The girdle book of Mildred Barnes Bliss

The girdle book of Mildred Barnes Bliss

A girdle book, according to Jane Greenfield’s ABC of Bookbinding, is “a book bound upside down in a wrapper of soft leather which had a knot at one end.” The knot can be tucked into a person’s belt (or girdle) for ease of transport and quick reference. This style of binding was especially popular in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; girdle books are often depicted in paintings from this period. At first, girdle books were humble, clerical accessories. Later, girdle books also served as an accessory for fashionable women, who might carry heavily-decorated Books of Hours.

The present example was made for Mildred Barnes Bliss, co-founder of Dumbarton Oaks. Perhaps the girdle book’s traditional use as noblewoman’s accessory motivated a bookbinder to produce this item for Mrs. Bliss. Soft green leather contains a book that is blank except for an inscription dating it to 1940. The book has the rudimentary feel of an early experiment. Dumbarton Oaks had an operating bindery until 1941. Maybe this girdle book was made by the staff binder, Otto Zahn, or by the Keeper of the Rare Books, Ethel B. Clark (who ran bookbinding classes for convalescent soldiers during World War II).

 
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The girdle book of Mildred Barnes Bliss
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