Book Collecting Guide

Sangorski & Sutcliffe - Bookbinders

Frances Sangorski and George Sutcliffe were two young bookbinding apprentices who worked in the bindery of Douglas Cockrell in London. When they were were laid off from their positions due to an economic slump in 1901, they began their own bindery in a small attic room. Within a few years, the name of Sangorski & Sutcliffe was well known for their exquisitely decadent bindings.

Sangorski & Sutcliffe revived the old art of jeweled bindings, a practice that was popular in the Middle Ages. Their books were bound in multicolored leather, and inlaid with real gold, jewels, and semi-precious stones. George Sutcliffe’s brother, Alberto Sutcliffe, worked alongside of the duo from 1905-1910 as a masterful calligrapher and illustrator, creating illuminated manuscripts. He left the firm after a dispute with his brother over not being credited for his work on the colophon and began working with the Riviere bindery.

The most famous work of Sangorski & Sutcliffe was The Great Omar - a copy of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám adorned with three golden peacocks in a garden, their tails and the gilded vines comprised of over 1050 jewels. A few weeks after it sank with the Titanic in 1912 on its way to its new owner, Sangorski died after a drowning accident.

Sutcliffe continued the firm, creating many more remarkable bindings, including work for Ashendene Press, Golden Cockerel, and even crafting miniature books for Queen Mary’s Doll’s House.

After a stroke in 1936, Sutcliffe passed the business onto his nephew, Stanley Bray. A few years later, they merged with HT Woods and Kenneth Hobson, who introduced a more modern style of binding. In 1988, both Sangorski & Sutcliffe and Zaehnsdorf bindery were bought by Asprey trading, merged, and rebranded as SSZ Limited.

Shepards bookbinding purchased SSZ Limited and revived the individual bookbinding brands with their former names. They continue to craft fine bindings as well as restoration and conservation work, and are members of the ABAA and ABA.