We recently acquired a copy of Thomas a Kempis’s famous devotional work De imitatione Christi (Bdg.s.950), which was printed in Mechelen, Germany, in 1885. The book is of particular interest because of its modelled goatskin binding:
The binding is in the style of the Scottish bookbinder Annie MacDonald (d. 1924), who invented the very technique for modelling leather for bookbindings. The design is traced onto the dampened leather and a small tool called a Dresden is used to carefully press the background and mould the relief design. Undressed goatskin mellows with age from white to the rich amber colour you can see in the image.
Annie MacDonald, who got her inspiration from medieval books, began teaching herself and others in the early 1890s. That group became known as the Edinburgh Arts and Crafts Club.
This binding was almost certainly done by an accomplished pupil of Annie MacDonald’s. A possible clue to her identity is given by an inscription on one of the front endpapers: Kathleen from M.D.M. ‘M.D.M.’ may be Mrs. Douglas Maclagan, one of the Edinburgh women binders.
Find out more about Scottish decorative bookbinding on our website. You can also view a selection of Scottish bindings.