The current Reed Gallery exhibition explores the outer covers of books - their bindings.

The collecting interests of the donor of the Reed Collections, Alfred Reed (1875-1975) were diverse. His beloved books ranged from early and significant editions of the Bible to the literary works of Johnson and Dickens; from examples of early printed books to ‘association’ or signed and inscribed copies.

Reed’s eclectic approach enabled him to amass a collection of books whose temporal parameters ranged from the late fifteenth to the early twentieth century. The Dunedin Public Library’s Reed Collection thus naturally includes a striking diversity of specimens of the art and craft of bookbinding over several centuries.

The upcoming exhibition Plain to Ornate: Bookbindings from the Reed Collection contains a myriad of bookbindings ranging from humble to deluxe, from plain to ornate.

Prior to the onset of mechanised book production in the early nineteenth century, bindings were individually hand produced with the covering materials typically derived from animal skins. On show are books bound with traditional leathers: calfskin, sheepskin, pigskin, or morocco, ranging from decidedly plain to stylishly ornate. Examples of fine morocco leather bindings by quality European binders including Sangorski & Sutcliffe, Riviere and Zaehnsdorf, also feature.

Certain unusual or rare binding materials also feature, including tortoiseshell, wood, silk, velvet and hemp. Interesting binding features are also highlighted, such as gold and blind tooling, gauffered edges, and doubloures.

The use of paper as a book covering also features, with the emergence of marbled paper over boards, or simpler plain paper covers. The Victorian era shift towards decorative publishers’ bindings in cloth is highlighted, with a range of nineteenth century linen-bound coverings of numerous colours, subtly varying grains, and manifold degrees of decoration.

The exhibition also showcases three fine bindings by early twentieth century Dunedin-based bookbinder Mary Eleanor Joachim (1874-1957), who learnt her trade with the prominent London bookbinding company Sangorski & Sutcliffe.