Every 19th-century bibliophile worthy of the name would have been proud to own at least one bookbinding from the French workshop of Joly. Some collectors owned many of them, notably the famous art deco jeweller Henri Vever and the wealthy book collector William Augustus Spencer who was lost on the Titanic.
Both Antoine Joly (1838-1917) and his son Robert (1878-1934) trained at the Parisian firm of Gruel, which was celebrated for embracing new styles whilst preserving traditional skills. Undoubtedly, this was a fine line to tread, but Antoine negotiated it successfully, continuing to do so later in collaboration with his partner Jules Thibaron. Robert took charge after Antoine’s retirement in 1892, differentiating his work by signing his bindings; Joly fils (i.e. son).
According to bookbinding historian Flety the clientele ‘appréciait la perfection de son travail sans prétention de grand art’; a judgement which seems to damn with faint praise, particularly when one examines the binding recently acquired by the British Library (above) and the stunning examples in the New York Public Library.
The signature of Robert Joly
Western Heritage Collections
Henri Beraldi, La reliure du XIXe siècle. Available online: http://www.archive.org/details/lareliureduxixes03br
Julien Flety, Dictionnaire des relieurs français ayant exercé de 1800 à nos jours, 1988