The Bookbindings of Francis Longinus Sangosrki

by John Harrison Stonehouse

Francis Longinus Sangorski, worthy follower in the wake of that illustrious line of master craftsmen which extended from Benvenuto Cellini to William Morris, was born on Mach 15th 1875. He was the youngest of four sons of a polish emnigree, and Lydia his English wife.

At the age of 17 Sangorski was apprenticed to Charles Ferris, bookbinder of St Martiond Lane. Fgour years later in 1896 he joined a s a student an evening bookbinding class of the London County Council school of Arts and Crafts in Regent Street where he was fortunate enough in having Mr Douglas Cockerell as his instructor. It was here on the opening evening of the class that he met George Sutcliffe, his future partner. In March 1898 the two students entered the annual technical competition held by the L.C.C., when they both gained the highest awards - a scholarship consisting of money grants of 20 for three years together with free evening tuition.

This was a happy augury for future success, for only ten of those scholarships were available in London for all crafts. In April 1898 Sangorski was engaged by Mr Cockill as a 'forwarder' in his own buisiness, and in the following January Sutcliffe, on finishing his apprenticeship at the binding dapartment of Mudie's Library was also engaged by Mr Cockerell as a 'finisher'.

In January 1901 both Sangorski and Sutcliffe were appointad by the L.C.C. as instructors at tha Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. Their scholarships expired in the following April but were renewed for another year in recognition of their remarkable ability. In the October following, the two student workmen left Mr Cockerell's service and set up for themselves in two small attic ronm at No. 5 Bloomsbury Square. A few months later they removed to larger premises at 2 Vernon Place nearby.

Three years later In 1905, Sangorski and Suteliffe moved again, and this time to much larger premisses at No. 11 Southampton Row. It was hare that they started to produce jewelled bindings for which they bacame famous. The first example being a copy of Spencer's Epithalamion, which was bound in morocco with five pearls set in the centre of a Tudor rose.

Their first peacock binding was a copy of Macmillan's edition of Omar Khayyam in inlaid morocco with 21 opals set in the outstretched tail of the bird. This was exhibited at the international book production exhibition at Frankfurt-am-Main, and was bought by the museum there. During the next year, 1906, Sengorski attended a writing and illuminating class at the Central School of Arts and Crafts under Mr. Edward Johnston and shortly afterwards, not only began himself to practise illuminating, but also taught the art to his elder brother Alberto Sangorski, the most famous of modern illuminators, who died quite recently.

Sangorski left the Camberwell binding class in 1907 to take charge of a new evening class formed at the Northamptoh Institute, an appointment which he held until his death in 1912. His experience there, and in other evening classes as student and intsructor, covered a period of sixteen years. It was in 1907 that 1 first met Sangorski, when he brought a letter of introduction from a church dignitary, and asked to be allowed to show me a lectern bible which the Archbishop of Canterbury had commissioned his firm to bind, previous to its presentation by King Edward VII to the United Statas in commemoration of the tercentenary of the established church in America. I recognised at once the justice of his contention that there was something more in the design and execution of the work than was usually to be found in an ordinary piece of commercial binding and that the appreciation of it which had been expressed in the press was fully justified.

I met Sangoraki at intervals daring the next few months ,when he showed me other specimens of his work, nearly all of which were set in jewels, each tending to become more ambitious and elaborate than the last, whilst I also bagan to be influenced by his extraordinary personality, dynamic energy and enthusiasm for his work.

Omar Khayyam was his favourite book for binding, partly because of the subject and nationality of it and to a small extent its size and shape (crownm quarto) were particularly adaptable to his scheme of dacoration.

In most of his designs, the peacock and grapevine dominated, and gradually it seemed that the former was becoming his fetish, whilst I used to think that his dreams must have been of oriental lands and colours which he had never seen. I was at first influenced more by Sangorski's use of the grapevine motif that that of the peacock, and whilst he was developing the latter in his designs, my mind was centred on the grapes.

Finally I decided to give him an order to bind a copy of Symond's 'Wine Women and Song' with very elaborate bunches of grapes formed groups of amethystssst in gold. This was a small volume about 5 1/2 " by 3 1/2 " and when finished was the most exquisitely beautiful modern binding I have ever seen. It would be difficult to compare it with the magnificent 'Omar', for that would be like comparing the beauty of Aphrodite to the glory of Juno. The Symonds was sold almost immediataly, but fortunataly it was photographed before it went away, so that I am able to include an illustration of it on page 12.

At this tima 'Kismet' was being played at the Garrick Theatre and Sangorski went to see it several times, and nearly always called at Piccadilly on tha following morning, when he would describe the perfect riot of colour in the scenes, which appeared to have an almost intoxicating affect on him; and he would show me his programme, the margins of which he covered with sketches to be used later on as the the basis of designs for binding.

