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"Miller and Spitzmueller, 'Gift from the Desert' [from Meeting by Accident by Julia Miller]. This is a lavishly illustrated and clearly written study documenting the construction of the covers in an excellent manner and constitutes the most well-documented analysis to date of their construction and preservation."
— Lundhaug, Hugo. “Material Philology and the Nag Hammadi Codices." In The Dead Sea Scrolls and
the Nag Hammadi Codices. Eds. Dylan M. Burns and Matthew Goff, 118, fn. 44.
Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 103. Leiden: Brill, 2022.
One of the noted abolitionist Granville Sharp’s signature decorated-paper bindings on a collection of his opinions. Sharp paid to have his essays printed and bound, and gave them away to persuade others to his causes – thus the use of less-expensive (though very handsome) colored paper in place of leather and going to the expense of attractive gold tooling.
Sharp, Granville. Four titles on the equality of representation bound together. London: 1780.
Julia Miller’s second book grew out of the experience of writing Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings, now a recognized classic text on the subject. Meeting by Accident: Selected Historical Bindings is a very different sort of book, focusing on several specific binding types, initially and briefly identified in Books Will Speak Plain, but handled with greater attention here. The chapters of Meeting by Accident range across a broad spectrum of binding history; the first four chapters are intended to change our thinking about what constitutes an “important” binding type. The question we might want to begin asking ourselves is “How is this binding important?,” instead of judging whether it is important by old standards. The final two chapters tackle the idea of the early codex: Chapter 5 through a study of the fourth-century Nag Hammadi codices, co-authored with Pamela Spitzmueller, and Chapter 6 through a visual gallery of historic binding models and book-art pieces created by the author, almost all based on early codex exemplars.
Chapter 1. Beyond Tree Calf: Bindings Decorated by Staining
Chapter 2. Not Altogether Unpleasing: The Experiment with Canvas
Chapter 3. Wrapped with Care: Overcovers
Chapter 4. Good Enough for Galileo: Books Made for Scholars
Chapter 5. A Gift from the Desert: A Report on the Nag Hammadi
codices, co-authored with Pamela Spitzmueller
Chapter 6. A Model Approach
707 pages • 717 illustrations • full color • hardcover
10 x 7 in. • plus a DVD with 652 additional images and video
ISBN: 9781940965079 • $125.00
"Julia Miller embarked on an ambitious journey when she set out to write Meeting by accident: selected historical bindings. Book conservators, indeed book lovers in general, should be grateful for her diligence. Miller could have rested on her laurels after producing the acclaimed Books Will Speak Plain, instead choosing to elaborate on books that previously had received brief mention in that publication. Readers should not be intimidated by the high page count—707 pages of densely packed text—not only because the text is rich with information, but also it is complemented by 717 full-color images. The colored illustrations clarify Miller’s detailed focus on the bindings’ characteristics in a way that black and white or gray scale images would fail to do. Legacy Press is to be commended for committing to include so many full-color images, a costly production. The six chapters within Meeting by accident: selected historical bindings each could each could have merited a separate book; making this $125.00 volume a bargain.
Miller’s chosen topics for the first four chapters are binding styles that have not always received ample attention in binding structure or book history publications, in part because they are not generally considered to be the most glamorous styles and/or are lacking exciting ownership associations, for example. In those chapters she looks at: bindings decorated by staining, canvas bindings, over-covers, and books made for scholars. Miller clearly is fascinated by the techniques used by bookbinders of the past and, indeed, in these pages the structure of those books has become more interesting because of the questions that she poses and answers about them. Add to that, likely many an institution has examples of these styles either incorrectly, incompletely, or not identified because of the lack of readily available language with which to describe them. Miller has changed that, Meeting by accident has given catalogers and conservators precise terms to use for records or reports. The footnotes offer a wealth of information and their tone is conversational. Miller, recognizing that other conservators and bookbinders are in her reading audience, uses the footnotes to: explain her reasons for choosing a particular descriptive word, assiduously credit others either for their workshops or publications that further illuminate the topics, and offer links to on-line data-bases with additional visual aids to educate the viewer.
Chapter five, “A Gift from the Desert: A Report on the Nag Hammadi Codices”, can be summarized by Miller’s own words, “The purpose of this chapter is to give the reader an idea of what the Nag Hammadi bindings look like and how they were put together, and what they represent to the history of the codex and the history of hand bookbinding”. She completely delivers on those words and, as with the four prior chapters, has packed the numerous footnotes with more information and with the same painstaking effort to honor the research of others.
In “A Model Approach”, the final chapter in this pithy volume, Miller is, “urging the reader to engage with historical bindings by creating models of structures interesting to you. The rewards are great: you gain a better understanding of historical binding developments and you soon comprehend the possibilities (and limitations) of modern materials”. The models, she points out, have value beyond that given to creating a bookbinding—when used in a teaching setting, they offer cultural and historical importance. Seeing and interacting with a physical object engages a student beyond the knowledge gained by merely reading about its existence.
Julia Miller’s Meeting by Accident: Selected Historical Bindings, can be interpreted as a quiet yet persuasive call to preservation action, within the volume she is: asking conservators and curators to look at under-appreciated structures with new eyes; teaching them in great detail how to study book structure, thereby tempering decisions regarding the care and custody of historic materials; and fostering an appreciation of the value of historic models both for instructing the professionals as well as students."
— Barbara Adams Hebard, The Bonefolder • Extras
17 March 2018
Barbara Adams Hebard was trained in bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School. She was Book Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum for 18½ years and became the Conservator of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College in 2009. Ms. Hebard writes book related articles and book reviews, gives talks and presentations, exhibits her bookbindings nationally and internationally, and teaches book history classes. She is a Fellow of IIC, a Professional Associate of AIC, a board member of the New England Conservation Association, and has served several terms as an Overseer of the North Bennet Street School.