An 18th-century presentation binding produced in the Dublin bindery of Ann Leathley

By conservation intern Julie Tyrlik

As part of my six-month internship in the Preservation and Conservation Department of the Library of Trinity College Dublin, I recently conserved a book, The siege of Tamor: a tragedy by Gorges Edmond Howard, printed in Dublin in 1773, which was probably bound in the Dublin bindery of Ann Leathley (Shelfmark: Armoire R.ll.63).

The binding is a fine example of the Irish bookbinding style produced in the second half of the 18th century.1 The book is a full in-boards binding covered in brown-coloured calf leather and sewn on five raised bands. There is a red goatskin dedication label2 to Trinity College Dublin on the left board (image 1). In addition, there are gold-tooled title and shelfmark labels on the spine (image 2).

Image 2: Spine and left board

On the boards the tooling consists of gold-tooled rolls, forming frames around the label, the perimeter of the boards and on the board edges. Small individual tools form a fleuron at each corner of the frames. All the panels of the spine and the raised bands have gold-tooled decorative floral designs. The endleaves are constructed from red and blue comb-marbled paper and the text block has gilt edges. The pink and cream coloured endbands have a front bead and a single primary core.

The text block consists of 3 gatherings in 12mo. (72 pages). Two different types of Dutch hand-made laid paper have been used in the construction of the book. The text is printed on paper from the company of J. Honig and Zoonen, active in Holland at Zaandyk (a small city in the North of Amsterdam) from 1737 to 1787.3 The endleaves are constructed from a paper with the watermark of Jean Villedary (“VDL”), a French papermaking family who worked in France in the Angoumois mills from 1668 to 1758 and in Hattam (Holland) from 1758.4

Most of the tools used for the gold tooling decoration of the binding (5 to 7 different designs) have been found in the repertory of Ann Leathley’s tools.5 A study of three other bindings attributed to Ann Leathley show similar tools used for decoration: OLS BIND C3 from Trinity College Dublin, Special Collections 41.R.31 from University College Dublin, and Drawer 10 (c) from the V&A, UK.

The four bindings studied display a similar organisation of decoration and the use of the same structures and materials. The roll with the sun, R1 (image 3)6, has been found on every binding. It has been used for the decoration of the inner hinge (image 4), for the decoration of the raised bands and/or for the last panel of the spine (image 5).

Image 4: OLS BIND C3 – Roll 1 – Inner hinge

The organisation of the decoration of the spine is quite similar to one of Ann Leathley’s bindings conserved at UCD: we find the central fleuron, with the four leaves around it. The same marbled paper style has been used for the endleaves in the four bindings.

Ann Leathley was the wife of Joseph Leathley, a well known bookseller and bookbinder on Dame Street, Dublin, who was contracted by the Library of Trinity College Dublin from 1732 to 1757 to produce fine bindings. During his period of activity, some of the fine bindings were produced under his wife’s responsibility.7 After his death, in 1757, she took over her husband’s contract with Trinity until her death in 1775. The dates and the context of the creation of this book correspond to Ann Leathley’s period of activity, as well as the bookbinding style. We know that in 1773, the year of the book’s publication, Ann Leathley had been paid “£127 for unspecified work for TCD library”.8

The conservation treatment of the book consisted of structural repair to the outer joints of the book and the treatment aim to preserve all of the extant tooling was successfully achieved.

A closer examination of Ann Leathley’s bookbinding output and a more precise analysis of the tooling her workshop used would be an interesting area for research. Furthermore, the role of women in Dublin in the 18th-century book trade would be another possible area of worthwhile research.

By Julie Tyrlik, 4th year student in book conservation at the Institut National du Patrimoine, France, and intern for six months in the Preservation and Conservation Department of the Library of Trinity College Dublin.



  1. Maurice Craig, “Irish bookbinding” in Apollo, v.LXXXIV, no.56 (New Series), (Oct. 1966) p.322-325.
  2. Presented by the author Gorges Edmond Howard (1715-1786) who was an Irish solicitor. He published professional works at his own expense but he also wrote some literary books and contributed to some periodical literature.
  3. W.A. Churchill, Watermarks in paper in Holland, England, France, etc., in the XVII and XVIII centuries and their interconnection, Menno Hertzberger, 1935.
  4. W.A. Churchill, ibid.
  5. Joseph McDonnell and Patrick Healy, Gold-tooled bookbindings commissioned by Trinity College Dublin in the eighteenth century, Irish Georgian Society, 1987.
  6. Joseph McDonnell and Patrick Healy, Ibid. Reproduced from Plate XCI, p.293.
  7. Paul Pollard, Dictionary of members of the Dublin book trade, 1550-1800, London, Bibliographical Society, 2000, p.359.
  8. Pollard, Ibid., p.358.