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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Bookbindings After 1800

Bindings have sometimes been likened to mere containers or envelopes for their texts—comparisons that assume no relationship between the two. Yet bookbindings and their contents in many ways are inseparable. As Mirjam Foot has persuasively argued, “bindings are an essential part of book production, if we consider its full cycle from reader to writer.” Foot, who taught at Rare Book School from 1993 to 2002, likens the longer history of bookbinding to a “mirror of society” that reflects how books were sold and received, how they were valued, how they were used, and, ultimately, what they meant to individuals.

Francesco Petrarca. Rime scelte. [London]: [T. Becket, William Bulmer & Co.], 1801.

Purchased with support of the AKC Fund.

Edwards of Halifax bindings were produced by the binding and bookselling enterprise founded by William Edwards (1723–1808) in the English town of Halifax. The British firm became known for painted parchment and vellum bindings, fore-edge paintings, and calf bindings in a style known as Etruscan, of which this is an example. Etruscan bindings feature Greek vase and lyre ornamentation that imitate the patterns of terracotta urns from Greek antiquity.

Il decameron di Messer Giovanni Boccacci cittadino Fiorentino [vol. 2]. Amsterdamo [i.e., Naples]: n.p., 1703; George Coleman. The Circle of Anecdote and Wit. London: Printed for J. Bumpus et al., 1822.

These two decorated leather-covered bindings incorporate color into their designs, but in very different ways. The taller of the two is an 18th-century Italian binding that features a strapwork design tooled in gold and filled in with green paint applied by hand. The second example, a 19th-century English binding, features a diamond-shaped onlay of thinly pared red leather that has been tooled in gold where its edges meet the green straight-grain morocco underneath. Onlays were more time consuming and costly to prepare thanthe hand painting seen on this Italian binding.

John Galt. Letters from the Levant. London: Cadell & Davies, 1813. Cottonian binding made by the Southey family.

This volume was rebound by Robert Southey and his daughters Edith May, Bertha, Katharine, and Isabel. Southey, who was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, had learned how to bind books and taught his daughters the craft; when the covers of their books at Greta Hall became worn, they created new covers made from bright, color-printed cotton fabrics, likely intended for dressmaking. They dubbed this their “Cottonian Library,” referencing the fabric they used, while playing on the name of Sir Robert Cotton, whose collection formed the core of the British Museum Library.

D. Mariano José De Zúñiga y Ontiveros. Calendario manual para el año del señor de 1818. México: Officina del Autor, calle del Espiritu Santo, [1817].

By no means elaborate in execution, the wrappers of this small Mexican almanac serve as an example of dabbed paper. The paper used for the book’s wrappers was decorated, probably using a small natural sponge, with red, black, and yellow paint. Dabbed, or “daubed,” paper was used in Spain and Italy for book covers and endpapers, with the red, black, and yellow combination a common choice. Dabbed papers were also adopted for use in Mexico, where this book was printed.

Ahmad al-Narāqi. Wasilat al-najat [On Acts of Devotion]. Iran, 1819.

The upper and lower covers of this lacquered Islamic binding for a theological text by a poet associated with the court of the Fath ‘Ali Shah Qajar feature a central mandorla with two pendants, painted floral borders, and gold decoration. Lacquer techniques for bindings were first developed in Persia from the end of the 15th century onwards. The first lacquer bindings were composed of heavily chalked leather; later examples, such as this one, were composed of paperboards fixed with gypsum or chalk. Lacquer bindings are usually considered a special type at the higher end of the book trade.

[Walter Scott.] Kenilworth; A Romance. Edinburgh: Printed for Archibald Constable and Co.; and John Ballantyne, Edinburgh; and Hurst, Robinson, and Co., London, 1821.

Although it was not the very first three-decker novel produced in Britain, Scott’s Kenilworth made the format popular. Multi-volume novels were common in the 1700s and early 1800s. The term “three-decker” was reserved for novels printed and bound in three post-octavo volumes and sold at the fixed price of £1 11s. 6d—the first being Anastasius, published by John Murray in 1819. The high price, about an entire week’s wages of a skilled laborer, was not affordable for most readers. Most copies were sold to circulating libraries, which charged readers an annual subscription.
Left to right:

Gaius Valerius Catullus. Tibullus et Propertius. Londini [London]: G. Pickering, 1824.

Gift of Donald G. Davis Jr.

Novum Testamentum Græcum. Londini [London]: Gulielmus Pickering, 1828.

