A Visit to George Bayntun

A Visit to George Bayntun
Mounting the steps as if to a temple, we couldn’t fail to be impressed by the building, originally the postal sorting office for the whole South West, with its lovely arches and ornate lettering.    
Laurence Worms, a past President of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, introduced this visit as one of a series of exchange trips between booksellers and rare book librarians arranged in order to aid understanding of the retail trade, preservation issues and craft skills in our shared rare book world. Edward Bayntun-Coward delighted us with tales of local and rather distinguished customers, such as the  gentleman who turned up at the shop with a first edition of Emma, which he had bought from Bayntun’s  fifty years previously. On the same day a Mrs Austin came in with a bag full of Austen first editions, given to her by her godmother, who lived at Coleshill, which had been the home of the Countess of Radnor. He described a bygone world in which stock turnover was in the thousands every month. Rare and special books are still brought into the shop each day;  now, however, Edward says, “We are a bookshop which takes books in”. These days, book selling takes place largely online.

A tour of the bindery showed evidence of a hundred different processes: it takes a minimum of two months for a book to be fully processed.
Bayntun’s has over fifteen thousand binding tools, including some specially cut for William Morris. The Riviere stock of marbled endpapers is one of the largest in the world, and a little of the beauty and variety of these may be seen in the photograph.
We were shown exactly how the forwarder shapes, rounds and backs the book and technical issues were explained, such as how an ‘Oxford’ (hollow-back) binding  prevented the creasing of the spine. The machinery is ancient and cumbersome and yet inspires awe.                                                        
Bayntun’s believe they are the only bindery in existence still to do edge-gilding on all their books by hand. The bindery has a mere eight staff, one binder having recently retired at the age of eighty-three. It takes at least five years to train, so employment here is not taken lightly. To the left is the finisher demonstrating a book which demanded hundreds of hours.
The economics of this trade are complicated: we learned that a full binding can actually work out cheaper than a half binding! Resources are becoming ever more specialised, and the bindery uses just two tanneries.  However, we can remain optimistic: Bayntun’s reputation is such that one famous Parisian collector now prefers to send his books to Bath!  
We are all working in our own ways to help preserve and exploit rare and special books, and  the ABA Educational Trust is contributing towards the costs of training a bookselling apprentice here. Meanwhile, the bindery is definitely keeping up with the times: Bayntun’s is working on a rather special project for a certain television programme. We have been sworn to secrecy!

Many thanks to Edward Bayntun-Coward for hosting a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.
Helen Kershaw