Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Alfred De Sauty bookbinder and printmaker

I have always enjoyed coincidences and for many years thought that they all had meaning. I am not so sure now, perhaps that is down to me becoming older and much less wise. My grand plans to write my blog chronologically went out the window despite trying to get a plan together to make it flow by date. In the end I chose Alfred de Sauty as my next subject firstly as he had intrigued me because there didn’t seem to be a lot written about him. Secondly I loved the prints he produced of Chicago (more on these later). Whilst trying to find out more about him I discovered that Harold Nelson produced an ex-libris bookplate for him providing a perfect segue to this entry.

Alfred de Sauty, Seda (Design for an Ornamental Chapter Heading).
Source: The Studio, October 1897, p. 65.

Alfred de Sauty was born in Gibraltar in 1870. His father Charles Victor De Sauty worked for the Atlantic Telegraph Company and served on the Great Eastern laying the Atlantic Telegraph. He died in 1893 and at this time Alfred De Sauty was employed as an electrician, following in his father’s footsteps.[1] Like his father he also spent lots of time at sea, and during his time off on the ships he developed his passion for drawing. His interest was furthered by subscribing to The Studio.[2] One of his earliest documented works appeared in the Studio Magazine in October 1897, reproduced as a part of their ‘Awards’ section for that year. It won the second prize in the Design for Ornamental Chapter Heading category.[3] By this point he was living in Balham, SW London. According to the 1911 census he lived at 30 Glebe Place, Chelsea and his profession was listed as bookbinder and teacher of bookbinding for LCC.[4]

It seems most likely that De Sauty began his career working on books with the Hampstead Bindery. At this time, in 1898, he was living in Hampstead.[5] During the early years of the 1900’s De Sauty had studios in central London.[6] In the decade prior to the First World War he was one of the senior teachers of the book binding department of the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, described as one of the most important schools teaching bookbinding.[7] At this time De Sauty was known for his new technique of inlaid leathers and detail work and a leader in the field.[8] Many authors, including Tidcombe, have highlighted that De Sauty’s finest bookbindings come from the period from 1905 to 1914.[9] Many of his book bindings still exist and are incredibly intricate and beautiful. As these objects have been written about at length and my knowledge of binding is not great I won’t be focusing on them here. De Sauty also designed and carved his own bookbinding tools and also encouraged his students to do the same.[10]

Alfred de Sauty, Shakespeare Sonnets, 1910.
Source: The Studio, Vol. 49, no. 210, March 1910, p. 111.

De Sauty became interested in printmaking and produced etchings and subsequently one of his prints was exhibited at the Royal Academy. A collection of his works, featuring images of London, was given to the National Library of Wales in 1977.[11] The First World War brought about a temporary end to De Sauty’s artistic pursuits as he served both in the Special Constabulary and the United Arts Corps.[12]

Following the end of the war it appears that De Sauty had gave up his artistic work and sold his bookbinding equipment to John Mason.[13] According to the 1921 Prospectus Alfred de Sauty was the teacher of Bookbinding at the Blackheath School of Art. At this time the school was still located at its temporary address of 5 Lee Terrace. Harold Nelson was also a teacher at this point so perhaps this is where they both met. It is quite possible that they both met whilst teaching at the school if they had not already met earlier in their careers. The course timetable prior to the move back to the purpose built studios in 1922, from 5 Lee Terrace, showed that Black and White Illustration and Bookbinding both took place on Tuesday evenings between 6.30pm and 9pm. Once again other than the prospectus sadly I have not come across any other evidence to prove this.

Harold Nelson, Avancez: Ex Libris for Alfred de Sauty, Cornelia Neltnor Anthony and Frank D. Anthony Book Plate Collection, West Chicago Public Library.
Source: Courtesy of West Chicago Public Library.

The bookplate which Nelson produced for De Sauty depicts a knight on horseback charging through a landscape with the word ‘Avancez’ written above the knight and below ‘Alfred de Sauty’. As discussed in my previous entry on Nelson, the style appears to date it post 1900, with the image composed of strong lines and very little, if any shading on the figure. The page which the bookplate is mounted on shows Nelson’s address as 1 Hare Court, EC4 and it is also noted, in the same hand as Nelson’s address, on the bottom of the page, that it was given by the artist in 1923.[14] This may provide further proof that bookplate was made as a result of the two artists meeting at the Blackheath School of Art.

