French Decorative Bookbinding - Eighteenth Century

Pierre-Paul Dubuisson (fl 1746-1762) - Decorative Tools
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L'Office de la Semaine-Sainte, à l'usage de la maison du Roy,
Paris: J-F Collombat, 1748. (216 x 133 x 54 mm.) (P1319) BLDB shelfmark Davis541

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click this link to go to the BLDB enlargement

Please note that all images from the British Library Database of Bookbindings are subject to Copyright; see also Reproductions

Unfortunately I must report that Mirjam M. Foot has made an unpardonable error in the attribution of the binding shown above, (Davis541). One that may haunt her for the rest her days as an expert on bookbindings. Within these web pages we have been researching together the work of Pierre-Paul Dubuisson and the relationship between his tools and those of Derome le jeune. By June of 2007 we had established conclusively that many of Derome's tools were copies of the Dubuisson tools. I notified the British Library Database of Bookbindings that they had erroneously attributed a number of bindings to Derome le jeune that had in fact been decorated by Dubuisson . My observations were noted, and in the case of Davis541 the attribution was changed. However, Mirjam has failed to notice these changes, and worst she has now published in her most recent book proof that she has not recognized the difference between the tools of Dubuisson and those of his imitator, Derome le jeune. Great authority sometimes results in great errors, errors that are then passed on, and repeated for generations. And this is in fact, what we find today: due to a compounding of errors by "experts", the attribution of bookbindings to bookbinders of the 18th century is in a serious mess.

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Comparative Diagram 1 - Dubuisson imprints (numbered) vs Derome imprints (without numbers).
(click on this image to see a greater enlargement).

I received recently in my email, a publicity page from Oak Knoll, for Mirjam's latest book,

The Henry Davis Gift A Collection of Bookbindings Volume III: A Catalogue of South-European Bindings by Mirjam M. Foot

This much anticipated third and final volume of The Henry Davis Gift focuses on South and East European fine bindings, with additional sections on Oriental and American bindings. It includes many new identifications, and owners and binders are discussed comprehensively. Not only have the decorative features of every binding been described and illustrated, details of structure have also been described, and consequently, it is now possible to compare and contrast bookbinders' practices in the various countries, as evident from this splendid collection of fine bindings.

With such fanfare, we are certain to imagine that Mirjam is a respected authority and bookbinding expert. How then could she have made such a blunder as we find on page 218? Here we find Mirjam's item number 172 (Davis541) , described as "A Paris binding by J-A or N-D Derome C. 1748 or after 1760." L'Office de la Semaine-Sainte, à l'usage de la maison du Roy, Paris: J-F Collombat, 1748. 8vo 216 x 133 x 54 (P1319) Davis 541

This binding is found in the British Library Database of Bookbindings, where it is correctly attributed to Dubuisson (due in part to my pointing out good reasons for such an attribution (as summarized here The first most obvious point to consider is that many of the Collombat Semaine Sainte editions are often found bound in the plaque-decorated bindings of Dubuisson.

On Mirjam's page 219 we find a reproduction of this binding that shows only the front board and not the spine which is a critically important element of this binding (and all others, for that matter). In this day and age, why on earth would anyone, who is writing a book about bookbindings, not at least provide a photograph of the spine as well as the board? This is like taking pictures of celebrities, but not getting their head in the picture!

(Readers, please take note: if you intend to write books and you hope to present yourself as a specialist and expert, please include photographs of more than one aspect of the item being described.)

Instead we find a Mirjam's precise description i.e. floral curls in the corners and a flower tool in the center, along with notes on provenance, references, (her own work is the only listed reference!), literature, followed by a special listing, Same tools on:, where we find a list of bindings that bear the same gold tooled imprints. One of the most interesting in this list is a "signed" Derome le jeune binding, found in the British Library, shelfmarked C.11.d.6.

I propose now that we compare the imprints found on this binding with those of Davis541 to see if they are really the same tools, as Mirjam claims. Fortunately we find quite a good photographic reproduction of Davis541 in the British Library Database of Bookbindings. I have reproduced this above and below I show scanned detail from the C.11.d.6 binding.

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British Library shelfmark C.11.d.6 (with ticket of Derome le jeune.)
(click on this image to see a 300dpi enlargement).

comparative diargam

Comparative Diagram 2 - Dubuisson imprint pd-2 (davis541) vs Derome imprint (c11d6)

comparative diargam

Comparative Diagram 3 - Dubuisson imprint pd-14 (davis541) vs Derome imprint (c11d6)

comparative diargam

Comparative Diagram 4 - Dubuisson imprint pd-30b (davis541) vs Derome imprint (c11d6)

We can see in the Comparative Diagrams above that the tools found on these two bindings are not the same. Further to this, we must not fail to observe that a deliberate attempt has been made on the part of Derome le jeune to copy the Dubuisson tools.

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Comparative Diagram 5 - c. 1746 Dubuisson binding vs Derome le jeune binding (c11d6)
(click on this image to see an enlargement).

In Comparative Diagram 5, I show a detail from a reproduction found in the 1938 Catalogue of Edouard Rahir, Volume III. item #738. This item is listed as a 1746 publication, and the decorative tooling is unmistakably that of Dubuisson, It may be that this is some of Dubuisson's early work and it is interesting to see the effort which Derome took to copy it, some 15 or more years later. Many of Derome's tools that can be seen here are simply copies of the Dubuisson originals.

Let us now consider one final detail: the palette found near the tail of the Davis541 spine, Mirjam describes the spine as:
Sewn on five cords, laced in, showing as raised bands o the spine, tooled in gold with dashes: six compartments, tooled in gold with floral curls in the corners and a flower tool in the center: a fleur-de-lis and flower roll near the tail:...

Davis54!  spine

Davis541 spine detail 300dpi scan - note Dubuisson palette

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Comparative Diagram 6 - Dubuisson plaque spine palette vs the Davis541 palette

This palette (described by Mirjam as a fleur-de-lis and flower roll), would have to be one the most well known palettes of the 18th century - a Dubuisson trade mark that was kept in circulation by the Dubuisson workshops, accompanying the Dubuisson plaques that were used to decorate the Almanach Royal for many decades. Failing to recognize this Dubuisson palette is comparable to a North American Vintage car collector not recognizing a Cadillac.

Thus, we must conclude that Mirjam has simply followed the path of error set forth by earlier 'experts' such as L-M Michon and Raphael Esmerian, despite the obvious clues that should have alerted her to these errors.

Mirjam has failed to recognize the work of one the most important bookbinders of the 18th century.

The work of Dubuisson has been incorrectly attributed to Padeloup, Jacques-Antoine Derome, Nicolas-Denis Derome, Douceur and others....

If you don't know Dubuisson you don't know 18th century bookbinding.

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1788 Almanach Royal, with Dubuisson plaque (Rahir-184k) (note spine palette)
(click on this image to see an enlargement).

click on this link to go to the next page: Dubuisson - cheap on eBay here you will see another Dubuisson binding with the same flower imprint as found in the Davis541 spine compartments (pd-52).

click on this link to return to: The Dubuisson Links page

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