An acquisition for the John Emmerson Collection, State Library Victoria

Rare Books Collection, photograph supplied by SLV

An acquisition for the John Emmerson Collection, State Library Victoria

by Dr Anna Welch, Senior Librarian History of the Book and Arts, State Library Victoria

11 Oct, 2021

Categories: News

Transforming the Early Modern Archive‘ is an ARC funded linkage project, bringing researchers together from State Library Victoria, ANU, La Trobe University, University of Newcastle and Victoria University of Wellington. The project is investigating the John Emmerson Collection which comprises more than 5000 titles, in 3500 early modern printed volumes. The bequest includes a significant financial endowment to ensure that the collection would continue to grow and thrive. In 2019, an exceptional acquisition was made for the Emmerson Collection: a 1634 Bible and Book of Common Prayer published by Robert Barker in London, which features an exquisite embroidered silk binding (RAREEMM 2019/11). The binding, which is contemporaneous with the publication date, features raised silver wire-work oval cartouche, with a lion mask at the top and bottom and pink and blue silk flowers in the corners. The allegorical female figures of Plenty and Peace are included on the upper and lower boards, respectively. Plenty is accompanied by a cornucopia of silver wire-work, while Peace holds a green silk palm-frond.   

Embroidered bindings were an important aspect of the culture of luxury goods associated with the Stuart court, and several surviving examples are associated with Charles’ queen Henrietta Maria.  Most unusually, this particular binding can be linked to a small group of bindings identified as the work of one individual or workshop:  

It is a measure of the significance of John’s collection and his generous dedication to its ongoing study that two of this very important group of eight bindings are now in Melbourne. The study of this group, and of the other embroidered bindings in the John Emmerson Collection, is a focus for our research project, and will hopefully lead to new knowledge about the individual or workshop that produced these examples, as well as about the creation and reception of embroidered bindings in Stuart culture more broadly. As key features of our digital exhibition (launching 2022), they will also spur us on to develop more enriching methods for digital engagement with the materiality of the book.