It seems quite likely that De Sauty departed the UK, on 21 September 1923, from the Liverpool Docks on the steamship Montlaurier, a part of the Canadian Pacific Fleet, to Quebec.[15] De Sauty was on his way to Chicago to work for RR Donnelley and Sons, who were leading printmakers in the US.[16] Working for their bookbindery, known as the Extra Bindery, he was responsible for many projects not least the continuation of traditional methods of book binding including hand binding of books. This was heavily promoted by Donnelley as one of the major selling points of products produced at the Extra Bindery. De Sauty hired three European trained bookbinders, William Anson, Basil Cronk and Leonard Mouteney[17] to be a part of the Extra Bindery, each well versed in traditional binding skills. In all, he spent over 11 very successful years running the Extra Bindery.

Alfred de Sauty, Floreat Chicago!, aquatint, 1930’s, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Whilst in Chicago De Sauty once again took up printmaking producing some stunning, atmospheric images of the city. These were the objects that first brought his work to my attention. The aquatint Floreat Chicago! (above) depicted the city as one huge, flourishing metropolis with skyscrapers appearing to have been built one on top of the other. Two other aquatints by De Sauty: Chicago by Moonlight, The Ward Memorial and Chicago Fair, 1933 highlight De Sauty’s interest in light effects and night time scenes.[18]

More research needs to be done on De Sauty’s travels to and from the USA as he, his wife Georgina and their children travelled back to the UK on a number of occasions. In 1928 De Sauty returned from the UK to New York on the Cunard Ship Carmania, leaving Southampton, 12 May 1928.[19] Sydney De Sauty travelled to the US on 23 August 1924, presumably to visit his parents.[20] Georgina, returned to the UK from New York on 7 June 1927, travelling on the Atlantic Line steamship Minnekahda.[21] She returned to the UK from New York again on 13 December 1927, perhaps to visit her son Sydney at Christmas, on the Cunard Line ship, Antonia, disembarking at Plymouth.[22] Sydney also travelled to New York, with his wife, in October 1930.[23]

According to Tidcombe, De Sauty returned to the UK in 1935 after retiring from his position at RR Donnelly. Following his retirement, the Extra Bindery was then led by Harold Tribolet, who started his career at RR Donnelley as an apprentice.[24] Initially, on his return, he lived in Land’s End and then moved to North London. In 1938 De Sauty is recorded living at 94 Priory Road, East Finchley.[25] Whether he returned to producing art is not certain although he trained as an air raid warden at the beginning of the Second World War and was awarded a civil defence medal for his efforts during this period.[26]

De Sauty died in 1949 at the age of 79 in North London. He is remembered as a fine practitioner of traditional bookbinding methods more in the USA than the UK. One can only wonder if two world wars did not impede on his career how prolific his output would have been. Without these interruptions he would now be better known and renowned in the UK, not just as a bookbinder of great skill but also as a fantastic printmaker. I hope to have the opportunity to look closer at his prints in the future and to add to this entry when I discover more about him.

