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Douglas Cockerell Collection of Fine Bindings

About the Dalhousie Cockerell Collection

The Dalhousie Cockerell Collection consists of 126 bindings in 133 volumes collected and repaired by  or under the direction of Douglas Cockerell. The earliest dated volume is 1470 and the latest, 1826. The bindings were done by book binders from England, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Scotland Switzerland, Sweden, and Ireland.  Binding materials used were morocco, vellum, calf, pigskin, sheepskin or fishskin. Most are full leather bindings with either blind or gold tooling and all have significant decorative features that caught the attention of the master bookbinder, Douglas Cockerell.  A two volume descriptive catalogue by Cockerell that details all the distinctive elements of the binding, the provenance of the title and identifies the  original binder, is a vital part of the collection. The Dalhousie collection also includes thirteen original bindings by Cockerell himself.

There are eight pre-1500 volumes in the collection. The majority are religious in theme – Bibles, catechisms, commentaries, prayer books, and sermons. Other subject areas represented are history, law, philosophy, literature, medicine and the classics. Many were originally owned by senior church officials or by members of the European royal families.

Collection Highlights

Collection highlights include three incunabula volumes previously owned by British designer and publisher William Morris; a 1606 Bible bound for the royal library of King James I; a 1747 Catholic prayer book formerly owned by the Dauphin of France; Colbert’s copy of La Methode dont les Peres se sont servis en traitant des mysteres… (Paris, 1683); a 1763 travel account by Nicholas Louis de La Caille (Paris, 1763); a fore-edge painting of a landscape scene  and the complete works of Plato (Venice, 1517).

Significance

The volumes of the Dalhousie Cockerell Fine Binding Collection are those on which one of the world’s foremost fine binders learned his craft and honed his skill. Many of the volumes were used to illustrate Cockerell’s influential bookbinding manual Bookbinding and the care of books (1901) in which he persuasively presented his guiding principles for sound, creative and responsible bookbinding. 

The volumes in the Dalhousie collection are the physical evidence of Cockerell’s book-binding skill and between the handsomely bound covers are some of the most important religious texts of the early modern period.  Both facets of the collection continue to inspire and instruct.

More from Vessels of Light: A Guide to Special Collections in the Killam Libraryby Karen E. M. Smith.