Freshwater Collection

Freshwater Collection of Publishers’ Decorated Cloth Bindings
Gifted in 2014

Nineteenth-century book publishing was characterised by rapid technological development, which enabled books to be printed and bound more quickly and cheaply than previously, to supply a fast-growing market for printed material of all sorts. In particular, mass-produced, machine-decorated bindings in coloured cloth became popular for children’s books, gift books, and popular general literature.

Many of these bindings are minor works of art, the publishers having employed talented, but often poorly-recognised or credited designers.

For a long time, these books were under-appreciated by most collectors and callously treated by librarians. In recent years, interest in them both as examples of design and technical manufacture has grown. While the Library has many cloth bindings, there are not so many of the highly illustrated ones, and there was no organised collection of them until the arrival of the Freshwater Collection in 2014. The collection has been a great success: the books make regular appearances in classes and events, and attract the interest of students looking for material for projects. Peter Freshwater himself has been keen to share his enthusiasm for the subject, speaking about it to the Friends of the University Library, and at a training workshop for staff.

Peter Freshwater studied at the University, before a long career in academic libraries, from Harvard to Durham, Keele and Birmingham, before returning to Edinburgh as Deputy Librarian from 1977-1999. In retirement, he remains active on the committee of the Friends of Edinburgh University Library and teaches an extra-mural course on the history of the University.

His interest in publishers’ bindings began while studying Librarianship at University College, London. Howard Nixon, one of the foremost historians of bookbinding, taught the Historical Bibliography class there at the time. He sent the students to see an exhibition of Victorian book illustration at the Victoria and Albert Museum. That included one case of bindings, designed by the same artists, which caught the young Peter Freshwater’s attention, inspiring a lifelong passion.

Story by Elizabeth Quarmby Lawrence, Rare Books Librarian