[1] Charles Victor De Sauty died on 23 April 1893 in Gibraltar at 59 years of age. He was a superintendent of the Eastern Telegraph Company according to the entry in the National Probate Calendar of 1893. A portrait sketch of him, depicted top centre, drawn by Henry O’Neil, appeared with other members of the crew in the Eastern Telegraph (the ship’s newspaper in 1865). He left effects in excess of £7000 to his widow Jane Smith De Sauty and his son Alfred. His mother Jane Smith De Sauty died on 7 January 1927 at age 84 (National Probate Calendar, 1927). Tidcombe, ‘The Mysterious Mr De Sauty’, p. 329. Alfred de Sauty started working as a junior electrician for the Eastern Telegraph Company.
[2] Ibid. He served on the Eastern Telegraph Company’s ships for 11 years, travelling through Africa and India.
[3] ‘Awards in the Studio Prize Competitions’ in The Studio, October, 1897, pp. 61 & 65. The prize was half a guinea.
[4] 1911 Census – he was 41 years of age at this time and was married to Georgina although there is a line through his wife’s name and she was 34 years old. The census also refers to them having a child but they were not recorded in the census. This would have been his son, Sydney, who was born in 1899. Georgina Harriet Gangler was born on 13 September 1878 in Newland Street (40?) in the Parish of Saint Luke’s Chelsea.
[5] Tidcombe, op. cit., p. 330. De Sauty resided at 1a South Hill Park, Hampstead. Tidcombe adds that De Sauty was most likely reticent in mentioning this period as he was later to have problems with the Bindery’s owner Kerslake claiming De Sauty’s work as his own. It is in this passage that De Sauty’s learning of the craft of bookbinding is linked with Chiswick College.
[6] Loc.cit., p. 311. De Sauty had a studio space in 1901 at 4 Mays’s Buildings, St Martin’s Lane and in 1904 at 21 Archer Street works, Great Windmill Street.
[7] The school is described as being the leading place to learn the craft of bookbinding from 1897 to 1963. Conroy, T, ‘Training of Binders in England’ in Guild of Book Workers Journal, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1 & 2, 1990, p. 13.
[8] ‘Mr De Sauty has succeeded in developing a new and admirable style of inlaid leathers, combined with delicate pointille work.’ ‘Bookbinding’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 4, 1911, p. 218.
[9] Tidcombe, op. cit., p. 332.
[10] Ibid., p. 332. He also designed the decorative tools used by the Society of Women Binders.
[11] National Library of Wales, Annual Report, p. 36. The titles of the works which relate to UK subjects are:
The Serpentine, Some Chelsea Roofs; A Zante Church (noted to have been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1913); On the Zennor Road - St. Michael's Mount; From Church Tower - Bungay; Dawn - Cornwall; St. Mary's - Penzance; Spiderwort; The Lights of London; Toll bridge, Shoreham; Shoreham Harbour and Norfolk Bridge – Shoreham. I assume that the London images date from the period before the First World War and the others, depicting scenes outside London, may possibly be from when he returned to the UK
[12] Loc. cit., p. 33. De Sauty transferred his drawings onto etching plates and printed them. Artists joined the United Arts Corps along with actors undertaking various military tasks throughout the city of London.
[13] Ibid. See also note 12 – which describes that De Sauty focused on a toy making business as it was more profitable and subsequently sold his bookbinding equipment to Mason.
[14] London Post Office Directory, 1934, p. 2504 NEI – NET shows that Nelson still had his studio at Hare Court at this time. The date on the bottom of the page on which the bookplate is mounted is 16 August 1923. Thanks to Annie Budzinski from the West Chicago Public Library for allowing permission to use this image.
[15] It seems most likely that he was number 50531 on the passenger list entered as ‘Alfred Sauty’ along with his wife Georgina. His last recorded address in the UK was Ivy Cottage, Joyce Green, Dartford and his occupation as ‘Farmer’. There is some doubt about this, not least his listed occupation, as their country of intended residence was listed as Canada. It does however seem more than a coincidence that the year of birth and the name of his wife both match.
[16] Tidcombe, op. cit., p. 333. Douglas Cockerell was consulted by RR Donnelly about British staff to run their bindery and recommended De Sauty. Cockerell had also recommended De Sauty take over his teaching at the Central School when he left for W.H. Smith.
[17] Coventry, K, ‘RR Donnelley & Sons Company: Its Role in the Development of Commerce, Craft and Culture in Chicago’ in Caxtonian: Journal of the Caxton Club, Vol. XV, no. 1, January 2007, p. 6.
[18] These two works are also in the Smithsonian collection and others from the edition are recorded in the National Library of Wales.
[19] De Sauty’s occupation is listed as ‘no info’ and his address as 32 Danvers Road, Hornsey. He was passenger no. P1921. His country of intended permanent residence was the USA.
[20] Sydney travelled on the George Washington, from Southampton. His recorded occupation was ‘engineer’ and address was 1 Hepton Road, Streatham.
[21] Georgina De Sauty was passenger no. 106 in the manifest and her proposed address in the UK was 12 Bishop’s Park Road, Norbury.
[22] On this occasion her UK address was recorded as 32 Danvers Road, Hornsey and she was passenger no. 117. Sydney was recorded as living at 32 Danvers Road, Hornsey when he travelled to the USA in 1930 (see footnote 18  for details) and in the 1935 Electoral Roll.
[23] Sydney and his wife Violet travelled to New York on 11 October 1930. They were passenger no’s 9441 (Violet) and 9442 on the Cunard Line ship Caronia. Their address was recorded as 32 Danvers Road, Hornsey, N8.
[24] Printing for the Modern Age, Craftsmanship by Example: Fine Binding, University of Chicago website - https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/webexhibits/PrintingForTheModernAge/CraftsmanshipByExample.html
[25] De Sauty lived at 94 Priory Road, London, N8 according to the 1938 or the Central Hornsey Ward. The following were also recorded at this address his wife Georgina Harriet De Sauty, his son Sydney De Sauty and his wife Violet Irene De Sauty. Two others are listed at this address: Doris Margaret Boswell and Gladys Irene Priscilla Ross.
[26] National Museum of Wales, loc. cit. The list includes a framed wood engraving entitled, Newlyn, Cornwall described as being dated ‘41’. This is the only art work I have come across so far that is dated after his return to the UK in 1935.


