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Sangorski and Sutcliffe: The Rolls Royce of Bookbinding

By Kelsey McKinney

Jeweled bindings, which use metalwork, jewels, ivory, and rich fabrics to decorate a book, date back at least to the Middle Ages, but the form was revived around the turn of the twentieth century by the English binders Sangorski & Sutcliffe.

Francis Sangorski and George Sutcliffe met in evening bookbinding classes in 1896. After a few years teaching bookbinding at Camberwell College of Art, they opened their own shop in a rented attic in Bloomsbury despite the difficult economic climate. Then on October 1, 1901, they founded Sangorski & Sutcliffe. Quickly, they became known for their sumptuous multi-colored leather book bindings complete with gold inlay and precious jewels. Their designs were intricate, bold, and creative. These early years were the golden age of the company. During this time Sangorski & Sutcliffe created dozens of fine bindings and grew in both popularity and notoriety. More than 80 Sangorski & Sutcliffe originals are housed in the Ransom Center’s collections.

Many of the Sangorski & Sutcliffe books at the Ransom Center are high-quality bindings but rather plain in appearance, while a few of them are quite ornate. A Sangorski & Sutcliffe binding of Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh, for example, has semiprecious stones inlaid inside the front and back covers. An edition of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark is bound in leather with stingray onlay, and semiprecious stones are inlaid inside the front and back covers. Two works, Oliver Goldsmith’s The Hermit and James Russell Lowell’s The Vision of Sir Launfal, are handwritten in calligraphy on parchment by Alberto Sangorski with decorative borders and illuminated miniatures.

One famous book that the Ransom Center doesn’t hold is a book known as the Great Omar, which was a magnificent Sangorski & Sutcliffe binding of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, a narrative poem about the importance of living in the moment. Set in a Persian garden, the lyrical verses are filled with imagery of roses, celebrations of wine, and questions about mortality, fate, and doubt.

Sangorski & Sutcliffe was commissioned in 1909 to design the luxurious binding for the Rubáiyát. The front cover was to be adorned with three golden peacocks with jeweled tails, surrounded by heavily tooled and gilded vines. The Great Omar was the pride of Sangorski & Sutcliffe. Sadly, it was fated for disaster. The book was sent on the Titanic in 1912. The Great Omar went down with the ship and was never recovered. A second copy of the Rubáiyát was bound on the eve of World War II. This copy was kept in a bank safe vault to protect it. However, enemy bombing during the war destroyed the bank, the safe vault, and the second version of the Great Omar. Stanley Bray, the nephew of George Sutcliffe, created a third version of the book after he retired. This third version follows the original design and is housed in the British Library.

View a video that chronicles the story of the Great Omar, a story that was highlighted in the Ransom Center’s 2009 exhibition The Persian Sensation: ‘The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám’ in the West.

Sangorski drowned in 1912, but Sutcliffe continued the firm until his death in 1936. The business changed hands and names in the postwar years as interest in fine bindings declined. The firm was bought by Shepard’s in 1998, and the name of Sangorski & Sutcliffe was restored.

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Freedom of the City certificates: Passports for 1776

By Kelsey McKinney

In America, children are raised to believe that all men are created equal. This accepted equality spurs unalienable rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Even before the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, Americans have wanted and have been willing to fight for their freedom.  While Americans fought for unity and independence, citizens of Great Britain were earning their freedom in the form of a long, rolled piece of paper called a Freedom of the City certificate.

The Ransom Center houses two Freedom of the City certificates in the John B. Dancer collection. One belonged to Michael Dancer. According to the certificate, Michael Dancer was the son of W. M. Dancer, who apprenticed for many years before being granted his freedom on September 3, 1776. Freedom of the City certificates were typically about 24 inches long by 5 inches high. The narrow pieces of paper are creased vertically in many places, implying that the certificate was kept rolled up for a long period. Like a modern-day passport or driver’s license, a freedom certificate would have been carried on one’s person to prove identity and citizenship. Most freedmen were given a casket—normally a long narrow tube—upon receiving their freedom in order to carry their certificate safely and conveniently.

In London, freedom had to be earned before it could be granted until 1832. Starting in the Middle Ages, a man was considered a “freeman” as long as he was not ruled over by any feudal lord. If he was a peasant or a serf, his freedom was in the hands of the lord of his land. A freeman, though, enjoyed such privileges as the right to earn money and to own land. At the beginning of the Middle Ages, freemen were few and far between. Only lords enjoyed property ownership and income until England experienced industrial progression in the late eighteenth century. The influx of industry created a middle class who were no longer agrarian peasants, but not rich enough to become lords. Such people lived in cities, often practiced specialized trades, and were commonly referred to as townsmen. Towns were often under the rule of the monarchy instead of a local feudal lord, and thus townsmen could be granted Freedom of the City.

