An English "Sombre" Binding

The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. London: Robert Barker, 1612. (00044)

It was fashionable in Restoration England to cover Bibles and prayer books in “sombre bindings,” that is, in blind-tooled black goatskin, devoid of gilt decoration, often with the edges of the leaves stained black, either as an expression of mourning or as a Lenten observance. Such bindings were made in many different workshops. This “sombre” binding of about 1680 encloses two much earlier books, the first quarto edition of the King James Bible (1612) and a Book of Psalms of 1620. The books were trimmed significantly for this binding, and the edges of their leaves were stained black. The design for each cover consists of nine square compartments hatched or cross-hatched in blind, creating a cottage-roof design with tulips, poppies, and an unusual blind stamp of a bird that appears to be a dove. Although the identity of the binder remains unknown, this bird stamp is known on two other books of the period.

Somewhat unusual for a “sombre” binding is the rather showy addition of thirteen silver plaquettes in elaborate frames, including two centerpieces, eight cornerpieces, and three (of four) mountings for clasps. These oval plaquettes are imported Dutch work. They depict the evangelists and apostles, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Resurrection. The owner’s silver initials, “PC,” appear at the center of each cover.

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The Seventeenth Century
An English "Sombre" Binding