The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 7, Number 6
Dec 1983


RIT Acquires Middleton Library

The Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, has acquired the 1,200-volume library of Bernard C. Middleton, with the assistance of a pledge of $150,000 from the Frank N. Barnard Foundation of Boston. This pledge provided funds for the purchase and an endowment to maintain the collection.

The purchase agreement was signed in London on September 17, 1983. Representing RIT in the acquisition were Alfred L. Davis, RIT vice president and David Pankow, curator of RIT's Melbert B. Cary, Jr. Graphic Arts Collection. They were joined by Dudley A. Weiss, executive director emeritus of the Library Binding Institute and trustee of the Frank M. Barnard Foundation. Weiss's interest in the Middleton library developed while he was executive director and general counsel for the LBI, an international trade association of commercial binders. It was under the auspices of the LBI that the original contact was made with Middleton.

According to the agreement, RIT owns the collection, although Middleton will maintain it in London as long as he has professional need for it. Still an active bookbinder, Middleton refers to the books for research and restoration purposes. A permanent exhibit of a representative number of volumes from the collection will be set up at RIT on a revolving basis. Volumes retained in England will be available for student use under the supervision of Middleton and Pankow, as research volumes and not circulating material. Interested scholars may contact Pankow at RIT for permission to study the collection. His address is: David Pankow, Rochester Institute of Technology, Cary Collection, College of Graphic Arts and Photography, One Lomb Memorial Drive, Rochester, NY 14623.

Further, the agreement gives NIT the 'right of first refusal" for the purchase of Middleton's collection of finishing tools, of which Dorothy Harrop said in 1977, "Only in the bindery of W. T. Morrell do I recollect seeing a larger or more varied collection." Ultimately the entire collection will be housed in RIT's College of Graphic Arts and photography as part of the Melbert B. Cary, Jr. Graphic Arts Collection.

Bernard C. Middleton, England's foremost scholar- binder, has been collecting books on bookbinding, restoration and conservation since 1950. His library is unique and comprehensive, covering the entire history of bookbinding. The major portion of the collection includes histories of bookbinding and biographical materials on famous binders. Also acquired were Middleton's collection of ephemeral items, including pictures, pamphlets and nearly 400 binders' tickets. There are two sets of book- bindings: one set, covering the period 1830-70 (12 volumes), has boards made of papier mache; the other is a collection of fine bindings by Zaehnsdorf, Riviere, Bagguley, Fazakerly, Doves Bindery and others.

Middleton, whose father was a bookbinder at Morrell's and at Sangorski and Sutcliffe, won a trade scholarship to the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London while a

teenager. Later (1940), he became apprenticed to the bindery run by His Majesty's Stationery Office in the British Museum, and continued his studies at the London College of Printing. In 1943 he was awarded the City and Guilds silver medal for forwarding. After a period of service in the Navy during World War II, he completed his apprenticeship, then spent 1949-52 as craftsman- demonstrator at the Royal College of Art. His last job before going into business doing restoration work in 1953 was as manager of Zaehnsdorf's.

Middleton is well known in this country as the author of A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique (Hafner, 1963; Holland Press, 1978) and The Restoration of Leather Bindings (ALA, 1972). Probably few American binders are aware of the many articles he has written. Between 1950 and 1957 he published over 50 articles, all but three of which appeared in Paper and Print, Printing World or British & Colonial Printer, periodicals not widely available on this side of the Atlantic. Since 1957 a good part of his publications have been books, or contributions to books, or articles in conservation periodicals. Dorothy Harrop's biographical article in The Book Collector for Autumn 1977 includes a bibliography of works by and about him.

Rochester Institute of Technology prepares its 16,000 students for a broad array of professional and technical careers in its nine colleges: Business, Applied Science and Technology, Continuing Education, Engineering, Fine and Applied Arts, Graphic Arts and Photography, Liberal Arts, Science, and the federally-funded National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The 1,300-acre upstate New York campus is home to the School for American Craftsmen.

The Cary Collection is part of the College of Graphic Arts and Photography. Established and supported by the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the Cary Collection contains more than 8,000 volumes of rare books illustrating the past and present of fine printing, including a number of books on binding. To preserve the integrity of the Middleton Collection, it will be kept in separate cases in the Cary library.

In the same College is the Dudley A. Weiss Book Testing Laboratory, established by Weiss in 1976. It provides a facility for study and research centering around the physical book, quality control techniques include the page-flex, page-pull, abrasion, sliding-tumble and aging tests to evaluate book construction in edition and library binding.

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