One of Sangorski's personal characteristics which amused and impressed me was the extraordinary bluntness and thickness of his fingers, coupled with his curious manner of gesticulation as we sat talking with each other, when he would tell me of the things he had done and the things he could do "if only he had the chance".  His work had received generous recognition at home and abroad, but it seemed that his ambition outstripped his opportunity. He would talkofthis with regret, and I used to wach him with astonishment, whilst he tried to describe to me the masterpieces which he could produce - if only as he said someone would give him a commission to bind the original edition of Vedder's Omar Khayyam which was large enough to carry a very elaborate design, containing a wealth of of detail with rich inlays inset with innumerable jewels. As he talked thus , he seemed to lose himself, and waving his great thick forefinger in the air he would say "I would stand three peacocks abnd surround them with jewelled decoration such has never been dreamed of before". I would do "this", "that" and "the other", he would declare eagerly, all the time gesticulating with his big forefinger, until bye and bye he would come down to earth and acknowledge with a sigh that his dream was a futile one.

We had severalsuch conversations until there came a day - and I can see him now in my mind's eye with his great forefinger waving in the air, when I interrupted him by placing my forefinger on his chest and said"All right, sangorski, go ahead". "What", he said, " Do you mean it?" "Yes", I said, "Do it, and do it well. There is no limit. Put what you like in the binding and charge what you like for it. The greater the price, the more I shall be pleased, provided only that it is understood that you do, and what you charge for, will be justified by the result. And the book when finished is to be The Greatest Modern Binding in the World."-------"These are the only instructions."

Sangorski was overjoyed at the opportunity to produce what he knew would be a masterpiece. For qr part, 1 had "ooguisa4 tlmt It would be no UM l.:r. Sotboran to give an open order augh as thlat-but 1 felt that 1 wan ja by my knowledge that thare never had been In the 41atQry of the bindlx% t such an extraordinary genius asicanisoraki both gig a 9ig3@r and a craft t La t h,@ was capable of producing a binding such an Itha world bad never 360 Losing no time Sangorski sat to work on hie preliminary ake@abon andldojg:~. ,.vhich lie brought at intervals to show =9, end It was a delight to witnes@ 07 and enthusiasm with which ha entered into every detail of the b forefinger Was alivays busy when describing the progress of the work. Re tol onu day that ha would have a skull with a poppy growing out of It In one -of d.,@signse and a few days later he showed me a fuu-sized drawing of a humus together with a letter f=m an eminent surgeon, pronouncing It to be the finest drawing* of Its kind he had ever seen.@ Tbres clays later be brought me In to look@ at a small model of the skull In white calf and lvoryg before It wee Inserted in the back doublurs of the book. On another oocallon he aaked It 1 could &how him an Illustration of a senpat striking Its prey. An 1 was unable to satisfy him, he rushed off to the Zoo to make enquiries there. Meeting him next clay he told me he bad found t#at the public wore not allowed to sea the snakes fed. *Howe"rd. ha addedy 111 arranged the matter and succeeded In getting one of the attendants to feed a snake by slipping arat. through a trap door Into its cage. The snake sprang at It - thus 11 5~oraU'ateldR.@ holdlbng up his hand with his great forefinger and t~ extended "That was just what 1 wanted to see".-*the angle of Its javam, A tow days later he brought m In a snake modelled in different coloured moreocon all ready to be :fitted Into It@ allotted place In the front doublure. 1 particularly wanted to have the ~r on view at 4,3 I>Iooadllly du~'gw celebrations In connection with the coronation of King Geaorge Ve but as the :t~lb@ cover was not finished In time, the book was shown In Its unfinished state. and was sent back to the workshop for completion afterwards. 1 had a little bit of fun with Sa"oxaki before the "r finally appeared at Piccadilly in Its finished state. Ea wag naturally proud 4bf hie and took the book round to show a number of his friends. @Meentim; 1 woe ex"ctlm It daily and had telephoned several times for dall"ryg, Beginning at last to 3~ patience 1 made up my mind to go and fetch It inyisel:r; calling at the wor~p t Sputhampton Row 1 learned that Sangoraki was out and that he had the book with him* It was then midday, but 1 had a very good Idea where to look* and found him In the Holborn Resaturent. The large front hall had a miau buffet on %be 'left going in, with a screen across to break the draughts, On entering 1 could just ace the top of Sangore#lg a head above the screen, and projecting beyond the edge of tlae 6or*ca 1 saw, resting on a stoole the box 1 know must contain the Omar. Dropping on zj hand.% and knees 1 managed to slip the box off the stool, and was about to iea"PO without Sangorski seeing me, when the girl behind the barp cat~ slot or tho reflection of thellthlof" in the mirrors with which she was surrounded. su%oemd out "He has gotyou-r book*." We had a good laugh together o"r this. and wbat a trielit poor Sangorski would have got if the girl had not given tho ale=, and,l had been able to gat away with the book, llha original edition of Vedder@a Illustrated Gmer XhtWyaz, as most POOPU know, is a single volume 0f4A"q"uarto 31zat wasuri" 16 inches by 13. The b took nearly two years to complete. " designs wore by ~orau; the book Ime, forwarded by S. Byrna.9, and the finishing was done by G. Loyett, It was In crow morocco, beautifully decorated with thousea" of leather luays, and act with

