The research I’ll be presenting at the conferences mentioned in my last post focuses on the person of a charming young woman from Brooklyn: Marguerite Duprez Lahey. Born in 1880, Marguerite became the first primary contract bookbinder at the Pierpont Morgan Library. Receiving her first commission around 1908, she eventually moved into the library building, and worked for the institution until her death in 1958. She was revered as the best bookbinder in America during her lifetime, and exhibited her work — much of which centered on rebinding books in the Morgan collection — throughout New York.
I am absolutely fascinated by this woman. It’s true that women were taking up bookbinding at that point in history, particularly wealthy women like Marguerite. However, for most of them, bookbinding was a genteel hobby that passed the time until marriage. In contrast, Marguerite pursued bookbinding with a passion, seeking teachers at home and abroad and achieving a social recognition that bookbinders today can only dream of. Her scrapbook, located in the Morgan Library & Museum archives, is filled with newspaper clippings marveling that the girlish Miss Lahey is so at home with giant book presses (which the writers seem to believe require great strength to operate!).
Despite all of this press during her lifetime, Marguerite Duprez Lahey is practically unknown today, even though the books she treated are tagged in the Morgan catalog with her name. This is partially the reason for my excitement about presenting on her life and work — she was an important figure in the history of bookbinding, and in the history of women bookbinders in particular.