Signed by Crowley- AMBERGRIS
I was given the opportunity to work with a signed copy of Aleister Crowley’s “Ambergris” once owned by Felix White. The book came to me with a spine that was little better than a few flakes of dusty detritus and covers that were detached. The stitching was broken in several places and White had pasted in several pages from “The English Review” in the back of the book with a VERY liberal amount of paste. This mass of glue and poorly trimmed papers had grafted themselves well beyond their original destination and had all but devoured more than half the preceding page. Over the years these pages had been wrenched open thus ripping the paper, leaving a hole as a result. Finally, The last page and back paste down had hand written poetry of Crowley’s done by White. This artifact needed to be preserved.
I contacted the client and we discussed many options for preserving the book as it was. I strongly suggested putting it into a box and leaving it as it was since future collectors would want it as close to the original state as it could be. The client really wanted it bound in leather and most options I raised for preservation ended in suggestions from the client for new covers or cover pieces added in. A decision had to be made. The owner’s wishes were, and always will be, my first concern. I can guide but not demand my opinion over theirs. What’s more, the book was in such disrepair that to leave it could very well mean causing the (currently o.k.) pages and penned signature to be damaged. The only salvageable portions of the book were the pages and signature and they were in fine condition. So saving the pages and Crowley’s signature was of first import. The material added by Felix White, an important collector and early devotee, were a close secondary concern. Since the book was no longer IN its original condition…that had to be the lowest priority. Binding it in leather, which the client wanted, would be the course I had to take.
I took the book apart like a surgeon working in the brain. I lifted the paste downs and the glue mass covering “The English Review” in the back. The paste-downs lifted without issue but a large hole was present in “The English Review” first page, as already stated, which I patched with repair paper. I could have gone further to attempt removing stains and glue from the preceding page but I did not want to harm that paper in any way. The book was sewn back together by hand with a few first and last signatures getting archival flexible material over the folds to ensure strength in the decades of future use.
The leather I used was “Sokoto” got from Morocco which was supplied by the only person who carries it, Steve Siegel of Siegel Lether(see my suppliers menu). I tooled the covers with hand tools as well as a custom title stamp and inlaid a scarlet ‘Sokoto” goat piece in the form of a six pointed star.
I wanted the drop spine box to hold the book, old covers, and authenticity statement from the previous owner. I accomplished this with a half leather sleeve on the left side of the box and some hand made archival wraps over the covers and statement of authenticity concerning the signature. I sealed the covers in a black sleeve with scarlet ribbon and sealing wax , since they might very well never be opened again, and put a pull on the authenticity statement. The statement concerning the signature can be removed if desired but otherwise rests under the book. The current owner did not want to necessarily keep the old covers due to how they looked. My challenge was to make them look as important as they might be to a future owner. Now, wrapped in black paper and artistically sealed they will both please the current owner and be available for completionist collectors.
Some may argue that my binding did not help the state of the rare artifact while others will understand that it ensured the book will remain for another century with all the extant pieces available for future investors. Still, some will covet this rare tome even more due to my efforts……………………………………….. and that is what I truly hope will be the case.