HOBSON, Geoffrey Dudley (1882-1949). English Bindings 1490-1940 in the Library of J.R. Abbey. London: privately printed at the Chiswick Press, 1940.
Large 4o (350 x 250 mm). NO. 178 OF AN EDITION LIMITED TO 180 COPIES, SIGNED BY BOTH OWNER AND AUTHOR. 131 binding reproductions including 12 splendid color plates.
IMPORTANT MOSAIC BINDING BY SYBIL PYE [of Newick, Sussex], signed and dated 1941: gold-tooled black morocco over thick pasteboard, inlaid with green and beige morocco to a fine cubist design and incorporating art-deco elements, spine tooled and lettered in compartments, wide turn-ins gilt. Preserved in a buckram fall-down-back box. Provenance: John Roland Abbey (armorial bookplate, sale Sotheby's part VI, 19th October 1970, lot 2728).
MAJOR ABBEY'S OWN COPY of one of the finest English private-collection catalogues of the 20th century, bound for him by Sybil Pye. In the middle decades of the last century there were at least half a dozen very active private collectors of historical bookbindings in England, who also patronised contemporary artists. Of this group Major Abbey (1894-1969) was the most important. (B.H. Breslauer told that he would invariably offer any fine binding to Abbey first, before turning to Albert Ehrman and Henry Davis in that order.) At a time shortly after German troops crossed the Western borders, Abbey and Hobson dedicated their catalogue "To Our Friends and Allies, the People of France." In a moving letter, dated 18th October 1945, Julien Cain, director of the Bibliothèque nationale, praises this magnificent production and expresses his gratitude for the dedication: "Cette délicatesse ne nous surprend certes pas, mais chaque nouveau témoignage nous fait un extrême plaisir." Abbey has tipped this typed letter signed into the present copy of the book, as well as an autograph letter of congratulations signed by the English binder Douglas Cockerell.
Sybil Pye (1879-1958) may well be called the most imaginative and artistic bookbinder of 20th-century England (a similar case can be made for a woman bookbinder in France, Rose Adler). She was self-taught, learning the craft from Douglas Cockerell's Bookbinding and the Care of Books, a fact which is occasionally betrayed by the weakness of her forwarding (although not in the case of the Abbey catalogue). Describing her work in 1940, she wrote: "... a design is worked out in very soft chalks and charcoal, the shapes being constantly remodelled until they satisfy the eye. The method of inlaying employed is to cut out the foundation leather, and replace it with the other colours. In this way no line is required to hide the join, and the gold ornament can be kept independent of the colour design. To ensure that there should be no shrinkage of the inlays, they are cut slightly larger than the space they are to fill, and gently forced into it" (Hobson Abbey 125). Exhibited: London, The Arts Council 1949. Catalogue by Philip James no. 79, pl. 4. BBB Wittockiana 53.