Binding Tyndale

Many members of the Tyndale Society have occupations and avocations that are very disparate. I would like to share here some of the musings of an amateur bookbinder who is also interested in William Tyndale.

Bookbinders are not born, they study for as long as they can. Having taken many bookbinding classes with the Southern California Hand Bookbinders, I was able to participate in a very important session in January 1986. 'The group was sponsored by Mr Mel Caven at his commercial Bindery and led by Ms Griselda Warr who was working as a Binder and Restorer at the Huntington Library of San Marino. She taught us how to bind books without using glue or paste. This technique was developed by the restorers of the ancient books damaged by the flood in Florence, Italy. The books treated by the restorers that were sewn into vellum covers could be completely restored and sewn into new vellum covers. The books that were glued into hardbound covers as we know them today were severely damaged. Some of the pages were not complete, and needed to be reconstructed. Since the time in the 1980s when these professionals reported on their findings, many conservators have been using the sewn limp vellum technique to restore ancient books in museums or libraries.

After enjoying this class, and binding many vellum books with nothing but blank pages, I started to look for printed material to use. A Rare Book Dealer in Los Angeles had seven small unbound books that were printed in the Medieval/Renaissance style. I was so eager to bind up these lovely handprinted pages into vellum, that I scarcely read the contents. (This reminds me of the Tyndale 1526 Bible that was hiding in a rebound state in Stuttgart, Germany for so long.)

When I attended the Tyndale Conference at the Huntington Library in 1996, 1 looked at my little vellum four Gospels again. Much to my joy, I found that they were reprints of the 1526 Tyndale Gospels. The Anvil Press was run by Victor Hammer and his son, Jacob, as pressman, printed the text.

'The prospectus of 1954 to promote Victor Hammer's series of four Gospels says: 'The Four Gospels from William Tyndale's translation of the New Testament 1526 have been chosen as the third publication (in four volumes) of the Anvil Press.' The only known copy of Tyndale's 1526 octavo edition was then in the Baptist College at Bristol, England. The text of the Hammer edition was copied from the reprint of the Bristol book published in 1836 by Samuel Bagster of London.

The illustrations of the Evangelists were woodcuts made by Victor Hammer and taken from the Holkham Bible drawings.
woodcuts of evangelists by Victo Hammer

The prospectus also quotes the London Times Literary Supplement, 17, ix, 1954,p.592:
The glory of English prose style begins with Tyndale, 'he was no mere translator', for 'the language, the style and measure of Tyndale's New Testament is a finer language, style and measure than the Greek which it translates'. How it happened, nobody can say. But the face of English letters is changed for all time.

An interest in books can lead one down many paths. There is always another turn to take, from a study of the writer/translator, to the paper used, the printing style, and finally, to the style of binding used to present the book. This has been a fascinating journey for this Tyndale Bookbinder

Margaret Class, June 2000

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