Biography of William (Bill) Anthony


Bill Anthony working on a decorated book cover

Bill Anthony finishing cover decoration of a fine binding.

William Anthony was born Nov. 9, 1926, in Waterford, Ireland, and began his apprenticeship in bookbinding there at the age of 16. He later worked as a journeyman in Dublin and at several binderies in England.

In 1965, Anthony came to Chicago to work as a fine binder at the Cuneo Press, where he rose to the position of art director. In 1973, he formed a partnership with Elizabeth Kner and, on her retirement in 1982, continued the business as Anthony & Associates, Bookbinders. Perhaps the most notable conservation work from those years was his work on Northwestern University’s copy of Birds of America, by John James Audubon. While conservation was the mainstay of his business, Anthony also worked on edition bindings for small presses and continued to create fine bindings. He brought apprentices into his business and taught private classes in Chicago.

In 1984, Anthony came to the University of Iowa as the first university conservator. Professor K.K. (Kim) Merker, Professor of English and director of the Windhover Press, envisioned a Center for the Book at Iowa and wanted to recruit a master binder to the Center. With the support of D. C. Spriestersbach, dean of the Graduate College, and University Librarian Dale Bentz, Merker was instrumental in bringing Anthony to Iowa.

Anthony established the Conservation Department in the Main Library, where he and his apprentices worked on rare books from the university collections. Notably, these included conservation bindings of two important early printed books: the Nuremburg Chronicle (1493, in Special Collections in the Main Library) and Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica (1555, in the John Martin Rare Book Room of the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences). He also executed fine bindings, two of which were in traveling exhibitions and seen throughout the U.S. in the last years of his life.

Most of the fine bindings Anthony created during his career are in Special Collections, either donated by his family or purchased with donor funds. Other fine bindings are in private collections and libraries, including the British Library, London; the Lily Library, Indiana University; and the Newberry Library, Chicago.

In the Conservation Department at Iowa, Anthony continued to train apprentices and interns, and he offered classes to the campus community. A former apprentice from the Chicago days, David Brock, said of Bill that he “molded me gently into a craftsman.” All those who studied with him – apprentices, interns, students, and casual visitors – could say something similar. He did not like to criticize but he had an idea of excellence and he wanted to move others in that direction. The respect in which he was held by his professional colleagues led to his chairing the Standards Committee of the Guild of Bookworkers from 1984 to 1988.

Highlights of Anthony’s work at Iowa are the beginning of a collection of model books illustrating the history of bookbinding University of Iowa Book Model Collection, which have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the conservation of the original constitution of the state of Iowa, which he completed shortly before his death in February 1989.

Footage featuring Bill Anthony and UI Conservation Lab

Making Manuscripts

Conserving The Constitution of the State of Iowa