Gift of the University Research Library, UCLA.

James Grahame. The Sabbath, and Other Poems. London: Published by Jones & Company, 1825.

Gift of David Whitesell.

Two of these miniature books—Tibullus et Propertius and a Greek New Testament—were published by William Pickering in the 1820s and bound in cloth prepared specifically for bookbinding. The former was likely a schoolbook, as indicated by the ink stains on its cover. William Pickering experimented with adapting cloth for bookbinding, which he began using in 1821 for his Diamond Classics series. The third example, The Sabbath, was bound in green silk likely intended for dressmaking. The cloth has since worn away almost entirely around the hinges of the spine.

Charles Dickens. David Copperfield. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1849–1850.

Gift of Hans-Ulrich Scharnberg.

David Copperfield was issued in 20 parts in 19 pictorial wrappers (the final part being a double number). Each part typically contained two engravings and sold for a shilling, except for the last double part, priced at two shillings. The parts usually contained ads, ranging from Gowland’s Lotion to wigs, overcoats, and mattresses. Issuing books in parts was not new to the 19th century, but it was a popular practice, allowing publishers to distribute their total production cost over time while receiving income along the way. Readers paid for books in smaller financial installments.

Histoire naturelle des animaux les plus remarquables de la classe des mammifières. . . . Tours: Alfred Mame et Cie, Imprimeurs-Libraires, 1860.

Gift of Jan Storm van Leeuwen in memory of Sue Allen.

Alfred Mame founded his firm in Tours, France, in 1795. It soon grew into an extensive printing and bookselling enterprise including a vast industrial-scale bindery housing more than a thousand workers. This embossed and gilt paper-covered binding, featuring a chromolithographed paper inset, is characteristic of Mame’s series for young Christian readers, the “Bibliotheque de la jeunesse chretienne.” The series was modestly priced, and schools often distributed the volumes as prize books.

Sue Allen. American Book Covers, 1830–1900: A Pictorial Guide to the Changes in Design and Technology Found in the Covers of American Books between 1830 and 1900. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Binding & Collection Care Division, Preservation Directorate, 1998.

This brochure, written and designed by the late Sue Allen (1918–2011), offers a timeline for the design and manufacture of 19th-century American publishers’ bindings. Allen was the foremost authority on the subject, and she taught courses at RBS over four decades. She received the American Printing History Association laureate award in 1999 in recognition of her work; indeed, with the digitization (and guillotining and destruction) of books in libraries, many publishers’ bindings were likely saved owing to Allen, who drew attention to their artistry, beauty, and social history.

[Isaac Clark Pray]. Memoirs of James Gordon Bennett and His Times. New York: Stringer and Townsend, 1855.

Gift of Patricia Otto.

This binding for James Gordon Bennett’s memoirs features a striking vignette stamped in gold. Bennett was the editor and publisher of the New York Herald, which he founded in 1835. The vignette was made specifically for this publication: the bottom-most book in illustration exhibits a date of 1835 and the topmost book is dated 1855—the year when this book was published. Book covers offered clues to their contents well before the mid-19th century. But the practice became more common after 1832, when the Imperial Arming Press began to be used for gold stamping on cloth.
Left to right:

Reverend C. W. Everest. The Moss-Rose: For a Friend. Hartford: Brown and Parsons, 1847.

J. M. Fletcher, ed. The Golden Gift: A Token for All Seasons. Hartford: Brockett, Fuller & Co., 1848.

Anna Ferguson. The Young Lady. Lowell: Nathaniel L. Dayton, 1848.

Gift of Vincent Golden.

These three American 19th-century miniature books are each bound in cloth printed with a distinctive striped pattern—textiles probably intended for dressmaking or for use in domestic furnishing. It may come as no surprise then that each of these three volumes were produced as gift books largely intended for women readers. The Young Lady, which specifically addresses “youthful females” in its preface, contains the following gift inscription in pencil: “Martha Chase | Take this as a gift | from a friend | George W. White.”

Nathanial Hawthorne. The Marble Faun: Or, the Romance of Monte Beni. 2 vols. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1860.

Gift of the American Antiquarian Society via the good offices of Vincent Golden.

In his study of the Boston-based publishing firm of Ticknor and Fields (founded in 1854), RBS faculty member Michael Winship describes how the firm established a signature binding style, as typified in this 1860 copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Marble Faun. In the late 1840s, Ticknor and Fields began to issue most of its general trade books in a distinctive brown cloth covered binding, decorated with an “elaborate four-lobed arabesque design blind-stamped at the center of the sides and sober gold-stamped lettering on the spine in panels of blind-stamped double rule.”

