When Book Covers Outshine Their Pages

Featured image: Left: Bernardino Ridolfi, In funere Caroli III Hispaniarum Regis Catholici oratio habita in sacello pontificio (1789), binding created by unknown artists, likely a congregation of Roman nuns; right: Ernest Lefébure, Embroidery and Lace: Their Manufacture and History from the Remotest Antiquity to the Present Day (1888), with binding created by May Morris

The Grolier Club — “America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts” — is situated on the busy Upper East Side intersection of 60th Street and Park Avenue, a few blocks from the Plaza Hotel. The space is furnished in a conspicuously old-fashioned style, its foyer void of a single piece of art or furniture that could betray its presence in the 21st century. The institution houses a 100,000-volume library, and now showcased in its book-lined and wood-paneled exhibition hall are more than 100 silver, gilded, embroidered, miniature, and otherwise noteworthy editions lie shut in the room’s glass display cases. The aptly titled exhibition Judging a Book by its Cover, on view through April 13, spans 700 years of Western art history in a long overdue celebration of the highly specialized craft of bookbinding.

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