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The Bookbinding Career of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt


From the foreword to Marianne Titcombe's The Bookbinding Career of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt (Pittsburgh, 1974):

The craft of bookbinding requires precise muscular control, persistence, and a dauntless temperament, especially if the hand binder carries out all of the operations involved in sewing, forwarding, and tooling.

It is entertaining to learn that the youthful Rachel McMasters Miller "thought it would be great fun to be an acrobat," because that calling requires the same physical and nervous attributes.

Shown here is an example of Mrs. Hunt's bookbinding style. She studied under Euphemia Bakewell, who had studied under the famous English binder T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, and practiced bookbinding from 1904 to 1920. The Bookbinding Career of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt describes 126 of her bindings.

The art of bookbinding calls for different sensibilities: an aptitude for decorative design, a sense of color, a feeling for the physical qualities of a book (its shape and even its smell), and a response to the textual or graphic qualities of the contents.

It is rare to find combined in one person both the technical and artistic powers required to carry out satisfactorily all the steps necessary to create a gilt-tooled leather bookbinding from start to finish. For this reason, for several centuries the various stages have commonly been accomplished by different persons in a bindery, sewing by one, forwarding by another, and finishing (tooling and onlaying) by the principal craftsman of the team. But Miss Miller followed through all parts of the process herself except edge gilding, which normally is executed by a specialist possessing the necessary equipment. When the gilt edges of leaves were to be gauffered ... Miss Miller added this ultimate refinement.

... What inspired her? Quite simply, I am convinced, a passion for books. A visit to the Roycrofters when in her late teens stimulated her to compose, write, decorate, and bind a book of poems. If the verse limped and the lettering lacked polish, no matter—the entire little book was her own creation. In one of her lectures on bookbinding she said: "It adds doubly to the joy of ownership for the bibliophile to have a part in the binding of his books. They should represent his taste and reflect his personality. Few possessions are more intimate than one's books." She also believed that the binding should be "suggestive of the book itself ... or perhaps the mood of the writer."

... When she began to raise her family of sons, Mrs. Hunt realized that she could not do justice both to that task and to her career in bookbinding. So, rather than give less than her best, she completely gave up binding and, deep-dyed bibliophile that she was, turned to developing her great collection of botanical books, prints, and manuscripts. This volume is a concise history of the first of her notable careers.

—Frederick B. Adams, Jr.

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