zaehnsdorf's library from Oak Knoll Books.


By Michael Stillman

Oak Knoll Books has issued a new catalogue entitled The Reference Library of the Zaehnsdorf Company. The Zaehnsdorf Company was a venerable English bookbinder, in business for almost a century and a half. The firm was founded in 1842 by Joseph Zaehnsdorf, an immigrant from Budapest. Zaehnsdorf had bounced around Europe working for binders as a young man before emigrating to England in the 1830s. He worked for several years at London's most notable bindery before setting out on his own. After a slow start, business began to build, and Zaehnsdorf had secured a reputation as one of the best in his field when he died in 1886.

Zaehnsdorf's would be passed down through the family, first to his son, Joseph William, and then to his grandson. The firm remained independent until 1983 when it merged with another notable London bookbinder, Sangorski and Sutcliffe, under the name SSZ Ltd. In 1998, the firm adopted the Sangorski and Sutcliffe name. Offered in this catalogue are numerous books from Zaehnsdorf's library, including some of their bindings, business ledgers, and a well-respected book about binding by Joseph William.

Item 258 is a first edition of what has been described as "a landmark book in the history of bookbinding." It is Zaehnsdorf's copy of Joseph William Zaehnsdorf's The Art of Bookbinding, a Practical Treatise, published in 1880. The verso of the half title reads, "Fifty Copies Printed on Large Paper for Private Circulation Only." This copy is actually a bit larger than the large paper edition, though the plates are absent and the paper is of lesser quality. It appears to be a proof copy of the large paper edition. Priced at $500. Oak Knoll also has several later editions of Zaehnsdorf's classic.

For those interested in the first century-plus of Zaehnsdorfs, item 64 is Zaehnsdorfs (1842-1947), Craft Bookbinders. This is a 1986 history of the firm by Frank Broomhead (I've never seen that unusual last name before), followed by a chapter on conservation and restoration. The copy is signed by the author and contains Zaehnsdorf's bookplate. $95.

Item 257 is an unusual Zaehnsdorf-bound item. Called Testimonials (on the spine), it is a collection of letters received by the firm from 1853-1905. As might be expected, they are generally laudatory. Many come from individuals associated with or a connection to the book trade or collecting, and though there are no truly famous names here, there are such as Scottish poet George Macdonald, highly regarded by an earlier generation. $950.

Item 33 is a conspiratorial-sounding title: The Enemies of the Book. This 1888 title by William Blades, however, is not about book burning and the like, but about natural problems, including chapters on fire, water, heat, dust, ignorance and bookbinders. It carries Zaehnsdorf's bookplate, and presumably they were careful not to be one of those "enemy" bookbinders. $75.

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