  1. Hello Bowley Bear
    Coincendence seems to have crossed your path once more. I found your blog today as I was searching for information about a framed drawing I found in my parents cupboard that I was cleaning. My mother than told me the story about this artist ( Boss) Alfred de Sauty who lived in the attic of her home in Priory road when she was a teenager. We have three etchings and one painting that he created. Let me know if you would like to know more.

  2. Hi Tracy,
    Thanks for your comment, I would love to know more about the works your family has by Alfred de Sauty. You can email at christomorton@yahoo.co.uk

  3. I will send you an email with the images. Kind regards, Tracy

  4. Chris: For my undersea communications history website I have recently been working on a page on the cable station in Newfoundland which was established for the 1858 Atlantic cable. I found your interesting post while researching Alfred de Sauty for a brief note there.
    Prior to his work on the 1865 Atlantic cable, Alfred's father Charles (almost always recorded as "C.V. de Sauty") was chief electrician during the laying of the 1858 cable and then superintendent of the short-lived cable station at Bay Bulls Arm in Newfoundland. While there he made a plan of the station site, and I recently acquired the original of this as part of a group of cable material which had belonged to C.V. de Sauty and was then passed on to Alfred. Some of the items have Alfred's small Ex Libris bookplate (no illustration, unfortunately), and there is also a paper tape of the first message through the 1858 cable, annotated by C.V. de Sauty and authenticated by a note from Alfred.
    C.V. de Sauty's drawing and my notes on him and Alfred are towards the end of this page:


    Bill Burns

    1. Hi Bill,
      Thanks so much for sharing your information it's really interesting and provides some great insight into De Sauty's family. It's also brilliant that you mentioned the blog - it is much appreciated.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Thanks, Chris! I'm always very pleased when the internet allows two apparently unrelated lines of research to coincide.
    I'd like to see Marianne Tidcombe's short article that you mention in the notes, "The mysterious Mr de Sauty". Do you happen to have a copy?
    My email address is at the bottom of my web page linked above if you want to take this off line.


  7. Hi Bill,
    I completely agree - it's great to be able to share research with interested people. I have just emailed you - hope you enjoy it. If you ever come across anything about De Sauty in Blackheath or his printmaking do let me know.

  8. Hello Bowley Bear
    Alfred was my Great Uncle. I never knew him but met his son Sydney when I was a young child when he lived in Kent. I think Sydney was one of my younger brother's God parents. I also knew his sister Jena also called Jenny. When I last saw her in 1964 she lived in Mickleham, near Dorking in Surrey. My grandmother, Kathleen, Alfred's other sister died before I was born.
    Alfred often stayed at the Porthcurno residence of the Eastern Telegraph Company in Cornwall, along with my grandmother, Jenny and their mother Jane.In fact there is a diary at the museum there which is available online which records Alfred's father's last days and death. Alfred decided to become an artist after a visit to the nearby Newlyn Art Gallery that exhibited contemporary art. He is likely to have met the St Ives group of artists as well.He trained in London, possibly at Chelsea Art School.
    I have some of his books and somewhere water colours of Newlyn Harbour that came from his sketch book. I may also have a print of a Thames Barge but may have given this to a friend who admired it. I'm not sure my family as a whole realised how good an artist he was.
    I can ask surviving cousins if they have any more information.
    Best wishes