An Excursus into Bookbinding: MacLehose of Glasgow

A couple of days ago, I had bindings on my mind.  I’d been discussing Scottish bindings with a friend and that evening found myself looking at my own library for any which stood out from the ordinary run.  Pulling a couple of volumes off the shelves, the third Miscellany of the Spalding Club (Aberdeen, 1846) and an odd volume of the Bannatyne Club edition of Spalding’s Troubles (Edinburgh, 1829), I was struck to see the same unintrusive binders’ stamp in each: “MACLEHOSE GLASGOW”.

Maclehose 1

I was intrigued.  Both bindings, though comparatively simple, were well-executed and rather beautiful.  Who was MacLehose, I wondered, and how did he fit into the longer history of Scottish fine binding?

Maclehose 2

Miscellany of the Spalding Club on the left, Spalding’s Troubles on the right.

MacLehose, it proved, was none other than James MacLehose (1811-1885), the well-known Glasgow publisher and bookseller who, according to the ODNB, had opened a fine bindery alongside his other business concerns in 1862.  An 1892 article in The British Bookmaker provides some insight into the nature of his workshop:

“[N]o ordinary trade work is done. All the books bound here are either the firm’s own work, or the work of private customers . . . Levant, morocco, and a special calf are the principal styles, hand finished and single lettered, and though many of the books are elaborately bound with special designs, a large share are in the severely plain style which finds favour particularly in Scotland”.

Examples of MacLehose’s more elaborate bindings can be seen in Glasgow and London but I suspect that my volumes are more representative of the “severely plain style” mentioned.  The beauty of the bindings comes from carefully executed gold rules and heavily textured calf or goat rather than from a profusion of tooling.  In the case of Spalding’s Troubles the binder has even incorporated the original brown paper binding common to Bannatyne Club volumes into their own work.

Maclehose 3a

Maclehose 3b

Details of the spines: a trifle lavish above, rather more restrained below.

In both cases, these club publications have been rebound; each would have come into the world in a rather more modest trade binding.  The surviving provenance makes it possible to at least hazard a guess as to who may have sent them off to Glasgow for improvement.  In the case of the Miscellany, this is one of a number of volumes I’ve come across from the lately dispersed library of the Benedictine Abbey at Fort Augustus near Inverness.  Although not all items from the abbey library appear to have been rebound, I wonder if this might have been a case of the monks splashing out?

Maclehose 4

Is there a story behind the never-completed shelf label?

Spalding’s Troubles also boasts a bookplate: a fine heraldic woodcut proclaiming its owner to be one David Murray.  Murray (1842-1928) was a Glaswegian lawyer, antiquary, bibliophile, and namesake of the University of Glasgow’s book-collecting prize.  He donated most of his library to the university shortly before his death but this volume seems to have escaped.  Given its provenance, it was presumably Murray who had it rebound.

Maclehose 5

So, what can we learn from this?  This sort of investigation opens up intriguing windows onto how books were valued and presented in nineteenth-century Scotland, as well as providing some examples of the book binder’s art from a period which is less heavily studied than earlier centuries.  But I think it also provides a lesson in informed book collecting.  I bought both of these volumes for a few pounds each, purely for their contents and their value as part of a scholarly reference library, and I very much doubt that their sellers were any more aware than I of what made them interesting as physical artefacts.  Now, though, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more examples of MacLehose’s art.  It may be “severely plain” for the most part, but it has the beauty of fine craftsmanship and is a still-to-be-explored chapter in the nineteenth-century Scottish book trade.

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

The Protean Chapter

There was one chapter of my doctoral thesis I just couldn’t crack. I must have rewritten it four or five times, hating it every time, and the incarnation which finally made its way into my first book had more or less nothing in common with the initial draft other than subject. My basic problem was that I couldn’t figure out how to talk about a difficult text – Aubrey’s Remaines of Gentilisme – but I think most writers have had the experience of the “difficult chapter”, the one that keeps changing and shifting underneath your hands in spite of your best efforts to bring it to some kind of final form.

Right now I’m dealing with another difficult chapter. When I drew up the plan for this book I knew I wanted to say something about a genre I’d loosely and anachronistically defined as “local history”, the sort of antiquarian or geographical text which focuses on a specific area – be that burgh, parish, county, whatever – and I thought I had a good idea of what that would look like. As I researched the chapter, though, the texts and concepts I wanted to address within that remit kept changing and now as I’ve been outlining it preparatory to doing a generative draft, they’ve been changing again.

Title page from Theatrum Scotiae by John Slezer 1693.

Slezer’s Theatrum Scotiae, one of the key texts I’ll be discussing in this chapter.

Some of that change naturally came from honing my research questions. Some sources which had originally seemed relevant came to be less so, while others proved to be far more central than I’d expected. There have been other matters to consider in the process as well. Any discussion of Scottish geography or chorography would be incomplete without Robert Sibbald, but I’ve been trying not to let Sibbald and his thousand and one projects dominate this chapter; in a book that’s meant to survey an entire intellectual movement I think it’s important to discuss a variety of scholars and their texts. But spending more time (and words) on texts I had been thinking less about at the beginning of the project has opened up new avenues of research and other ways of thinking about the material. I’ve now added a new writer altogether – a previously unknown female érudit whose writings include not only a geographical text, but also contributions to Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire – which has not only affected this chapter but has led to discoveries altering some of my arguments in a subsequent chapter. At what point do you stop researching and revising and start writing?

For me, I think I’ve finally reached that tipping point. Yes, I could spend a day or two in the NLS and come up with yet another iteration of the chapter outline, but I think I know what I need to say and it’s that which matters more than exactly how I say it and with what suite of primary sources. The protean chapter isn’t finished yet, but it’s getting there.

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Mural Monuments in Crail

XI James Lumsden 1

The funeral monument of James Lumsden of Airdrie (d. 1598) in Crail Kirkyard – one of the grander pieces of monumental sculpture in Fife.

I’ve been interested in the remarkable early modern epigraphic landscape of Crail kirkyard (in the East Neuk of Fife) for about as long as I’ve been interested in carved stones.  A while ago I wrote a small piece on Crail, comparing its carved stones with analogous wooden relics for the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework, and I’m now very pleased to be giving a paper to the Crail History Society next week on the same topic.  I’ll be looking specifically at how we can track local monuments’ deterioration through comparing their current condition with a series of photographs taken by Erskine Beveridge in the 1890s, but I’m moderately optimistic that the talk won’t actually be as dry as it sounds!

For anyone interested, the paper will be given in the Legion Hall, Nethergate, Crail, at 7.30pm, Tuesday, 13 June.  Hecklers always welcome . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams