Io Diomedeæ et Amicorum

A strange title for a blog post and a strange wording to find on the front board of a book. It turns up on various Albatross books produced in the period around 1950 when the business was casting around, looking for a way to succeed in the very different publishing conditions after the war.

Albatross had been hugely successful before the war, publishing English language paperbacks in Continental Europe, defeating and effectively taking over, the long established Tauchnitz business. But attempts to revive the brand after the war faltered in the face of difficult market conditions and strong competition from British and American paperbacks, including of course Penguin Books.

In 1948 the business seems to have tried a different approach, having a range of titles bound up in a creamy coloured card binding, almost a sort of false vellum, and probably using existing unsold paperback stock. These were then given a standard Albatross dustwrapper , which in the post-war period showed the name of the local sales partner company, varying by country. All of the copies in this style that I have seen, have a dustwrapper from either Norway, Sweden or Denmark although they may have been sold elsewhere as well.

The front and back boards have an intricate blind stamped frame with on the front the title in the middle, the date 1948 in Roman numerals at the top, and the Latin phrase ‘Io Diomedeæ et Amicorum’ at the bottom. It’s not immediately clear what this means and a quick Internet search brings up a description of a similar book and the suggestion that the phrase translates as ‘I like pie’.

That seems hardly likely, and a more promising search result shows a similar phrase ‘Io Grolierii et Amicorum’, used by Jean Grolier de Servières, a famous bibliophile from the sixteenth century. He had his books bound in a range of fine bindings with this phrase as an inscription on the front board. It translates as ‘ For the use of Jean Grolier and his friends’.

So the Albatross binding it seems is some kind of reference or tribute to Jean Grolier. That’s confirmed by the Wikipedia entry on Grolier, which shows illustrations of some of his books, including strapwork designs very similar to the Albatross cover design. That leaves little doubt that this is a ‘Grolier binding’, albeit very much a poor man’s version of it.

An original Grolier binding

But who might have produced such a binding and why? And if Diomedeæ refers to a person, who is it? In the Greek legends, Diomedes was a warrior in the Trojan War and one of the main characters in the Iliad.

Diomedes, King of Argos

The answer though is far simpler. Albatrosses are seabirds in the family Diomedeidae. The Latin name for the Wandering Albatross is Diomedea Exulans. So ‘Io Diomedeæ et Amicorum’ means ‘For the use of The Albatross and his friends’.

It’s unclear how successful or how widely used this binding was, but Albatross was certainly struggling as a business at this time. Over the next few years it tried various different things in order to survive, including other types of hard binding. In 1951 though it came back to Grolier for a rather more luxurious binding. The copy that I have is on Albatross volume 583 – ‘London belongs to me’ by Norman Collins, but it seems to have been used for other volumes as well, including volume 600.

This time the boards have a rather different strapwork design in colour, but still clearly in the Grolier style, with that same phrase at the bottom and with a central arabesque that refers back to the same source (see the image of a Grolier design above). The book has a glassine jacket, printed on the flaps, and an elaborate design of spine, with more arabesques, the albatross symbol and at the base, the name ‘Torriani’.

The Legatoria Torriani was one the largest Italian bookbinders for most of the twentieth century, based in Milan up until 1960. By 1950 the Albatross company was based in Rome and this book was printed in Verona, so Torriani would have been a natural choice of binder. The owners may well have had an interest in the history of bookbinding and Grolier had spent several years in Milan as an aide to the French Court. While there he had met Aldus Manutius, the founder of the Aldine Press and he had used local bookbinders for many of the books in his library.

Whether the suggestion to use Grolier as the inspiration for a series of Albatross bindings came in the first place from Torriani or from Albatross or from elsewhere, we may never know. But the resulting books now provide rather a nice memorial to both Grolier and Albatross.

Posted on March 21, 2020, in Books, Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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