STUNNINGLY EMBROIDERED RARITIES
BIBLE. The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Newly translated…
London, by Robert Barker, and by the assignes of John Bill, 1640.
BIBLE. The whole booke of Psalmes: collected into English meter by Tho: Sternhold, John Hopkins, W. Whittingham, and others.
London, printed by M.F. for the Company of Stationers, 1641.
24mo. pp. Two vols in one. 1) pp.  A-Y¹², V6-7 missing. 2) pp. 330, [vi]. A-O¹². Roman letter, some Italic. First title within woodcut architectural border, title of Psalms with typographical border, small woodcut initials, typographical border on verso of first title, typographical head-pieces, type set music in Psalms. Light age yellowing, very rare marginal spot or mark. Very good copies in very fine, remarkably well preserved, contemporary embroidered white silk, silver and coloured thread and silver stump work binding, with semé of sequins, with a large central lily on covers small flowers and leaves below, a scrolled design above, alternate stylised flowers embroidered on spine, within four sewn compartments, all edges richly gilt, gauffered and painted with red and blue ovals, pink silk ties, edges fractionally worn, a few sequins lost, colours very slightly faded on upper cover. In folding cloth box with Robert S Pirie’s bookplate.
A very rare New Testament with an apparently unique copy of the Psalms (unrecorded with this date in ESTC), in a most beautiful contemporary English embroidered silk binding, in a quite remarkable state of preservation, the whole finely worked in silver-thread work, and embroidered in richly coloured silks to a most charming design. The embroidery was made on a background of white silk with a striking design of large central flowers formed by a combination of silver knot-work and embroidery of fine coloured silk thread. The petals of the flowers are made with extraordinary and remarkable skill; they are sewn in very fine silver and coloured thread pouches, in such an ingenious fashion that they can be lifted to see the embroidered petals beneath. It is technically and artistically work of the highest quality. The base of the flower in made up of a large green leaves and finely worked flowers sewn with extraordinary skill with the delicate and minute stitching creating fine gradations of colour, with flowers in graded blues, greens, browns and pinks. The spine, also in a remarkable state of preservation, of finely worked flowers, is sewn in compartments in imitation of conventional binding. The whole glitters slightly with a semé of sequins.The quality of the embroidered work on the binding is hugely impressive, the work of a master, for a lady of rank. Its state of preservation is quasi miraculous for such a delicate and ephemeral object.
“In the sixteenth century embroidered work was very popular with the Tudor princesses, gold and silver thread and pearls being largely used, often with very decorative effect. The simplest of these covers are also the best—but great elaboration was often employed …..Under the Stuarts the lighter feather-stitch was preferred, and there seems to have been a regular trade in embroidered Bibles and Prayer-books of small size, sometimes with floral patterns, sometimes with portraits of the King, or Scriptural scenes.” English Embroidered Bookbindings, Cyril Davenport. Davenport also notes that ladies often made embroidered gloves to match the binding “in hands thus gloved these little bindings, always pretty, often really artistic, must have looked exactly right, while their vivid colours must have been admirably in harmony with the gay Cavalier dresses.” Embroidery or needlework had been employed on ms. service books in medieval times but almost no English examples survive. The majority of surviving examples, and the only ones appearing on the market, date from the first half of the C17 when they again became fashionable on small service books or works of piety, particularly among ladies of rank. Few have endured in anything like their original condition. Fragile at best, many have become dilapidated through usage and later neglect, some were defaced or completely destroyed by disapproving Puritans during the Civil War, whilst the richest were invariably looted for their gold and silver threads. Where as here, they have survived virtually intact, few artifacts are more redolent of the feminine culture and society of Stuart England. This copy is particularly richly and finely worked and has survived in museum condition. This kind of work must have been amongst the last of its kind, a hight water mark, as such decorative and ‘frivolous’ bindings would have been impossible under the coming puritan regime. An exceptional and most lovely example, from the heyday of English embroidered bindings.
1) ESTC S124409. STC 2956. 2) Unrecorded