Friday, July 7, 2017

Margaret Armstrong's Great Series; Cloth Color part 2

In the last post we began to look at cloth color as an aspect of trade binding design.  We also took a brief look at publishing practices such as the role of electrotyping in keeping books available for long periods, and “case binding” and how this method of bookbinding allowed publishers to meet increased consumer demand quickly and economically.  We examined several designs by two of the masters of trade binding design, Margaret Armstrong and Sarah Wyman Whitman, and why some books were published in differently colored cloth simultaneously--with John Greenleaf Whittier’s The Tent on the Beach issued in at least four different cloth colors.  We saw how cloth color alone can vary a design’s impact, sometimes dramatically, and how the color of the cloth used was not random, but was made by choice of the designer and/or the publisher, to serve both the design and the book buying public’s preferences.  






As promised, in this post we’ll look at the use of cloth color for “series” (or “editions”) of individual authors.  Since there will be lots of bindings to look at I’ve decided to limit myself to two Margaret Armstrong series, each of which uses the same cloth color to define the series; the different (though related) designs on each book distinguishes the individual titles.  With apologies for turning this topic into a saga, I’m now planning one or two more posts in this series.  In the next post I’ll look at one of my favorite series.  Since this one focuses on the use of one cloth color to “brand” an author, the next will examine how different cloth colors can complement designs for a single author series, by emphasizing the subject of each book.  I’ll also return to the “and beyond” in the title of our blog by discussing how we represent cloth color when we prepare descriptions for bindings in our collection.  A final post will focus on the concept of series as much as that of cloth color, with examples drawn from other Margaret Armstrong “series” in all their variety.   


It seems appropriate to let a family member begin our consideration of Margaret Armstrong’s great series.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Ace up a Designer's Sleeve: Cloth Color part 1

For our next two posts, let’s talk about color.  Cloth color.  It’s one of the three inescapable features of trade bindings from their beginnings in 1820s England through the 1920s, and one of two that continue to this day.  The other two are cloth graining, which was seldom done after the 1910s (I’d say never but there might be some holdovers), and stamping, which today is almost completely reduced to title, author and publisher lettering on the spine.  Stamping on the covers is a topic which comes up in every post; cloth graining has made appearances in past posts and is will be covered in more detail in the future.



I’ll be breaking down my remarks on color into two parts:  in this first I’ll be considering it in the context of designs on several individual titles and how color alone can vary the impact of a design.  In a later post we’ll look at the use of cloth color in designs for “series” or “editions,” that is, series of books by individual authors with different designs on each volume, as well as series with identical designs for different titles.  In both, most examples will be taken from the work of Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944) who frequently appears in this blog.(1)  She is one of the best (many would say the best) cover designer of the late 19th and early 20th century, and is certainly one of the most collected, thanks to the work of Charles Gullans and John Espey. (2)


Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Holidays from the Decorative Designers

It’s only a few days until Christmas and, as always at this time of year, our thoughts are turning to seasonal and wintry topics: decorating the house, seeing family, vacation, finding the perfect gift for that strange uncle, being stranded on a train by a blizzard …


To celebrate the season, our last post of 2016 is a fine wintry design from our friends the Decorative Designers. 




Will Carleton. Drifted in. New York: Every Where Publishing Company, 1908. 

The cover is a model of using space effectively, color, and suggestion. The effects are achieved using only two colors (light blue and black) and gilt on a grayish-blue cloth. The central image of the snow-bound train is enclosed in a rigid frame, with the front of the engine only one eighth of an inch from the left frame. 


Friday, December 2, 2016

To Autumn: John Keats and Margaret Armstrong

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;”

-- autumn has come and, unbelievably, is nearly past.  Outside it's overcast with not much of autumn's characteristic crispness, and only a few leaves remain on the trees.  But inside we have a crisp binding to share:  The Poetical Works of John Keats, edited with notes and appendices by H. Buxton Forman.  Complete edition.  New York:  Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., c1895.




Before we take a closer look at the design, I hope you’ll bear with me for an anecdote about finding this particular book.  I’ve been travelling to bookstores in search of trade bindings for several decades and browsing for them is not as daunting as it might seem at first.  Although they are generally not displayed with the front covers out, and you’re usually confronted by shelf after shelf (or wall after wall) of book spines, it becomes almost second nature to recognize the look of a book published before 1920, and more often than not to be able to tell in what decade, the 1890s for example, the book was published.  Sliding the book out – not by the headband please! – and glancing at the cover only requires a few seconds, after which the book is either in your pile or back in position and you’re on to the next.  I was once in a bookshop in a small town in northeast Ohio which specialized in small press fantasy and horror titles, comics and ephemera, older paperback science fiction and some general stock, with much of the non-genre books gathered in one place on a range of shelves.  Since trade bindings can be found in almost any subject I glanced over the shelves and, to my great surprise, I spotted a likely candidate almost immediately.  Keats, of course, described my feelings perfectly in his sonnet “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer”:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies 
When a new planet swims into his ken; 
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes 
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men 
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise— 
Silent, upon a peak in Darien. 

I remember the scene in that small town bookstore looking something like this:



Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween with Lee Thayer

Happy Halloween from the American Trade Bindings Collection at UNCG!  After a very busy summer, we’re back with an October pick for you to enjoy as you surreptitiously pilfer candy from your child’s trick or treat bag.  Our featured title is The Scrimshaw Millions, by Lee Thayer (New York: Sears Publishing Company, 1932), and is a part of Special Collections’ large Robbie Emily Dunn Collection of American Detective Fiction.



The book’s cover features a jaunty skull and crossbones wearing(!) spats and a rakishly tipped top hat.  Naturally enough, it’s also smoking a cigarette.  But what catches the binding lover’s eye as much as the cover is the name on the cover – Lee Thayer, aka Emma Redington Lee Thayer (1874-1973), one of the original two Decorative Designers.  For those who don’t know of the firm, they were founded in 1895 by Henry Thayer, who was trained as an architect.  He quickly hired Emma Redington Lee, trained in decorative arts at the Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, and Associated Artists.  Lee married Thayer in 1909, and was thereafter known as Lee Thayer.  What made the Decorative Designers unique for a design firm was that it included several artists and used division of labor to complete designs.  The firm also included (at various times and for varying lengths of time) Rome K. Richardson and Adam Empie who transferred and engraved designs, and Charles Buckles Falls and Jay Chambers who provided figures.  These artists also created cover designs on their own, sometimes using their own monograms (for example, "RR" by Rome Richardson and "F" by Charles Buckles Falls).  Henry Thayer did much of the lettering, and Lee Thayer, provided borders, and ornamental designs.  The firm dissolved in 1931, but was able to produce the astonishing output of over 25,000 design items, including thousands of book covers.  The American Trade Bindings Collection currently includes 120 covers by the Decorative Designers. (1)

But Lee Thayer had another career -- mystery novelist -- which began well before the dissolution of the Decorative Designers.