Guild of Book Workers Newsletter
Number 107
August 1996


During a recent trip which included Florence, Italy, I had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Enrico Giannini, one of a trio of brothers who own and operate Giulio Giannini e Figlio, a bookbindery/marbling studio/stationery store in Florence. I thought our readers might be interested in a little profile of this Italian establishment.

Giulio Giannini e Figlio is a 5th generation establishment, began in 1856 by Pietro Giannini and operated today by the brothers Enrico, Guido and Gabriele Giannini plus various sons, daughters, nieces and nephews. The bindery and store have occupied the same location since its inception, in ever expanding and interconnecting spaces, some sections of which are over 600 years old! One section of the premises has an original tower wall constructed on the site in the 1300's; another room had to have its floor raised three feet when the modern thoroughfare was built in front of their establishment. A small but lovely 'museum' upstairs displays the family treasures: bookbinding presses, ploughs, tools and other equipment dating from the 1500 and 1600's, and thousands of decorative brass hand tools, rolls and pallets.

At its inception, the Giannini firm was a bindery specializing in 'commercial' binding: account books, ledgers and the like. During the late 1800's and early 1900's they also developed a devoted clientele of well heeled book lovers who appreciated fine and design bindings and highly decorated photo albums; for many decades they enjoyed this mix of both commercial and fine binding. Enrico's father Giulio Giannini II created gorgeous inlaid leather designs. But war time left little money for the lush leather bindings they had come to be known for so the family began looking for creative ways to reduce the cost of the materials yet still produce a well bound, structurally sound book; they began to print decorated papers from woodblock designs and turned part of their attention to marbling paper. Their marbling became highly skilled, their patterns recognized around the world. Marbling became a passion for Enrico (his marbled 'Tuscan Landscape' is breathtaking!) and eventually spilled over into marbled objects: desk accessories, boxes, book ends and so much more. During the last 30 years the Giannini firm has flourished in this field, combining a highly skilled hand craft with contemporary products. In fact, several people have told me that the Giannini firm is greatly responsible for popularizing the 'Florentine' style of binding and the marbled designs that have prevailed during the last few decades. Mr. Enrico Giannini takes great pride in their unique role in creating the 'marbled object'.

Today, the Giannini's continue their fine binding, probably on a smaller scale than they would have liked, but their marbled papers, books, diaries, desk accessories and marbled objects are in great demand: I was surprised to learn that among their clients are companies the likes of Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York. A Washington State paper company featured Giannini in a lush promotional catalog. Their work has been collected and even exhibited around the world: hundreds of examples of their work were exhibited at La Nuova Strozzina, Pallazzo Strozzi in Florence in 1986, and I had a chance to see first hand a few of their most beautiful bindings which had just been returned from an exhibit in Japan.

One item I just couldn't pass up was the purchase of a blank book quarter bound in leather and scraps of antique ledger pages, beautifully calligraphed, salvaged from the ravages of the famous Florence flood: the company had begged, bought and bartered for numerous tomes that were too badly damaged or too costly to repair (mostly ledgers, ancient company record books, etc.) and then removed and cleaned a few salvageable pages here and there from each volume of 'useless' rubble, which now grace the covers of some of their loveliest books. Enrico Giannini was a gracious and enthusiastic host, and I encourage anyone who has an opportunity to visit Florence to stop in their shop at Piazza Pitti, 37r, Florence, right near the Pitti Palace. He comes to the U.S. (usually Florida and New Orleans) at least once a year, and I hope someday to have him give a slide presentation of their work.