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November // Bookbinder of the Month: Edgar Mansfield

November 3, 2012 by Erin Fletcher

Edgar Mansfield was born in London in 1907. Four years later his parents took him to New Zealand where he spent the next 23 years of his life before returning to England. 

Starting in 1948, Mansfield began teaching at the London School of Printing, where in regards to bookbinding was a advocate for expressive design inspired by the spirit of the book as opposed to decorative pattern making. Mansfield developed as a binder outside of traditional training, his approach was first as an artist and then a craftsman. However, his execution was impeccable; he excelled in inlays and onlays, shaped his own finishing tools, and developed a technique to heighten the texture of leather during cover. Fellow binder Trevor Jones wrote the following after Mansfield’s death in 1996:

The nature of the surface of a Mansfield binding and its tactile quality is most important, as befits the work of a sculptor. His preference was always for unpolished and unpressed goatskin enlivened with surface markings and blemishes, especially the native tanned and dyed skins once obtainable from Nigeria that displayed variations of tone and colour, if necessary with his own added ink markings. He often heightened the grain texture on the leather of his bindings by rolling the damp skin on itself before pasting, and later brushing towards the spine with the palm of his hand across the surface of the leather in the act of covering the book….

Mansfield was no doubt inspired by the fine artists of his time, there are hints of Miró, Klee and Picasso within the energetic lines, jagged shapes and simplistic shapes and color palettes of his designs. This edition of The Devil and All by John Collier was printed in 1934 by Nonesuch Press and was bound by Mansfield in 1961. Covered in a chrome yellow morocco with inlays of black, grey, white and bright red; tooled in blind, black and a single red line (can you find it?). This binding is owned by the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm, check out their Flickr page

Mansfield retired in 1964, but continued binding sporadically until 1976. His failing vision directed his creative desire towards sculpture and drawing when binding became impossible. 

Reference: The Work of Edgar Mansfield: Technical Notes by Edgar Mansfield

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  • My name is Erin Fletcher, owner and bookbinder of Herringbone Bindery in Boston. Flash of the Hand is a space where I share my process and inspirations.
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