The granting of Freedom of the City, particularly in London, is one of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence and practice today. The first freedom is believed to have been presented as early as 1237. These early freedom ceremonies held great social importance because they affirmed that the recipient would enjoy privileges such as the right to trade and protection within the town. Until 1835, Freedom of the City members were the only people within London who could legally exercise a trade within city limits.

Members were presented with a notarized certificate proclaiming their freedom and a book titled Rules for the Conduct of Life, which was intended to guide them in their life as freemen. While providing many basic laws and recommended codes of conduct, the book also outlined several interesting freedoms available only to freemen.  For example, the book notes freemen have the right to herd sheep over the London Bridge, go about the city with a drawn sword, and—if convicted of a capital offense—to be hung with a silken rope. Other ascribed privileges are said to include the right to be married in St. Paul’s cathedral, to be buried in the city, and to be drunk and disorderly without fear of arrest.

Today, Freedom of the City of London is granted in two forms. Though few of the practical reasons for obtaining Freedom of the City remain, the certificate continues to be a unique part of English history. As of 1996, the honor is open to anyone around the world who has been nominated and maintains good character. Each year about 1,800 people apply to become freemen. The second way of becoming a freeman is by being granted Honorary Freedom of the City of London. The City of London presents individuals who have made significant impact in their field of work or who have done extraordinary things for the city with this honor. Even today, many citizens of London continue to join Michael Dancer as freemen.

Please click on thumbnails for larger images.

Image: Certificate dated September 3, 1776, admitting Michael Dancer to freedom of the city of London.

"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz": A children’s classic lives on though many editions and sequels

By Kelsey McKinney

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of the most enduring classics of children’s literature. Despite consistent opposition, the book has survived countless attacks by critics who sniffed out a labor-friendly agenda, removal from the stacks by well-intentioned children’s librarians, and critiques of both the author (L. Frank Baum) and the illustrator (W. W. Denslow).  Part of its longevity is attributable to the success of the 1939 motion picture classic starring Judy Garland.

L. Frank Baum was a Chicago salesman who turned to children’s literature. He collaborated with the illustrator W. W. Denslow, and they both struck it rich with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, featuring fantasy and child-friendly prose combined with Denslow’s wonderful artistry. The Wizard was the best-selling children’s book of 1900. Writer and illustrator, who were never on particularly close terms, parted ways after this collaboration.

Though The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is Baum’s most revered work, it is not his only creation. The author himself published 13 additional Oz tales illustrated by John R. Neill. Author Ruth Plumly Thompson published 21 supplementary tales set in Oz. Illustrator John R. Neill also wrote and illustrated three of his own Oz books and illustrated more than 40 books about Oz. His black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings are identified almost exclusively with the world of Oz. The last Oz book was published by the firm of Reilly & Lee in 1963.

Most recently, a centennial edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published with scholarly annotations of Baum’s sources and an introduction by Martin Gardner, a Lewis Carroll scholar and student of mathematical games and puzzles.

Last year the Ransom Center received a donation of 16 Oz books from the estate of Douglass Parker.  One of the titles among them, Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz, bears Parker’s name and “Christmas, 1939.”  Parker received the book when he was 12.  He went on to become a classics professor and taught at The University of Texas at Austin for 40 years.  In his teaching he discussed “Parageography,” a word he coined to describe the idea that the geography of an imaginary place, like Oz, reflected the creativity of the author.

This donation almost doubles the number of Oz books that are housed at the Ransom Center, representing nearly all of the traditional Oz titles. Many of these are later printings, as described in the Bibliographia Oziana by Hanff, Greene, Martin, Greene, and Haff.

Ransom Center book cataloger Paul Johnson contributed to this article.

 

Please click the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

 

Photo Friday

By Kelsey McKinney

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Please be aware that Photo Friday will be on hiatus during the summer, but will return in September.

Singer/Songwriters Lloyd Maines, Terri Hendrik, Monte Warden and Michael Hall perform at Wednesday’s Poetry on the Plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
Singer/Songwriters Lloyd Maines, Terri Hendrik, Monte Warden and Michael Hall perform at Wednesday’s Poetry on the Plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
Rachel Appel delivers her capstone presentation on digital asset management systems. Photo by Pete Smith.
Rachel Appel delivers her capstone presentation on digital asset management systems. Photo by Pete Smith.
Susan Buckley spoke about the work of her husband Peter Buckley photographer and author. Photo by  Pete Smith.
Susan Buckley spoke about the work of her husband Peter Buckley photographer and author. Photo by Pete Smith.

Photo Friday

By Kelsey McKinney

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Undergraduate intern Kelsey Handler unfolds a painting made by a Devil's  Island prisoner from the René Belbenoit Collection. Photo by Kelsey  McKinney.
Undergraduate intern Kelsey Handler unfolds a painting made by a Devil's Island prisoner from the René Belbenoit Collection. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Ransom Center members enjoy an exclusive tour of the current exhibition,
Ransom Center members enjoy an exclusive tour of the current exhibition,
Filmmaker and special effects pioneer Tom Smith discusses his work at the KLRU studios. Photo by Pete Smith.
Filmmaker and special effects pioneer Tom Smith discusses his work at the KLRU studios. Photo by Pete Smith.

