17c velvet binding with silver hardware. 1638 The Holy Bible. London, printed by Robert Barker and assignes of John Bill.


Beautiful English 1638 Holy Bible, bound in green velvet, with silver hardware.

Before the English Civil War, velvet bindings were en vogue among the elite; there are a number of known examples which were produced for King Charles I, amongst others. The velvet was often red, or silver; green velvet bindings are not as common and existing examples are few due to the delicate nature of velvet.

Roughly 130 years later, this book was in Lancashire, owned by the Muckelt family, whose births and baptisms circa, 1760-1770, grace the endpapers.

There is an interesting tie between Lancashire and velvet, being that the region was known for its velvet production.

Indeed, I found a nearby Manchester man's 1640 will (Nathan Walworth), in which he describes his newly bound "greene velvet" bible. Walworth's portrait engraver pictured the Bible before him, and it bears some similarity to this Bible.

That's not to say that commoners enjoyed Bibles such as these, Nathan Wolworth was an aide to The Earl of Pembroke; his earnings were great enough that he financed the building of Ringley Chapel.

In 1638, the Milliners (and those "keeping shopps in the Royall Exchange") petitioned the Archbishop of Canterbury, stating that "rare and curious covers of imbrothery and needleworke"... are "richly bound up for ye nobility and gentry of this kingdome, for whome and not for common persons, they are indeed most fitt."

In the early 20th century this book was collected by John Rowland Abbey, and his label graces the clamshell box he had executed to protect the book (also, he wrote his reference number on both the endpapers of the Bible).

About Royal Velvet Bindings -

Cyril Davenport wrote a wonderful book on the subject, English Embroidered Bookbindings (1899); a copy can be found scanned to Google Books. In Davenport's book, he documents the growth and development of embroidered bindings, which remained popular until the English Civil War.

A manuscript binder's bill, from the time of James I, lists "Item for bindinge one in greene velvet in English and Latten for the Prince", and "Item for greene velvet for the Prince's booke". (Book-lore, page 19, Vol. IV, 1886)

Green velvet was popular in the period, Shakespeare even mentioned "my green velvet coat" in his Winter's Tale.

Nathan Waldorth's 1640 will stated, "Unto my cozin Hugh Parre my new Bible covered with greene velvet".

Editor's note - pure speculation here, but I can't help but wonder if the book engraved in the Waldorth portrait is the same book here offered, but with some poetic license taken in the execution of the engraving. It would explain how a common family came into possession of the sumptuous binding, Lancaster being not too far remote from Ringley.

About the Muckelt family -

Various Lancaster and Lancashire records reveal that 1. the Muckelts were shipbuilders and farmers, and 2. several records capture that their family name spelling was fluid; a 1736 Indenture of Thomas Muckelt was signed "Thomas Muggelt", and an entry in the Warton Parish Registers states "another James Muckelt, perhaps his son (the spelling seems to be interchangeable)".

Perhaps of interest, a 1621 will of Henry Fletcher, a London "Merchant Tailor", bequeathed most his possessions to his Muckelt cousins and requested burial in Cartmell. This is notable because Lancashire was known for production of cloth, including velvet, and here a tailor of London revealed his ties to Lancashire and the Muckelts.

In the mid-1700s, the King was sharing trade secrets with France and a response of the "Poor Cotton Spinners" noted, "to bring a velvet to the summit of beauty, yet remains the province of Lancashire alone." (An Impartial Representation of the Case of the Poor Cotton Spinners, page 6, 1780)

The records show that the Muckelt family was spread throughout Lancashire, but most records are related to Cartmel. Bridget (who, it seems, wrote the endpapers) was buried in Cartmel, at the Priory Church of St. Mary and St. Michael, aged 75, on 25 Jan 1810 (per the Priory Church's post online "Burials at Priory Church...").

For more Muckelt records, see the Priory Church of St Mary and St Michael, Cartmel online records, as well as A List of Lancashire Wills Proved within the Archdeaconry of Richmond.

Bibliographic Details -

English Short Title Catalogue number 006194379; ESTC takes care to note that this is the edition in which the third line of the first column of the third leaf (our first leaf, because leaves A1 and A2 are missing) states, "and the earth". This matches our copy. This was the same edition used for the Pierpont Morgan's velvet binding of Charles I (noted in the ESTC record).

Google has several other Barker Bible printings of 1638 scanned online, but neither has the same third line on the recto of leaf A3.

John Rolland Abbey -

John Roland Abbey commissioned the clamshell, and wrote his catalogue number on both endpapers (as well as a sticker at the bottom of the clamshell).

"Abbey would become the largest English book collector of his time." - Wikipedia

Roland collected from 1929-1969, and his collection sold at auction for almost one million pounds.

There is one inscription, at the top of the front endpaper, which I can't decipher; it may either be a cypher, or scribbling. Could these strange characters reveal the 1st owner of this beautiful book?

About the Silver Hardware -

Apostles are found at all four corners, on both boards, including some not as commonly found; for example, "S. Matthias", the disciple that replaced Judas, is shown with an axe, a common iconography for him. The other Judas is also represented.

At the centers of the boards, on the front we find Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with nard, and at the rear is Jesus making wine.

One of the four clasp connections is retained, quite beautiful in design, with three sunflowers emanating out/up/down, and a fourth floret going towards the board.

I have looked at a lot of 17th century velvet bindings and have not found a matching example of hardware.

Physical Attributes -

Measures approx. 15.2 x 8.5 x 4.2 cm, ESTC notes it is 12mo. Green velvet binding with silver hardware. All edges gilt. Printed with red rule. Title pages for the NT and Psalms.

Due to the fragility of the binding, I'm selling this as a binding. I did not completely collate it. I gently reviewed it, and it seems that it's mainly complete, short of the first two leaves, signed A1 and A2.

Condition -

See pictures. Clamshell case with some wear; top and bottom of joints starting, and a sticker has been removed from the base of the spine. The book's binding is worn with leather exposed around the edges. The joints and hinges are cracked, the boards largely held on by the spine's bands. Three clasp mounts are missing, leaving the remnant of one side's mount. The silver has tarnished and has some darkening. At places there is some loss of the outermost velvet. The spine seems to have been opened too far (or had hardware running up the center) which caused the spine to buckle inward, leaving the middle gatherings of leaves proud; the proud leaves have some wear to the edges. The text block is darkened.

The book is missing leaves A1 and A2; the first leaf is signed A3, and begins Genesis. Both pastedowns have lengthy family records.

Sold as binding only, I don't want to explore the text block page-by-page in case of damaging the binding but a cursory look seems that it's complete. It was not written in, but there is an occasional thumb, dog-eared page, etc. Some toning to pages throughout.

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