Binding by Janos Szirmai

Pale brown calf, stained an irregularly grey violet, blind-tooled, and with ‘cuir-ciselé’. French binding with flat spine. Both covers are framed by a single line along the three edges. On the right half of the front board is a vertical strip with cuir-ciselés, a kind of totem pole with eighteen grotesque heads, downwards growing in size, with carved features on a background that has been ‘tooled away’ by minute circles.

After World War II handmade bookbindings in the Netherlands continued to be subject to the vicissitudes of time. Attempts to revive the art of bookbinding were on the whole followed by the disappointment of non-realized commissions. Only a few women, who could allow themselves the luxury of not charging the full price for their materials and the time invested, maintained the craft. The last fifteen years have shown a slightly more favourable picture. This is partly due to the fact that handbookbinders have established their own organisation, but also to the international fame of one of our bookbinders.

Janos Alexander Szirmai was born in Ket (Slovakia) in 1925. He studied painting and drawing in Bucharest in 1942 and 1943, but was more drawn to the study of medicine. He went to read medicine in Budapest and Bratislava, and settled in the Netherlands after World War II, continuing his study of medicine and later becoming a professor of medicine. He withdrew from the medical world in 1971 to devote himself to bookbinding. He studied at the famous Legatoria Artistica in Ascona, exhibited work in many exhibitions and was awarded various important international prizes, like the Prix Paul Bonet in 1975 and the Prix Germaine de Coster in 1986.

For quite some time Szirmai has also been interested in old binding techniques, an interest which led him around 1982 to research the cuir-ciselé technique, a technique that was especially popular in Germany in the fifteenth century. He published his findings in an English journal and at the same time applied the technique to two bindings, one based on old décors, and one completely modern. As a result of this the Koninklijke Bibliotheek asked him to make a cuir-ciselé binding for its own collection. Szirmai chose a special edition of The Beggar's Opera, printed on grey paper. He adapted the many grotesque faces on the prints in the book to grimaces on a totem pole on the front cover. Szirmai has devoted his time exclusively to the history of the technique of bookbinding for some years now. He is one of the authors of Kneep en binding, a terminology for describing bookbindings.

Bookbinding, made by Janos Alexander Szirmai. Oosterbeek, 1986. Contents: John Gay. The Beggar's Opera. Paris, printed for the members of the Limited Editions Club by G. Govone, 1937. - 1770 B 1

Bookbinding, made by Janos Alexander Szirmai. Oosterbeek, 1986. Contents: John Gay. The Beggar's Opera. Paris, printed for the members of the Limited Editions Club by G. Govone, 1937. - 1770 B 1

Literature

Müvészi könyvkötések régen és ma. Budapest 1986, no. 183
J.A. Szirmai, 'Cuir-ciselé. Experiments with an ancient technique', in: The New Bookbinder 3 (1983), p. 59-65
W.K. Gnirrep e.a. Kneep en binding. Een terminologie voor de beschrijving van constructies van oude boekbanden. 's-Gravenhage 1992.