National Library of Ireland Bookbinding exhibitions

National Library of Ireland exhibition: ‘This Glittering Library’ 275 Years of the Edward Worth Library

This exhibition, curated by Dr. Elizabethanne Boran, the Assistant Librarian of the Worth Library, focussed on bindings from three countries: Ireland, England and the Netherlands.

275 years ago this year, Edward Worth, a Dublin physician, died, leaving a library of 4,500 books and money to house them to the newly-founded Dr. Steevens’s Hospital, of which he was a Trustee. Worth’s library not only reflects his professional interests in the areas of medicine and science (with over one third of the collection being devoted to medical works alone), but also testifies to his fascination with early modern printing and bookbinding.

Worth was fortunate to be collecting at a time when many important English, French and Dutch libraries were being sold. His remarkably well-preserved collection therefore not only contains superb examples of bindings from across Europe but also offers twenty-first century bibliophiles a unique insight into bookbinding in early eighteenth-century Ireland.

Irish Bookbindings


Item 1


Item 1: front cover
Johann Christian Buxbaum
Plantarum minus cognitarum centuria
St. Petersburg, 1728. 4o

Little is known about individual binders in early modern Ireland as few signed their work. For this reason binding styles are most often named after the principal patron of a bindery. This book is an example of the Worth Bindery, named after its most important patron, the early eighteenth-century physician Edward Worth (1678-1733), who left his prestigious library to Dr. Steevens’ Hospital in 1733.

The characteristics of the Worth Bindery are clearly visible on this particular copy: the use of gouges coupled with naturalistic tools. An example of the latter, acorns, may be seen on the spine where they are incorporated with leaves and gouges to form a symmetrical motif.


Item 1: front cover

Item 2


Item 2: Front cover
Giovanni Michele Savonarola
Practica canonica de febribus Io. Michaelis Savonarolae
Venice, 1561. 2o

The sale catalogue of the library of the Dutch merchant Gosuinus Uilenbroek (one of a number of fascinating book sales and auctions catalogues collected by Worth), demonstrates that Worth bought this book in 1729.

It is clear that it was subsequently rebound by the Worth Bindery. The rather plain cover of the Practica, a lightly sprinkled tan calf with gold-tooled double fillet frames, may look very different to Item 1 but they share some common features: the harpoon tool visible on in the border on the covers of Item 1 is reused on the gold-tooled spine of the Practica to form part of a central motif. Even the gold-tooling on the board edges is the same as both books use Roll 1 of the Worth Bindery.


Item 2: spine

Item 3


Item 3: front cover
Johann Bohn
Circulus anatomico-physiologicus, seu Oeconomia corporis animalis
Leipzig, 1697. 4o

This book on physiology by the German physician Johann Bohn (1640-1718), was bound in Dublin in the 1720s. It has been identified by the late Librarian of the Worth Library, Vincent Kinane, as an early example of the work of Parliamentary Binder A whose most famous bindings, on the manuscript journals of the Houses of Commons and Lords, were destroyed in the Public Record Office in 1922.

Kinane’s decision to name it ‘the Dark and Delicate Style’ reflects the combination of dark sprinkled calf with a fine gold-rolled border. In this example the spine has been stained black and tooled to a typically early eighteenth-century centre and corner design.


Item 3: spine

Item 4


Item 4: cover and Worth Bindery Roll 1 on tail edge and turn-ins
Synesius of Cyrene
De regno ad Arcadium imperatorem<span >
Paris, 1553. 2o

The use of rolls and tools not only help identify this binding as a product of the Worth Bindery but also point to the perception of the book being bound. In contrast to Item 2, which focussed on the spine alone, and Item 1, which had sprinkled edges, this superb copy of De regno ad Arcadium imperatorem was evidently considered a work of higher status: Worth Bindery Roll 1 is used on the turn-ins and the edges of the textblock are gilded.

The binding gives us a clue to Worth’s interest in this work: the third panel on the spine proclaims that it was printed by the renowned Parisian printer Adrien Turnèbe in 1553. Worth was a keen collector of sixteenth-century printing and often drew attention to this aspect of his collection by having such labels attached to the spine of his choice volumes.


Item 4: spine

English Bindings


Item 5


Item 5: front cover
Novum<span > Testamentum Graecum
Paris, 1550. 2o

This Greek edition of the New Testament, printed by the famous  sixteenth-century Parisian printer Robert Estienne, was bound for Worth in the 1720s by a London binder named Christopher Chapman. Chapman is primarily known as one of the binders employed by Edward Harley (1689–1741), 2nd Earl of Oxford, and many characteristics of the ‘Harleian style’ are present here: the combination of lavish gold-tooling and red morocco, coupled with a wide border frame made up of a number of rolls.

The only missing ingredient is the quintessential Harleian central lozenge. It seems unlikely that this was omitted due to a desire to economise as Worth, unlike Harley, has gilt edges on his New Testament.


Item 5: spine

Item 6


Item 6: opening
Anuce Foë
Oeconomia Hippocratis
Frankfurt, 1588. 2o

This binding is an example of a typical trade binding from Oxford in the mid seventeenth century. The blue and white colour of the endbands coupled with the use of calfskin, the favourite binding material in England because of its ready availability, are pointers to the English origin of this binding. The use of printed endpapers was popular in England from the sixteenth to the mid seventeenth century and in this case the endpapers, from a play printed at Oxford in 1636, help pinpoint the date of the binding.

The tooling on the blind-tooled dark brown calf covers likewise show the typical diagonal hatching at head and tail common in Oxford bindings of the period (visible here on the board edges near the spine). The off-white alum-tawed supports on which the gatherings were sewn and which can be seen here laced into the boards were popular because of their durable nature – doubly important on a book of this size.