no less than 1C50 JOW613. For abaoIU4a richness of design and beauty of decoration It 13 no exaggeration +@o say that It '.783 the finest and most remarkable specimen of binding ever,dasignad or produced -@t any period or in any country. @-@.angorski'=de six separa4@a designs idor the book; two for each of the outside Covers, doublurea and tha fly laavet. In the front cover, the eyes of the peacockat feathers ivi3ze $arched ,vith 97 topazes, all of Nhich were specially cut to tlia correct shame of the eye, and the c:resta of the birds being suggested by 18 tU=(ZU0i3aS, ,vliila rubies were inset to form ayes. The Surrounding border and corner piacae% we're sat with 289 garnets, turquoises and olivine.9, the outer grape- vine border was inlaid In br,.von and green morocco and Sat with 250 amethysts arranged so as to form bunches of t">rape3. The back cover was sat .dth 198 tur- qUO1b3B3 and olivine3* and in the centre zl 2Jm ,vas inset a model of a Per3ian m-indoline zada of mahogany inlaid .,.,ith ail"r satinwood and ebony. The front doublu:ca .vas dividad into a number of sunken panels, and In tha centre one Vaa a subtle suggestion of Stanza 58 0 thou .vho man of ba3ar earth didat =aka, and ,Nho with -@'dan didat devise the snake" - the dominating feature bein-- a snake modelled and inlaid in various coloured leathers, with ivory taoth and an @amerald sat in as an aye, =rounded by and entwined among conventional ar--:anganenta of an apple trea:k :nth tha sun suggested in solid -old appearing through the foliage. the .7hola of tha background being closely felled with gold data, throwing the designs slightly into relief. The panel jas also intended to be an emblematical suggestion of "Life,,. The de signs of the back doublure .vas intended ar-blematiC31 3Ug-a3ting death. In tha suni@.an panel of the doublure anpeared a realistic representation of a skull, modelled in leather$ ,vith carved ivory tooth, awroundad with a design based on a po@D_ny: the floral symbol of death -,liich appears to be growing out of the ayarsocket. The front fly-leaf vans decorated ,vith an intricate 3trapwork border -,vitIL an inlaid rose in the cormr; the introduction of the rose bets intended to f=thar carry out the -suggestion of Life at the beginning of the book.. The back fly-laaf the @,.nt one, but the designs in the corners, instead ,van similar in appearance to of being based on the r03ap sugc,63 .ing Lifeg was composed of a conventional trestmant of the deadly nightshada, which but to taste is Death. 'fter the termination of the coronation celebrations, It was decided that I should go to -America to exhibit the Omr there. 1 made my arrangements, engaged rcons in tlew York# and aant the book forward so that it ,vould be through the cu3tnmg before my arrival. Two days before 1 was due to start, I received to My di=ay, a cable, tram our shipping agent stating that th-a custom authorities had claimed duty on tha book. Under tha regulations then axiating in -",merica, not only ware books =ore than,20 years Old duty frae, (as they Still are) but it itaa then permissible to put a non-dutiable book in an expensive binding without hacing to pay duty on the binding. Tba edition of the Omax which we had used was undated, but knowing that it was @ubliabed 2; in 1884, we naturally 3up-oaed that the customs would accepjo it an a duty-free book. Eouever@ they claimed that the publishers had, or might have, nrintad off copies from the same plates at a males later data, thus b:?inging tha book. ,aithtin tha dutiable -oeriod. There was, however, no means by T.Yhich -ie could diadrove thin 3UDPOSitiOn, and an :-@Oth6raU C0n3idared himself justified in -a fusing to pay duty, tha emar was returned to us. 3'atality saemi@to follow tha book, for no sooner had the book returned to @hecudilly than a dispute arose between t'-T. Sotheran and Sangaraki respecting.; payment for the binding; an a result of .vhich Sotha:van, much to FLY dist-,uat, decided th.,3t lie .voul-d have nothing =ore to do vrlth tha emar, and inatructad =a to Send i'w, to Sotheby?3 to be gold .nthout reserve.