While browsing the Rare Book Room on Biblio.com and admiring the tomes therein, I happened to come across an unfamiliar term in the description of a particularly lovely book whose cover was inset with images of stags and hounds. As the art of bookbinding is a new territory for me and I want to understand it better, I began my research into Cosway binding.
“Cosway Binding” describes a leather-bound book binding inset with detailed miniature paintings on either the cover or inside cover, or both. They are called such after renowned English miniaturist Richard Cosway, although he was long in his grave before the first examples of this bindery method were released.
Right around 1903, J. Harrison Stonehouse, the managing director of London’s Henry Sotheran Booksellers, created these fine quality books for collectors and connoisseurs. Part of the great success of his Cosway binding method was due to the great skill of his in-house miniaturist, Miss C. B. Currie, who is estimated to have painted several thousand incredibly detailed miniatures on ivory for over 900 bindings before her death around 1940.
The competing publishing houses quickly began to reproduce this binding style as it proved to be quite popular, but these are considered “Cosway-style” bindings, as they cannot compare to the original releases by Sotheran.
Here are some gorgeous examples of Cosway-style binding currently listed for sale at Biblio.com:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Publisher: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1923
Fine Cosway-style binding in full red morocco. Spine with five gilt raised bands and compartments elaborately decoratated and ruled.
Front board with hand painted minature of Jane Austen (2.3 inches high) under glass.
Housed in custom fit clamshell box. First editions thus.
Binding by The Chelsea Bindery of London.
Offered by: Holybourne Rare Books
The Posthumous Papers Of The Pickwick Club by Charles Dickens
Publisher: London Chapman and Hall 1837
First Edition in Book Form, mostly First Issue points, most plates in First State (see below).
Very fine Cosway-style crimson crushed morocco, lavishly gilt and inlaid. Both covers gilt with thin fillet borders around a very handsome frame comprised of stippling, foliate sprays, and inlaid blue morocco flowers (24 on each cover), the corners of the frame with a small gilt bust of either Mr. Pickwick or Mr. Winkle, raised bands, spine compartments with ruled panels framing the same gilt busts, beautiful front doublure of block morocco elaborately decorated in a gilt diapered pattern, employing chains of rosettes and simple fleurons and featuring at the center a finely executed recessed oval miniature of Dickens on ivory under glass, the miniature with an intricately gilt-decorated collar containing four small pearls. (Please click here for more details about this book)
Binding by Sangorski & Sutcliffe
Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A by James A. Manson
Publisher: London: The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd.; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902
First edition: A spectacular Cosway-style Binding with Ten Oval and Round Miniatures
Full dark green levant Cosway binding by Riviére & Sons for Sotheran & Co., stamp-signed to front turn in. Illustrated with Twenty-one Plates, and a Photogravure Frontispiece. First edition, from The Makers of British Art Series edited by Manson. Title page printed in blue and black.
Spine decoratively tooled and lettered in gilt after a floral and leaf design; compartments ruled in gilt. The front and back covers are ruled and decoratively tooled in a gilt floral and leaf design, surrounding ten oval/round miniature paintings under glass. Nine miniatures on the front cover depict eight hunting dogs around a stag; the miniature on the back cover is a portrait of Sir Edwin Landseer. Extremities double ruled in gilt, with turn-ins ruled and decoratively tooled in gilt. Green marbled endpapers. Joints expertly and totally invisibly repaired. A fine copy. Housed in the original burgundy roan slipcase. The upper cover includes nine insets based upon one of Landseer’s favorite themes, the stag hunt. (Click here for more details about this book)
Binding by: Riviére & Sons for Sotheran & Co.
Offered by: David Brass, Rare Books, Inc.
The Story of Emma, Lady Hamilton by Julia Frankau
Publisher: Macmillan and Co., Limited, London,, 1911.
Folio. Finely bound in full navy blue morocco, with a portrait of Horatio Nelson in the centre of the front board surrounded by a further 12 vignette portraits each depicting Lady Emma Hamilton in a different beguiling pose, the whole surrounded by an intricate design of interwoven gold-stemmed roses onlaid in red morocco with green morocco leaves, this motif continues to four of the six spine panels, the other two lettered in gold, and is repeated in four magnificent sprays emanating from the centre of the rear board to cover its entirety, the design is echoed on each corner of the triple ruled turn-ins, red moire silk doublures and ends, all edges gilt. (Click here for more details about this book)
Binding by: The Chelsea Bindery
Offered by: Peter Harrington
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Publisher: London: Chapman & Hall, 1843.
First Edition. full morocco. Fine, sumptuous copy with superb Dickens portrait, in slipcase. Bound in Cosway-style in full red crushed levant morocco with five raised bands, spine and covers elaborately tooled and lettered in gilt with the front cover set with a large oval miniature watercolor painting of Dickens under glass, gilt dentelles, silk doublures and endpapers, all edges gilt.Green-coated endpapers; blue half-title page; red and blue title page. (Click here for more details about this book)
Binding by: Bayntun-Riviere
Offered by: Charles Agvent
Lalla Rookh: An Oriental Romance by Thomas Moore
Publisher: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown 1817
Dark blue levant morocco, extravagantly gilt, richly inlaid, and gloriously bejewelled with 226 Jewels.
A glorious front doublure of ivory morocco covered in gilt vines with inlaid voilet corocco flowers, the whole framed in green morocco decorated with gilt vines and red morocco posies and berries, at the center, a hand-painted Cosway-style portrait of the author on ivory surrounded by a gilt frame with 12 flowers composed of no fewer than 72 Turquoises and 36 garnets, the oval portrait in a sunken panel enclosed by a wreath of inlaid morocco flowers
Rear doublure of similar design, but its medallion featuring 8 amethysts set among sinuously curving inlaid lilac strapwork twining around a large (approximately one carat) Mexican Fire Opal encircled by 12 pearls; free endleaves of cream-colored watered silk, gilt edges. In the original well-made (somewhat scuffed) silk- and plush-lined blue morocco box with shuttered lid. (for complete details, click here)
Binding by: Sangorski & Sutcliffe
Roberts, Matt T. and Etherington, Don “Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books, A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology.” <http://cool.conservation-us.org/don//>
Mohamed, Bibi “Know Your Antiques: Cosway Bindings.” <http://www.antiquesandfineart.com/articles/article.cfm?request=237>