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 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 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 that we have seen listed for sale at Biblio:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Fine Cosway-style binding in full red morocco. Spine with five gilt raised bands and compartments elaborately decorated and ruled.
Front board with a hand-painted miniature of Jane Austen (2.3 inches high) under glass.
Binding by The Chelsea Bindery of London.
The Posthumous Papers Of The Pickwick Club by Charles Dickens
Cosway-style crimson crushed morocco, lavishly gilt and inlaid, with a small gilt bust of either Mr. Pickwick or Mr. Winkle, raised bands, spine compartments with ruled panels framing the same gilt busts, and a finely executed recessed oval miniature of Dickens on ivory under glass.
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.
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. (Click here for more details about this book)
Binding by: Riviére & Sons for Sotheran & Co.
The Story of Emma, Lady Hamilton by Julia Frankau
Folio 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.
Binding by: The Chelsea Bindery
Lalla Rookh: An Oriental Romance by Thomas Moore
Dark blue morocco, extravagantly gilt, richly inlaid, and gloriously bejewelled with 226 Jewels.
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