Owen Meredith. Lucile. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1860.

Gift of Peter S. Graham.

In addition to their sober, brown cloth-covered bindings, Ticknor and Fields found great success with their small, pocket-sized “Blue and Gold” books uniformly bound in gold- and blind-stamped blue cloth. The series proved to be extremely popular; it was frequently imitated by other American publishers. This book, however, is not just an example of a series binding—it is also one of RBS’s several hundred copies of the 19th-century verse novel Lucile. From 1860 to 1938, nearly a hundred American publishers brought out at least 2,000 editions and issues of Lucile.

Maria Edgeworth. Waste Not, Want Not, and Other Stories. New York: James Miller, n.d.

RBS owns 78 bindings impressed with decorative brass stamps made by John Feely (ca. 1819–1878). John Feely was an Irishman who worked in London and then immigrated to the United States with his family around 1843. Feely specialized in creating metal stamps for book covers, as well as in making typographic ornaments, both of which he cut by hand on hard-rolled brass. Unlike many die engravers of his day, Feely incised a portion of his stamp with either “JF” or “FEELY,” as seen in this example.

Algernon Charles Swinburne. Songs before Sunrise. London: F. Ellis, 1871.

Gift of Jerome McGann.

The poet, painter, and illustrator Dante Gabriel Rossetti designed this binding for a book of poems written by his close friend, Algernon Charles Swinburne. The binding, reputed to be Rossetti’s masterpiece, incorporates three rondels depicting the stars, crescent moon, and rising sun on its upper and lower covers. The rondels echo are vaguely akin to medieval brass bosses in their positioning. At the same time, the minimal, asymmetrical design reflects Rossetti’s interest in Japanese art—an influence more broadly visible in design during this period, though usually without the same degree of restraint.

Herbert W. Morris. Harmonies of the Universe, as Displayed in the Laws of Nature, the Dominion of Providence, and the Dispensations of Grace. Philadelphia: P. W. Ziegler & Co., 1878.

Gift of Todd Pattison.

This critique of Darwin offers a defense of Creationist theory. Bound in an imposing publisher’s bookbinding, the book’s thick, three-dimensional covers and heft are reminiscent of copies of the Bible published in the 1870s. The decoration on its covers is also characteristic of the decade, when beveled boards were popular and when gold leaf and reflective black stamping were first used together. The book’s former owner inscribed the flyleaf with a quote from scripture, likely intended as a warning to those to whom she loaned it: “‘The wicked borroweth and returneth not’ | Proverbs.”

Ryūkatei Tanekazu (柳下亭種員). Shiranui monogatari (The Tale of Shiranui), vol. 48. Tokyo: Enjudō (延壽堂), 1878. 

Shiranui monotagari was one of the most popular works of serialized pictorial fiction, known as the gōkan genre, at the end of the Edo period (1853–1868) and in the early Meiji period. This is one installment of two fascicles of the work. Gōkan have colorful, dynamic, and aesthetically pleasing covers that combine as pairs to form unified compositions. These fascicles were illustrated by Ikkeisai [Utagawa] Yoshiiku. The red and purple aniline dyes immediately identify them as having been produced in the Meiji period, as such dyes were not available for use in Japan before the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

Henry D. Thoreau. Walden. Vol. 1. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1897.

Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842–1904) became one of the most well-known American book cover designers at the end of the 19th century. Whitman worked primarily for the publisher Houghton Mifflin, and it is estimated that she designed between 250 and 300 covers for the firm. Her designs stripped away the heavy ornamentation of publishers’ bookbindings. Sue Allen, who taught with several of Whitman’s books in her RBS course, considered Whitman’s design for Thoreau’s Walden among her most accomplished works—although it must be noted that the cloth was originally a much darker green.

Oscar Kuhns. Switzerland. Its Scenery, History, and Literary Associations. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., ca. 1910.

Gift of Linda Wilson.

RBS’s teaching collection includes hundreds of bindings designed by Margaret Armstrong (1867–1944), who hailed from an established and well-connected New York family. Between 1890 and 1913, Armstrong designed more than three hundred book covers for several different American commercial publishers. She sometimes signed her designs: this copy of Kuhns’s guide to Switzerland is signed “MA” in the lower right-hand corner of the upper cover. Armstrong’s designs were most often ornamental in nature and botanical in inspiration. The Alpine landscape shown here is one of the few examples of pictorial motifs found among her book covers.

