Always a pleasure to attend the prize-giving at the annual awards for the Designer Bookbinders, this year held at the St. Bride Foundation, just off Fleet Street, where all the books will be on display until the 24th November – do get along if you can. Perhaps not a vintage year this time round – it can’t be every year – but some very attractive and encouraging work all the same.
The outright winner – the Mansfield Medal for the Best Book in the Competition (and the Clothworkers’ Prize for Open Choice Book) – went to this delicate, intricate, intelligent and so carefully crafted binding on a copy of H. E. Bates’ “Through the Woods” (1936) by Yuko Matsuno – a good evening for her as she also picked up one of the ABA’s “Highly Commendeds” for her interpretation of the set book, which this year was the Folio Society’s edition of Dante’s “Vita Nuova”.
The Folio Society’s own prize for the set book went to Glenn Malkin (who won an ABA “Highly Commended” last year) for his quiet, contemplative and soothing work. An interview with Glenn on the http://www.ibookbinding.com/ website (which I’ve just stumbled across) explains all – “The design has sets of nine squares, each made up of nine lines. This reflects the repeated reference to the ‘perfect’ number nine which appears throughout the book – the root of nine being three, representing the Holy Trinity, and emphasising the perceived perfection of Beatrice. The black lines at the edge represent the encroaching presence of death, and the red background reflects Beatrice’s crimson coloured dress”.
Elsewhere I was particularly taken with Kaitlin Barber’s dramatic interpretation of the set book, which won the St. Bride Foundation Prize for Finishing (and in my view should perhaps have won more than that). There’s a better description of it than I could write on the ibookbinding.com website again. Another binding I particularly liked was Ann Tout’s quietly effective work (the set book again), which took the J. Hewit & Sons Prize.
Also much admired was Jeanette Koch’s interpretation of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, which picked up both the Arthur Johnson Prize (judged by Bernard Middleton) and The Judges’ Award (donated by Maggs Bros.)
My own prize – the Ash Rare Books Lettering Award – went this year to the London-based Polish binder Piotr Jarosz. He was somewhat surprised: he didn’t think he would win anything as his binding was probably the only relatively conventional one in the entire competition, but no harm in that – and hand lettering is immensely difficult. Well done to him.
I started giving the award a good many years ago because I became frustrated at the number of lovely designs I saw each year which either opted out of lettering completely (it is difficult – but a book without a visible title is of course anathema to a bookseller), or let themselves down with completely inappropriate or just poorly executed lettering. It remains a problem – but I’m happy to continue donating the award in hope of better things.