Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bookbinding Finds

Continuing with our gleanings from online exhibits of book designs, we present these highlights from The University of Rochester's Beauty for Commerce: Publishers’ Bindings, 1830-1910.
Elizabeth von Arnim, the author of The Solitary Summer, was a noted gardener, so this rendition of a flower scene is particularly apt.
This boat just bursts off the cover!
The introduction to the Rochester exhibit gives a good introduction to the evolution of bookbinding. Here is an excerpt:
By the early nineteenth century, publishing was separating from bookselling and binders began to get larger batches of work directly from publishers. Since the cost of binding fell to them, publishers sought an attractive binding style that was less costly than traditional hand binding in leather, but more permanent than paper wrappers or paper over boards. Bookbinders, struggling to keep up with the increased output of the printing trade and the demands of the publishers, sought a faster means of production.
The need for speed, simplicity, and economy in book production led to the introduction of cloth as a binding material and casing as a binding process. The dress fabrics silk and velvet had been used sporadically in binding but lacked durability and were expensive. In the early 1820s, the English publisher William Pickering introduced edition bindings in cloth. Pickering's binder, Archibald Leighton, worked to make cloth commercially viable by adding a fill, or sizing agent, that would both render the cloth impervious to adhesive and allow it to take dye evenly. In 1825 Leighton had ready a plain book cloth and, by 1828, a smooth, glazed cloth. To publishers, this new book cloth offered a binding material of some permanence at a cost only slightly higher than paper over boards. To binders, book cloth offered a material that was easier to work than leather, thereby helping them to speed production.
This impressive ornamental cover was done by influential designer Margaret Armstrong for Houghton Mifflin in 1899. She was a pioneer in designing authors' works as distinctive sets.
In their exhibit "How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris," the University of Maryland library displays an 1890 edition of The Roots of the Mountains bound in Morris & Co.'s "Honeysuckle" fabric. Morris modestly declared it "the best-looking book issued since the 17th Century."

Morris published The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems in 1858, at the age of 24. The decorative binding and illustrations for the 1904 edition were done by Scottish artist Jessie M. King, known for her Art Nouveau designs and contributions to the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Which of them would you like for your home library?


  1. I love the Morris illustrations for "The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems" -- stunning!

    1. Or rather, the King illustrations for Morris' book.

  2. I would love to have copies of The Solitary Summer and Wymps. Both are really beautiful and interesting to look at. I have never heard of either of them before now, but the cover of Wymps makes it look a lot like Madeline.

  3. Guenevere is pretty awesome. Tent on the Beach also caught my eye. Very cool covers. Wish they still made books like these.

  4. Wymps also reminds me of The Shining.
    The books are lovely, and I would have them all. But I hope to see more info on paper stock and typeface--one helps the book's longevity and the other for ease of reading.

  5. Margaret Armstrong's work is utterly stunning!! I'd love to stumble across on of these in a dusty, moldy bookstore:)
    I'll pose a question to everyone -- is there anyone you can think of in the book world doing their part to keep design alive? Nothing comes to mind but I'd love to hear about it...

    1. I think the publishers are responsible for the covers more so than the writers, but writers are doing great things with textual art. Which is just as fascinating, but adds more to the story itself than the cover will.

    2. Wilhelm: Folio Books is the only publisher that comes to mind. I hope to do a piece on them in the future.

  6. I really love the binding on The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems the artwork is breathtaking!!!

  7. So much about the bottle; let's hear from the wine:
    "For no man comes now to know why I sigh;
    And no man comes to sing me pleasant songs,
    Nor any brings me the sweet flowers that lie
    So thick in the gardens; therefore one so longs
    To see you, Launcelot; that we may be
    Like children once again, free from all wrongs..."
    From "The Defence of Guenevere" by William Morris

    Well, maybe she was just a little hypocritical there, but if anyone still cares about beautiful old things, perhaps they care, too, about Guenevere"s lament, her betrayal, and Launcelot's disloyalty.
    Then the physical beauty of the book and its contents will form a relic from a foreign exotic land...the past.