Gustave Flaubert. Salammbô. Paris: Librairie de France, 1922.

Gift of Jan Storm van Leeuwen.

From the 1920s to the 1950s, the art of bookbinding in France was dominated by the Art Deco style, as represented in this striking binding by C. Grandgeorge. Covered in dark-green goatskin, the binding’s symmetrical design features concentric, interlocking circles tooled in silver on circular, dark red leather onlays, evoking the scales of an enormous python described in the text of Gustave Flaubert’s Salammbô, an historical novel set in ancient Carthage.

Charles Deulin. Contes d’un buveur de bière; dix hors-textes en couleurs de Noël Dum. Paris: Éditions du Panthéon, 194; Paul Claudel. Visages radieux. Paris: Egloff, [1945].

Gift of Anne De LaTour Hopper and Duane Hopper.

These two bindings were created by Anne De LaTour Hopper (b. 1941) during her studies in bookbinding at the Ecole de l’Union Centrale des Arts decoratifs in Paris. Hopper purchased unbound copies of fine press books from the bookstalls on the banks of the Seine and then used them to create custom bindings inspired by the geometric patterns in vogue in mid-20th-century France. Both bindings feature onlays as well as gold and blind tooling.

Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre. Melbourne, London, Boston: Penguin Books, 1953; Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre. New York: Pocket Books, Inc., 1953.

Mass-market paperbacks as we know them today were established in 1935 with Penguin Books. Covers were color coded: literary fiction appeared in orange; mystery and crime fiction appeared in green; biography in blue; pink for travel; etc. A practical comparison of Penguin’s first issue of Jane Eyre and that of Pocket Books helps show just how distinctive the Penguin design was from that of American publishers. Penguins stood apart not only for the elegant design of their covers, but also their scholarly presentation. 22_Chapter6Binding_After_1800 Brooks b.jpg

Gwendolyn Brooks. A Street in Bronzeville. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1945; Riot. 2nd printing. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1970.

In his lecture, “From Poet to Publisher: Reading Gwendolyn Brooks by Design,” RBS faculty member Kinohi Nishikawa compares the physical form of Brooks’s first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, published by Harper & Brothers in 1945, with her later chapbook Riot, published by Broadside Press in 1969. Like most debuting writers, Brooks (1917–2000) had little control over the design of the dustjacket for Bronzeville. However, the design of Riot serves as a visual cue expressing Brooks’ engagement with the Black Arts Movement and Chicago’s Southside community.

Gouache painting and proof for Purnell’s Bancroft Classics abridged edition of Jane Eyre. N.p., n.d.; Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre. Abridged. First published in the Bancroft Classics series in 1967. Maidenhead, U.K.: Purnell, 1975.

This original artwork, painted in gouache on cardboard, was created for a 1967 edition of Jane Eyre abridged for children. The painting was reproduced at a scale of approximately 75 percent, as we see in the proof that accompanies the artwork. (Under magnification, one can discern the roseate pattern of a four-color halftone composed in cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink—CMYK.) The printed paper for the cover is larger than the book’s boards, as additional paper at the edges was needed for the turn-ins.

Sample cover designs for paperback editions of novels by Ursula K. Le Guin: The Beginning Place. Bantam, 1983 (artist unidentified); A Wizard of Earthsea. Bantam, 1984 (art by Yvonne Gilbert).

Bantam Books, founded in 1945, was one of the most successful paperback publishers in the United States. The firm invested a great deal of time in designing eye-catching pictorial covers. RBS recently acquired a small archive of promotional materials issued by Bantam in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including these two cover designs for novels by renowned speculative fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin (1928–2018). Bantam distributed both covers among its account holders for marketing and publicity purposes, and to gain feedback on which designs would be more popular with readers.

Madonna. Sex. Photographed by Stephen Meisel, art directed by Fabian Baron, edited by Glenn O’Brien, and produced by Callaway. New York: Warner Books, 1992.

Some bindings do not stand up to repeated use. RBS owns two copies of Madonna’s controversial 1992 photobook, Sex. In the first copy, the spiral binding is warped, and the leaves have fallen out and are no longer in their original order. In 2017, RBS purchased a second copy sealed in its original printed silvered Mylar package so that students could see how the book appeared when it first hit the market. The Mylar wrapper emulated condom packaging while also protecting the book from “unpaying browsers,” as one New York Times critic put it.