The Jeweled Chaucer

One of the more elusive copies of the Chaucer is in a jeweled binding by Sangorski & Sutcliffe . This is the information we have about it so far.

In 1920, Publishers’ Weekly [97 (20 March 1920): 955] reported that a Kelmscott Chaucer in a £5,000 jeweled binding was on its way to an American collector in New York. We do not know the name of the collector.

The next sighting of the book is at the David Gage Joyce sale in 1973. The catalogue entry is in our Census:

4.587   23 September 1973, Hanzel Galleries (Chicago), lot 63. The collection of David Gage Joyce. “Bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe in brown morocco, with green morocco doublures and flyleaves, silver gilt and jewelled cornerpieces and clasps and the whole binding richly inlaid, gold tooled and set with precious stones. . . . The principal features of the front cover are the Arms of Chaucer as represented in the early folios of his collected works, and the Arms of the Cities of London and Westminster; the back cover features the Arms of Chaucer’s patron John of Gaunt, and other relevant armorial devices; the front doublure is gilt tooled with verse and border designs. The sumptuousness of this binding was achieved by the use of 700 separate pieces of inlaid leather, 7 pieces of mother-of-pearl, 109 garnets, 27 small rubies, 15 moonstones, 15 amethysts, 8 aventurines, 2 lapis lazuli, a small sapphire, and other jewels. Hinges are cracked, 1 clasp broken. In a brown morocco covered box.” (Sold to Marshall Ward for $35,000.) [See also 1978 (Borg); 23 March 1982 (Sotheby); 24 May 1983 (Sotheby); 25 June 2001 (Sotheby); 7 November 2002 (Sotheby).]

There is an error in the above passage: it was Marshall Field, not Marshall Ward, that purchased the book from the Hanzel Galleries. In 1974, it was on display at Marshall Field’s Rare Book Department, Chicago, for $100,000 (see Port Arthur, Texas News, 30 December 1974):

Also in 1974, according to Richard Cady, who was manager of the Rare Book Department of Marshall Field at the time, the hinge was repaired at the Donnelley Bindery at the Lakeside Press for $1500.

Christine Liska of Colophon Books remembers that James Borg, who had the book in 1978, sent the book to the Shah of Iran on approval. If so, the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and the Shah’s death, must have either interrupted or canceled the sale. Whatever happened, Sotheby’s sold it in 1982.

Please let us know if you have any more information about the history or whereabouts of this book.

[Our thanks to Richard Cady and Christine Liska for their contributions.]

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