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. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

New “Finds” (A guest post by Mark Schumacher)

In the last few weeks, we have come across several new illustrators and artists, most of them women, who also contributed to the world of binding design. Most of the books involved are volumes aimed at children—readers, introductions to geography, and tomes of fairy tales or familiar legends, like Robin Hood. Although these designs may not always have the elegance of other covers [see http://libcdm1.uncg.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/tb1/id/2042/rec/1], they do show us artists heretofore unknown as book designers.

Charlotte Harding (1873-1951), a student of Howard Pyle at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, worked as an illustrator for several popular magazines in the early 20th century, and was a member of The Plastic Club, an organization for female artists, also in Philadelphia. She also worked with Alice Barber Stephens (1853-1932). Her cover for Eva March Tappan’s Robin Hood, his book (1903) reflects the style of her illustrations for the volume. The illustrations won a Silver Medal at the International Exposition in Saint Louis in 1904! A 1982 exhibit of her works included eight books and scores of magazine illustrations.