8.16.2008

This Old Book: The Great Omar

[Preface: I certainly don't know enough about this story to be posting authoritatively about it. Which i'm not. Just a note of interest with mild to horrific inaccuracies. take caution.]

In 1901 Francis Sangorsky and George Sutcliffe opened their bindery in Bloomsbury. Sangorsky was best known for and most talented in forwarding (the process of assembling/binding a book); Sutcliffe excelled as a finisher (the process of decorating the cover). The two had both trained at Camberwell Colllege of Art, studying with Douglas Cockerell, and later worked in Cockerell's bindery before starting their own firm.

Sangorsky & Sutcliffe produced some of its most creative and innovative work during these earliest years, including this lavish binding of The Ruba'iyat of Omar Kayyam.


After over two years of continuous work, and over one thousand jewels and leather onlays later, The Great Omar was completed in 1911. However, in 1912, both Sangorsky and the firm's astonishing masterpiece sunk tragically with the Titanic.


But The Great Omar would not be snuffed out so easily. Now if my details are right, I believe it was the nephew of George Sutcliffe--Stanley Bray--who took upon himself the task of recreating the Great Omar, which he finished--or at least was well into it. . . . just in time for it to be burned during the Bombing of Britain. I believe Bray began a third replica and worked on it well into his 70s. This is the version, I believe that is now kept in the British Library. (when i know for sure, i will let you know!)

The story of The Great Omar is a long, complicated, and mysterious one--one of the most intriguing i have come across in my studies. It is thought by some to be one of the most ambitious bindings ever made. As for me, I also tend to think it must be one of the most cursed.

3 comments:

Amanda, Curtis, Ellis, Hugh said...

Ooooo, I like this story. Where's the bestselling novel and the blockbuster movie? Call Scorsese, call, call Daniel Day Lewis, call Norm!

SS said...

Sangorski didn't actually go down with the Titanic - he wasn't on board but he did drown in his bath a couple of months after the Titanic went down. Maybe makes it a bit more spooky. More info can be found at the Shepherds website which incorporates Sangorski & Sutcliffe. http://bookbinding.co.uk/

Alan Donovan said...

While that website says "bathing accident", he didn't in fact drown in his bathtub, but while swimming in the ocean at Selsey Bill in Sussex.

(See Bernard C. Middleton, "A history of English craft bookbinding", 1963.)