Item 7

Item 7: front cover
Sir Thomas More
The apologye of syr Thomas More knyght
London<span >, 1553. 8o

This early sixteenth-century dark brown calf binding bears the arms of Henry VIII in a blind-stamped panel with blind-tooled fillets. To the right of the royal coat of arms, which is surrounded by the garter legend, lie the Castle and Fleur-de-Lys. To its left are the Tudor Rose and the cleft Pomegranate of Aragon.

The inclusion of the latter symbol helps date this binding to early January 1533 since Henry VIII repudiated Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn in late January of that year.

The fact that it bears Henry VIII’s coat of arms should not be seen as an indication that it belonged to the King. The royal family more usually had their books bound in costly, though less durable, embroidered velvet and satin or used the gold-tooling which was rapidly gaining favour.

Item 8


Item 8: front cover
Magna charta … apud Richard Toletum, 12. Iun. 1556.
London, 1556 8o

This contemporary binding in panelled calf once belonged to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588). It bears his distinctive medallion badge of a bear with a ragged staff, stamped in blind on the covers. The mark of a crescent on the bear’s shoulder, an indication that the owner was a second son, helps date this binding to 1557, the year in which Robert’s elder brother Henry Dudley died.

As the badge of the bear and staff was a popular block used by several different binders it is impossible to pinpoint the particular binder responsible for this binding.  However, Dudley patronised six groups of binders who have been given the following names: the Cartouche group; the Frame group; the Initials binder; the Clemens Alexandrinus group; the Dudley binder and the so-called Morocco binder. This binding is a example of the Frame group. The blind-tooled initials in the medallion ‘S.F.’ were added by a later owner.

Dutch Bindings


Item 9


Item 9: back cover
Pietro Castelli
Exactissima descriptio rariorum quarundam plantarum
, 1625. 2o

This is a typical binding from the Uilenbroek Bindery (c. 1705-c. 1715), named after Gosuinus Uilenbroek (1658-1740), a major patron of binderies in late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century Amsterdam. Uilenbroek, a merchant based in Amsterdam, was particularly attracted to a combination of gold-tooling and dark blue-black morocco – a  covering material which retained its popularity in Amsterdam up until c. 1710. Though often marketed by binders as pure goatskin, most of the Dutch ‘morocco’ bindings of the early eighteenth century were in fact the result of a hybrid called ‘hairsheep’, from an animal which is cross between a goat and a sheep.

Uilenbroek’s prodigality did not extend to the edges of the text – he preferred to use the daubed or sprinkled edges more usually found on utilitarian bindings, rather than the more opulent gilt which was common to luxury bindings. Amsterdam binders’ predilection for heavy tooling  and dense designs is readily apparent here where the the double drawer handle tool is utilised in a number of ways to build up the central lozenge.

Item 10



Item 10: front cover
Bernard Georges Penot
De denario medico
Berne, 1608. 12o

This book was once owned by Hendrik Adriaan Vander Marck. Little is known of Vander Marck save that the sale catalogue of his collection styles him ‘Lord of Leur and canon of Utrecht’. Though stationed at Utrecht the bindings on his works suggest that he had many of his books bound in Amsterdam. This was relatively unusual – it was more common to have books bound closer to home but it is clear that Vander Marck was a connoisseur and binderies in Amsterdam were producing outstanding work in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

The tools used on this binding identify it firmly as work from a bindery named after Vander Marck. The symmetry of the gold-tooled frame on the red morocco cover of this tight-back binding suggests that it was tooled in the mid 1720s, when the rather formal Louis XIV style was beginning to give way to  more naturalistic motifs of the reign of Lous XV. If so, it was part of the early output of this bindery which continued to operate until the mid eighteenth century, long after Vander Marck’s death in 1727.

Item 11

Item 11: front cover
Giovanni Antonio Sicco
De optimo medico
Venice<span >, 1551. 4o

This tight-back gold-tooled red morocco binding was sold by Pieter de Hondt at the sale of Vander Marck’s library at The Hague on 14 July 1727. As Worth’s annotated copy of the sale demonstrates, he bought a number of items from the sale. Vander Marck, like many other connoisseurs, employed a number of binderies. This is one of three bindings in the Worth Library from the Foliage Roll Bindery in Utrecht.

The foliage roll, from which the binding gets its name, is clearly visible on the front cover and tool 17 of the bindery, a crown, can be seen at the corners of the central rectangular panel of double fillets. The vast majority of the output of the bindery was bound in hairsheep with a very coarse grain. The design on the cover suggests a date of c. 1720 since it was only after 1710 that title labels began to prove popular in Dutch bookbinding.

Item 12

Item 12: cover and ties
Avicennae Arabum medicorum principis, ex Gerardi Cremonensis versione, & Andreae Alpagi Belunensis castigatione
Venice<span >, 1608. 2o

Vellum (also called parchment) binding was especially popular in the Netherlands in the early modern period. It was not usually used on luxury bindings as it was a considered a cheap material and therefore not worthy of gold-tooling. However, its price and durability made it the preferred choice of scholars who used it to bind textbooks such as this edition of the celebrated Avicenna.

Given the natural tendency of vellum to warp, ties were needed and here we see alum-tawed ties. The presence of these ties points to a date in the late seventeenth century since by the first decades of the eighteenth century ties were becoming increasingly uncommon on Dutch bindings.


I would like to thank Ms Joanna Finnegan of the NLI  for providing some of the above photographs of the exhibition. I am also very grateful to Ms Louise O’Connor of the Conservation department of the NLI  for providing mounts and helping me set up the exhibition.

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