Archive for January, 2020

A Short History of the Guild of Women-Binders

January 21, 2020 Leave a comment

Oak Knoll is proud to announce Special Catalogue 30: The Guild of Women-Binders!

Special Cat 30.COVER

Download a PDF of the catalogue HERE.

View all available titles from the catalogue HERE.


See below for a brief history of the Guild of Women-Binders…



The Guild of Women-Binders
“Finishing” (Tidcombe, 121)

During the latter half nineteenth century, the Arts and Crafts movement took flight in Britain as a reaction to industrialization and mass production. The movement was notably advanced by such luminaries as William Morris, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson (who coined the term), and Emery Walker, as well as authors such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti & John Ruskin, artist Edward Burne-Jones, and architect and designer Charles Rennie Macintosh. The focus on the decorative arts, independent of other attributes, became a trend that quickly spread to Europe, the Americas, and around the world, influencing everything from architecture and furniture to art, graphic design, and bookmaking. The Fine Press Revival begun by Morris would turn the book world on its head, and the resurgence of interest in the book as an object would begin, creating a need for artists & artisans.

Additionally, women during this time period were developing a foothold in industries where they had not before. Ainslie C. Waller states in her article from The Private Library (Autumn, Vol 6:3, 1983):

“The involvement of women in the Arts and Crafts movement has been divided by Anthea Callen, in her book on the subject, into four main categories: the working-class or peasant women who were organized and employed in the revival of traditional rural crafts; the aristocratic, upper- and middle-class women who were philanthropically engaged in the organization of rural craft revivals; destitute gentlewomen forced to make an independent livelihood from art-work; and the elite inner circle of educated middle-class women, often related by birth or marriage to the key male figures within the vanguard of the movement.”

Bookbinding, increasingly valued for its artistic contribution during this period, is one such craft that was becoming more open and available to women.  Numerous guilds, schools, and binderies began accepting women at an accelerated pace to help fulfill the role of the decorative binder. These organizations included The Guild of Handicrafts, St George’s Guild, the Royal School of Art Needlework, the Chiswick Art Workers’ Guild, and the Working Ladies Guild, to name a few. These organizations helped launch the lengthy and prosperous careers of some of the most successful and well-known female bookbinders of the time, such as Sarah Prideaux and Katharine Adams.

With bindings by women becoming both more numerous and more elegant, members of the Royal Court began to take notice. It was in 1897, for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, that the Victorian Era Exhibition displayed multiple examples of bindings executed by women. The London bookseller Francis Karslake attended this exhibition and took interest in the bindings.



Frank Karslake (1851–1920) made his living through his passion for books and bookselling. He was an interesting figure, in that he started off as an apprentice for a notable London bookseller in his teens, married his wife, Martha McGregor, ventured out on his own for a few years, and then put bookselling on hold to migrate to California to start a fruit farm. It wasn’t until three years after that Karslake returned to London to take up bookselling again and to help found the Guild of Women-Binders.

The Guild was established in May of 1898 at 61, Charing Cross Road, in the same building as Karslake’s other bindery, The Hampstead Bindery. The bindery produced lavishly-bound books in the highest quality material for their clients and took on many different binders, such as Mrs. Annie S. MacDonald, Miss Marshall, Phoebe Traquair, Florence de Rheims, and Frank’s two daughters, Constance & Olive Karslake. In the early months and years of the Guild, women were required to be both designer and binder for a project. That production model eventually became more flexible, so that one person might design a binding for another to finish.

The Guild had four general rules for binders and the books bound in its name. Anstruther’s The Bindings of To-Morrow (1902) states:

“…first requirements in an embellished bookbinding is that it shall be satisfactory to the eyes…Next in order , although perhaps not in importance, may be set down fullness of material treatment. A book is– or ought to be – a thing of utility; an inviting , companionable, useful piece of property, to be handled and surveyed with pleasure…Thirdly, a binding should posses a character of its own, the individual volume or set being distinguished by special treatment from all its fellows…Lastly–and here a code for artistic ethics comes into operation–the design upon a book-cover, in order to qualify as a really efficient application of an idea, should be in correspondence with the nature of the book itself.”

Unfortunately, the Guild of Women-Binders lasted only six years, folding in 1904. This failure can most likely be attributed to Karslake’s requirement that the male staff, most likely from The Hampstead Bindery, work with the women, who were joining the Guild at an accelerated pace. While the standards for the bindings remained high, staff was stretched thin and less income was being generated.

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