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 November 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 Bill 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, Bill also worked on edition bindings for small presses and continued to create fine bindings. Bill brought apprentices into his business and taught private classes in Chicago.

In 1984, Bill 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, Kim was instrumental in bringing Bill to Iowa.

Bill established the Conservation Department in the University’s 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 Bill created during his career are in Special Collections at the UI Main Library, 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, Bill continued to train apprentices and interns, and he offered classes to the general University population. 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. Bill 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 Bill’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