Man's perpetual urge to adorn his work soon produced a decoration on the
leather with marks and lines impressed on che surface, some which, known as
"cuir cisele," were cut and moulded into elaborate designs with a punched back-
ground of dots; monsters and animals of heraldic style were also shown.
One wonders who was the very first craftsman to engrave a design or emblem
on wood or metal and impress it into damped leather? Whoever he was he in-
vented the very first binder's tool and started, in his primitive way, a method which
has endured through the centuries and is still in use today. Most elaborate and
beautiful bindings were produced with an all-over decoration which is styled
"blind stamped." Many of the tools and blocks were cut in intaglio to stamp in
relief, unlike those which are engraved out to impress over gold leaf. Designs were
also cut on wheels, or rolls as they are now called, which enabled the binder to
make a continuous line of repeat decoration. A marvellous variety is found in this
early work and there has been much conjecture to decipher the meaning of the
pressmarks, letters and monograms which appear in profusion. Some of them in
rebus form with punning devices present their own particular problems.
Above are drawings of a few of these early stamps. The first two are from books in
the collection of Major J. R. Abbey. The amusing rebus was long thought to be a
hare, a pair of spectacles and initials of doubtful clarity, but research and ingenuity
now suggests that the animal is a rabbit (or coney) and the supposed spectacles a
binder's needle and thread and that the initials are the H. C. of one Henry Cony or
Colny, a name frequently appearing in deeds of the period as craftsmen of various
kinds. The binding is English and Covers a printed book of 1492. No less than 8
similar ones are recorded. The band with pointing finger, a sort of nota bene, on an
English binding of the same period, is quite obscure in meaning and is a left one.
Perhaps the engraver nodded and forgot to reverse his drawing?
1 5th Century;
The writer cannot resist including these jolly little birds and beasts, drawings made
from engraved tools which appear on Spanish and Portuguese bindings of about
1530. The designs, particularly the monkey playing bagpipes, have a whimsicality
and charm which seems stränge for the solemnity of the literature of the period.
The precise date and place of the introduction of gold tooled bindings into Europe
will probably never be established, Venice and Naples are both claimed for the
first examples of tooling over gold leaf as practised today and the idea may have
come from Persia or the leather workers of Spain. The cut out filagree work car-
ried out in Venice for many years was gilded and coloured by hand and other early
bindings show gold work filled in by brush over blind impressions. Some even
show a combination of this and real gold tooling on the same binding.