Rare Book of the Month: Breeches Bible with Embroidered Binding

As a theology library, we have a large number of bibles in our rare books collection, but this 1603 Breeches Bible bears one of the more unique bindings in our collection. Donated in 2012, we haven’t shared images of this striking example of a 17th century embroidered binding.

Embroidered book bindings reached peak popularity in England during the late 16th and 17th centuries. Due to the work involved in creating them, these bindings were commonly made for or commissioned by clergy or royalty and made from textiles that included velvet, silk or canvas. Embroidered bindings were typically found on personal Bibles and prayer books, and standard subject matter included Biblical scenes, decorative floral designs, or family coats of arms. During this period, some of the patterns used were derived from popular published pattern books and executed by professional embroiderers. Due to the fragility of fabric, there are fewer embroidered bindings that survive in comparison to hardier materials like leather. As can be seen in our example, the binding has been rebacked at some point to reinforce the binding.

Select images to enlarge gallery.

 

Provenance

Slip inserted into bible detailing provenance informationAccording to a slip accompanying this Bible, it originally belonged to Adam Loftus, Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1619 created in 1622 Viscount Loftus of Elye, and was donated to the library by one of his descendants. The embroidered coat of arms on the front and back covers depicts the Loftus family coat of arms.

Resources on embroidered bindings

If you’re interested in exploring more detailed information about embroidered bindings, the following resources are recommended.

British Library: English embroidered bookbindings
British Library: Database of Bindings: Embroidered
Princeton University Library: Hand bookbindings: embroidered bindings

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