Scholar explores the making of the King James Bible

By Kelsey McKinney

Helen Moore, a fellow and Tutor in English at Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford, speaks Thursday night at the Ransom Center about the history of the King James Bible translation.  The program will be webcast live at 7 p.m. CST.

Moore’s interdisciplinary research has been founded on bringing neglected texts back to academic attention. She was lead curator of Manifold Greatness: Oxford and the Making of the King James Bible, the exhibition held at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford in 2011 in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the translation of the King James Bible. Moore and Julian Reid co-edited Manifold Greatness: The Making of the King James Bible, the book that accompanied its associated exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library and now at the Ransom Center.

In this video, Moore and other scholars discuss the challenging task that the translators of the King James Version faced.

This event is co-sponsored by Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford and The Wall Street Journal.

“Manifold Greatness: The Making of the King James Bible,” co-edited by Helen Moore and Julian Reid.
“Manifold Greatness: The Making of the King James Bible,” co-edited by Helen Moore and Julian Reid.

Photo Friday

By Kelsey McKinney

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Two new members enjoy a behind-the-scenes glimpse at collection items presented by Jackie Muñoz, including Salvador Dali’s "Don Quixote," pictured here. Photo by Pete Smith.
Two new members enjoy a behind-the-scenes glimpse at collection items presented by Jackie Muñoz, including Salvador Dali’s "Don Quixote," pictured here. Photo by Pete Smith.
Member Alice Maxie previews items from the fall exhibition "I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America" at the New Member Open House and Reception. Photo by Pete Smith.
Member Alice Maxie previews items from the fall exhibition "I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America" at the New Member Open House and Reception. Photo by Pete Smith.
Ransom Center fellow Russell Goulbourne discusses his research during the monthly Fellows Brown Bag Luncheon. Photo by Pete Smith.
Ransom Center fellow Russell Goulbourne discusses his research during the monthly Fellows Brown Bag Luncheon. Photo by Pete Smith.

Photo Friday

By Kelsey McKinney

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Undergraduate intern Bethany Johnson reads, reviews, and summarizes correspondence for inclusion in an upcoming exhibition about the centennial of World War I. Photo by Pete Smith.
Undergraduate intern Bethany Johnson reads, reviews, and summarizes correspondence for inclusion in an upcoming exhibition about the centennial of World War I. Photo by Pete Smith.

Registrants of The David Foster Wallace Symposium view a case of materials related to Wallace in the Ransom Center’s lobby. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Registrants of The David Foster Wallace Symposium view a case of materials related to Wallace in the Ransom Center’s lobby. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Los Angeles Times book critic David Ulin, literary agent Bonnie Nadell, and Little, Brown editor Michael Pietsch gather before their public program, “"Everything and More: A Conversation About David Foster Wallace." Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Los Angeles Times book critic David Ulin, literary agent Bonnie Nadell, and Little, Brown editor Michael Pietsch gather before their public program, “"Everything and More: A Conversation About David Foster Wallace." Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Pete Smith photographs a costume that Robert De Niro wore in “Raging Bull.” Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Pete Smith photographs a costume that Robert De Niro wore in “Raging Bull.” Photo by Alicia Dietrich.

Photo Friday

By Kelsey McKinney

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Visitors examine manuscripts on display at 'The King James Bible: Its History and Influence' exhibition. Photo by Pete Smith
Visitors examine manuscripts on display at 'The King James Bible: Its History and Influence' exhibition. Photo by Pete Smith
Graduate intern Laura Wellen places Albert Einstein's molecular kit in a display case for visiting students. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
Graduate intern Laura Wellen places Albert Einstein's molecular kit in a display case for visiting students. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
Graduate intern Chelsea Weathers places a lock of Edgar Allan Poe's hair in a display case for visiting students. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
Graduate intern Chelsea Weathers places a lock of Edgar Allan Poe's hair in a display case for visiting students. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.

Photo Friday

By Kelsey McKinney

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Undergraduate intern Michelle Bennight updates the inventory of paintings in the Ransom Center’s art collection, which included documenting works and confirming measurements and other information. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
Undergraduate intern Michelle Bennight updates the inventory of paintings in the Ransom Center’s art collection, which included documenting works and confirming measurements and other information. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
While visiting the Ransom Center on Tuesday, author T. C. Boyle signed the Center’s authors’ door. Photo by Pete Smith.
While visiting the Ransom Center on Tuesday, author T. C. Boyle signed the Center’s authors’ door. Photo by Pete Smith.
Visiting speaker, Shakespeare scholar, and Columbia University Professor James Shapiro views materials from the Ransom Center’s performing arts collection with Associate Curator for Performing Arts Helen Baer. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Visiting speaker, Shakespeare scholar, and Columbia University Professor James Shapiro views materials from the Ransom Center’s performing arts collection with Associate Curator for Performing Arts Helen Baer. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.