This beautifully bound book is an edition of Herodotus’ History. It was bequested to the University of Glasgow Library in 2010 by Professor Douglas MacDowell. It provides a fine example of the characteristic appearance of the Dutch Prize Binding. These finely bound books were given as prizes in the Netherlands (and later, other European countries, particularly England and Ireland) from around 1633 until 1830.
The tradition flourished in Latin schools (where the classical languages were taught intensively), which were often financed by the city or run by a religious order, such as the Jesuits, or local churches. For this reason, they usually bear the coat-of-arms of the city or other insignia of the institution which awarded the prize on the front and back covers. They also include several pages of information inside the book about the assignment for which the prize was awarded, the name of the pupil, the class and subject, and often a statement by and signature of the headteacher. Most were bound in parchment (sheep or goat-skin) but our example here is bound in gilt-tooled vellum (calf-skin), with a gilt armorial stamp displaying the arms of Amsterdam on the front and back boards. Unfortunately we do not have any information about the recipient of the prize.
Although we cannot say exactly when the practice ended, it started to wane when the publisher’s binding was introduced around 1830. Thereafter, schools increasingly used books which had already been bound and inserted a bookplate or label with the name of the recipient of the prize and the details of the award.
In England, the use of special prize bindings continued well into the middle of the twentieth century. Many schools contracted a local bindery to produce prize editions stamped or embossed with the logo of the school, and these often imitated the appearance of eighteenth century prize bindings.