Gilding the Lily

January 13th, 2017

The four volumes of the Thordarson Collection copy of Audubon’s masterwork, Birds of America, feature uniform and striking bindings by Riviere & Sons in London. In line with what was evidently Thordarson’s taste (with guidance from such advisors as J. Christian Bay and Walter Hill), the leather is a deep, dark green; consistent with Riviere & Sons practice, the volumes are ornamented with much gold stamping and gilt edges. On closer examination, the borders feature birds — scarcely surprising — but also fish and dogs, along with many other decorative elements.

Detail of binding on Audubon's Birds of America, vol. 3. From the Thordarson Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Detail of binding on Audubon’s Birds of America, vol. 3. From the Thordarson Collection, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

And the gilding on the edges of the pages of all four volumes reflects well, dare we say, on the binders and their craft.

Gold stamping on the binding of the Thordarson Collection copy of Audubon's Birds of America, as reflected in the gilt edges of the paper.

Gold stamping on the binding of the Thordarson Collection copy of Audubon’s Birds of America, as reflected in the gilt edges of the paper.

Since there is more to the books than their covers, we also call your attention to the digitized version of “Audubon’s Birds of America at the University of Pittsburgh” with high-quality images of the plates in the University of Pittsburgh copy of the double-elephant folio, accompanied by the descriptions in the related text volumes of Ornithological biography.