Bookbinding Gallery Talk at the Morgan / by Kat Howard

 The Morgan Library & Museum Friday evening, I went to see the exhibition: Protecting the Word: Bookbindings of the Morgan. I had to dash out of work on the Upper East Side, and hustle down to the Morgan Library at Madison Avenue & 37th Street, in order to make the 7 pm gallery talk. Thankfully I got there just in time for H. George Fletcher's introduction, the guest curator who organized the show from the prized collection of the Morgan. Mr. Fletcher currently acts as the Brooke Russell Astor Director for Special Collections at The New York Public Library. He was once quoted as saying, "Books have always spoken to me. I see them as conversations with people, even those dead for thousands of years," and is a man after my own heart. 

It was fantastic to walk through the exhibition, piece by piece, with the man who curated the collection, as he generated excitement as each book's story was told. He gave us great insight into the Museum's history and their important holdings:


One of the Morgan's core strengths is its collection of historically and artistically significant bookbindings. Begun energetically by Pierpont Morgan himself before the turn of the twentieth century, the collection has grown to over 1,000 volumes. It spans the ages—more than 1,600 years—and many regions of the globe. 

Protecting the Word: Bookbindings of the Morgan presents a selection of outstanding works from the collection. Highlights include a bejeweled eighth-century binding used on the famous Lindau Gospels, a magnificent seventh-to-eighth–century Coptic work, and a seventeenth-century English Bible and prayer book in stump work embroidery. Together, these and approximately 50 additional works in the exhibition, demonstrate the skill and artistry of bookbinding at its finest. 


The Holy Bible, London. J. Bill, C. Barker, R.T. Newcomb, & H. Hills, 1678. PML 59412. Purchased as the gift of Miss. Julia P. Wightman, 1969.

What is truly remarkable about the books on display is the fact that most of them have survived the 18th century purge. Bibliophiles during that time, and on into the 19th century went on a collecting rampage and once they found a valuable text they would discard the original binding and have a new one commissioned for it. They would even oftentimes rip one book into several volumes so that the fragments could be rebound and sold for a higher profit. The Morgan's bookbinding exhibition presents many of the pieces in its collection that evaded these overzealous collectors, and offers the public a rare glance in to their unique tales. It's highly recommended.