HISTORY OF SANGORSKI & SUTCLIFFE

 

Sangorski & Sutcliffe ' Gold Finishing Department' circa 1923

  Detail from a Sangorski & Sutcliffe binding circa 1914

Shepherds is home to two of London's oldest and most prestigious bookbinding companies, Zaehnsdorf (est.1842) and Sangorski & Sutcliffe (est.1901) The binderies were taken over by Shepherds in 1998 and the bindery now trades under the single name of Sangorski & Sutcliffe.

These two old London binderies are widely acknowledged as two of the most important hand-bookbinding companies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

 

 

  THE ARCHIVE

 

When Shepherds took over Sangorski & Sutcliffe, it was a condition of the sale that the bindery would move out of its old premises in Bermondsey, South East London.

There was a great deal of material and equipment to sort out prior to the move and it was during this massive clearing up operation that the Sangorski & Sutcliffe archive first came to light.

Although there are many fascinating items from Zaehnsdorf’s history in the archives, the Sangorski & Sutcliffe material amounts to an almost complete record of the company’s history.

The archive contains over fifteen thousand items, a large amount dating from the first decade of the company’s history, which are as fascinating in their range as in their ability to tell the story of this remarkable bindery and its work.  Many of the most celebrated S&S bindings can be traced from conception to completion through tooling patterns, binding instructions, notes on binding materials, time sheets, rubbings, photographs, and a wealth of ephemeral material. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sangorski & Sutcliffe Bindery 1947

  STANLEY BRAY

 

Stanley Bray 1907 - 1995

  Cutting out leather - Poland St 1947

Stanley was the nephew of George Sutcliffe and ran the company for over 40 years.  His fortitude kept the company going when many of the other great names in English bookbinding fell by the wayside. 

It was also Stanley Bray who had the foresight to preserve this archive for future generations, a project he worked on right up to his death.

 

WEST END BINDERIES

 

Of all the great ‘West End’ binderies, S&S stands alone as a truly creative and artistic workshop.  The early years, when the partnership produced its famous ‘jewelled bindings’ is thoroughly represented in the archive, with an abundance of drawings, tooling patterns and photographs.

 

After the death of Sangorski in 1912, the records trace the history of the company through the tragic years of the First World War, the financial slump of the 1930’s and the social and economic changes of the 1950’s. The letters and photographs from this period give a stark and sometimes poignant insight into the difficulties of keeping the company afloat through difficult economic times.

 

There can be no other archive that charts the history of a bookbinding company in such detail.  At a time when the achievements of the great trade binderies are at last being recognised, the S&S archive gives a unique insight into one of the most creative workshops of its time.

 

JEWELLED BINDINGS

 

Sangorski & Sutcliffe were renowned for their jewelled bindings, particularly in the early years of their partnership. 

 

This magnificent example, an illuminated manuscript of Romeo and Juliet, was completed on the 5th April 1913, a year after the death of Francis Sangorski .

 

THE EARLY YEARS

 

Sangorski and Sutcliffe first met in 1896 as apprentices at a bookbinding class at the London County Council Central School of Arts and Crafts. Two years later, they both won the coveted award of £20 a year for three years, to continue their training. Only ten scholarships of the kind were awarded for all the crafts in London. Their friendship grew and they were both employed at their teacher, Douglas Cockerell’s bindery. Sutcliffe specialised in gold finishing and Sangorski worked as a forwarder. Within a year they were teaching bookbinding at Camberwell College of Art, and in recognition of their exceptional talents, their scholarships were extended for another year.

 

With the coal strike of 1901 the economy slumped and work at the Cockerell bindery diminished. The two junior employees were laid off. Despite the difficult economic climate, they decided to set up a new business together. They founded Sangorksi & Sutcliffe on 1st October 1901.

 

Their first rented premises were an attic room in Bloomsbury, soon followed by a move around the corner to larger rooms in Vernon Place. In 1905, the bindery moved again, this time to Southampton Row (only a few steps away from Falkiner's), where they produced many of their greatest early works.

 

The golden age of the company was in these early years of intense creativity. The most famous work of the period was a sumptuous jewelled binding of the Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, that sank with the Titanic in 1912. But that year brought more tragedy. Francis Sangorski died rescuing a lady who was drowning. He could not swim.

 

 

THE GREAT OMAR

 

Sangorski & Sutcliffe’s jewelled binding of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Francis Sangorski

LOST ON THE TITANIC

 

Lost on the Titanic - The Story of ‘The Great Omar’

Published in 2001 by Shepherds Bookbinders - £220.00

The book describes the history of the ‘The Great Omar’ .

 

The book was undoubtedly the most ambitious bookbinding ever undertaken by any bookbinder at any period in history.  It boasted over a thousand precious and semi-precious jewels, thousands of separate leather onlays and it took the firm two years of continuous work to finish.

 

Finally completed in 1911, the book was on voyage to America when it was tragically lost in the Titanic disaster.  A few months later its creator Francis Sangorski drowned in a bathing accident. The book and its creator have passed into bookbinding legend. 

 

To buy a copy of this book or a full colour print of the binding, contact us for availability and shipping costs.

 

 

POLAND ST 1914 - 1988

 

After Sangorski’s death, the company moved to Poland Street, where it stayed for seventy years.

 

Sutcliffe continued to produce extraordinary bindings and steered the business through the difficult years of the First World War. In 1914 his binding of Keats, Some Poems was sold for a record of £1400.

 

By the 1920s, the firm employed eighty people and was recognised as one of the top London binderies.

 

Keats - Some Poems - binding designed by George Sutcliffe in 1914

GEORGE SUTCLIFFE

With extraordinary determination, Sutcliffe pulled the company through the Depression but by the late thirties the business had not made a profit for years.

 

But Sutcliffe had many successes, bindings for the major private presses, designing and producing the miniature books for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, and other royal commissions.

 

 

 

In 1936 Sutcliffe had a stroke. He handed the running of the bindery down to his nephew, Stanley Bray who had joined the company as an apprentice in 1926.

In 1939, S&S merged with H T Woods and Kenneth Hobson arrived at the firm heralding a new era in book design.

 

Hobson was a respected figure in the trade. His use of strong colours and contemporary motifs brought S&S to the forefront of modern design binding.

 

KENNETH HOBSON

 

Kenneth Hudson - circa 1950

Sean O'Casey - Complete Plays - 2 Vols bindings designed by Kenneth Hudson

 

Stanley Bray ran the company until he retired in 1985. Business was no easier. The post war years saw a decline in the fine binding trade and in 1983, the firm merged with Zaehnsdorf’s bindery in Bermondsey, South London. Both companies were bought by the jewellers Asprey and became SSZ Ltd.

 

In 1998, Shepherds bought SSZ and the name of Sangorski & Sutcliffe was restored. The pursuit of exemplary craftsmanship and book design continues.

 

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