Wednesday, December 23, 2015

December binding of the month club

Happy Holidays from Paul and Callie!

For December we have a seasonal binding.  Its full title is:  The Parson's Miracle, and My Grandmother's Grandmother's Christmas Candle: Christmas in America, by Hezekiah Butterworth.  It was published by Dana Estes & Co. of Boston and is copyright 1894.  The book has a number of illustrations, some of which are signed either "Merrill" (Frank Thayer Merrill, born in 1848) or with the monogram of Lewis Jesse Bridgman (1857-1931).  This copy was published between 1898 and 1914, even though the only date on the book is the 1894 copyright date.  The publisher was previously named Estes and Lauriat, but changed its name in 1898.  In 1914, Dana Estes & Co. was bought by L.C. Page and Company.

Left, an illustration from The Parson's Miracle by Frank T. Merrill with his monogram on the right (signed on the side of the step on which the parson's foot rests).

Left, illustration by L. J. Bridgman; right, his monogram which appears to the right of the foot on the ground.

One of several interesting points about this book is that the cover shows one of the two major causes for the demise of the decorated binding--the illustrated paper paste-on or onlay.  The other, of course, was the dust jacket.  Paper onlays could be easily and cheaply produced and often did not require a new design, as they were often reproduced from the frontispiece or other illustration in the book, or from some illustration the publisher had on hand.  This illustration of Saint Nicholas (or Santa Claus) does not appear in the book.  The cover's lettering (in wildly varying fonts) and illustration border of floral ornaments is stamped in gold on dark blue vertical fine rib cloth.  But any appropriate (or sometimes not so appropriate) illustration could be used within the border.  Fortunately, I was able to find an excellent example of this at reproduced below.

It's difficult to choose between them.  On the one hand, we have Santa without reindeer or sleigh contemplating a toy horse; perhaps considering it as an alternative means of transportation.  On the other we have what appears to be an athletic sock stuffed with mistletoe.   But on both, a bright colorful Christmas image to appeal to the young or the parent.  And for the publisher, a children's book by a popular author that could be issued and reissued in varying Christmas dress.

This is our last post for this year.  We both wish you a very merry Christmas and a wonderful new year.  We hope you'll return with us in 2016!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November Binding of the Month Club

Welcome back club members!  And welcome to all new club members.

The selection for this month is a cover that's both seasonal and one of the more dramatic covers I've seen.  In addition, it's a fine example of the importance of condition in collecting and experiencing book cover art.  I've seen this book in less than good condition with dirty cloth and dulled gold and it makes no impression at all, other than the wish to see it as it was when issued.  Even seeing the spine of this copy gave me the feeling that something good was coming, but I wasn't prepared for the impression that a very nice copy would make.  Without further prelude, here is our November binding of the month, Elizabeth Freemantle's The One and I.

One enormous gold leaf to grab the potential reader's attention.  It works.
The book was published by George W. Jacobs of Philadelphia in 1908.  According to the book's entry in The Annual American Catalog, 1908:

"This story of a novel wooing in the Canadian northwest is told through the diary of an English girl. Her lover, who finally becomes her husband, 'the One with expectations,' is also English, a handsome, clever fellow running an adjacent ranch. They often meet, their conversations on books and music filling considerable space. The girl writes in her diary very elaborate accounts of the life and the nature around her home, which are rich in information."(1)

I haven't read the book, but the third sentence of the summary implies that a certain amount of judicious skimming might be in order.  The novel is set in the Qu'Appelle River Valley which runs through southeastern Saskatchewan and southwest Manitoba. 
From Hathi Trust, University of California copy (2)

I was delighted to learn that the river runs close to the wonderfully named Saskatchewan villages/city of Eyebrow, Elbow, and Moose Jaw

Image from Wikipedia, Moose Jaw

The leaf motif runs through the book, reappearing on the title page and as chapter heading decorations.

From Hathi Trust, University of California copy
From Hathi Trust, University of California copy

The author is a bit of a mystery.  All that I've been able to find out about her is that she was born in 1873 and that Freemantle is a pseudonym, her real name being Elizabeth Rockford Covey.  Furthermore, this is the only book she seems to have written, although I'm not absolutely certain about that either.  She is also credited with a book called Comrades Two (published in 1907 by the Musson Book Company of Toronto).  Some sources say that The One and I is actually the American title and edition of Comrades Two, but there is a significant difference in pagination (246 pages in the Musson edition, 319 in the Jacobs edition).  Both publications have 4 color plates (one is shown above).  A further complication is that the Musson edition does not appear to have a date of publication printed on it.  Cataloging records all have the date bracketed with a question mark.  So the two may be the same book, with the American edition using 70 plus more pages.  The American edition may be an expanded version of the Canadian, they might have been issued simultaneously using different settings of type, or they might be different books.  I have not seen a copy of the Canadian edition--either a physical copy or an online copy--so I can't compare the texts, or see if they use the same cover design.  The page layout of the Jacobs edition does use a lot of white space at the margins and the bottom of the pages, so it's possible that Comrades Two was stretched to 319 pages.

  On the other hand, the verso (back side) of the title page has an odd copyright statement in light of what it doesn't say:

If the book was previously published in Canada, there should be some acknowledgement of Musson if the Canadian edition was published by them in 1907.  If the book was expanded for the Jacobs edition, one would likewise expect some statement to that effect either on the title page verso, or in a preliminary note or preface.  My guess is that the two titles were published simultaneously and the uncertain date in the catalog records for the Musson title are incorrect, and they should be cautiously dated 1908.  The significant difference in pagination would lead me to suspect that the type for the book had been independently set by Musson and Jacobs for their respective editions.  If I want to get some closure on this problem it looks like a trip to Interlibrary Loan is inevitable.

On a personal note, contemplating this cover design has helped to restore me to some degree of equanimity on the subject of leaves.  Specifically, leaves on our property (you know who you are!)  Over the last several weeks the tulip poplars, oaks and sweetgums have been giving of their plenty and my attitude has progressed from wonder to irritation to a sense of the hopelessness of existence. But they are all raked, bagged and happily composting somewhere and, as happens every year, I'm now missing them.  But lest I get too mellow, there are still those spiky sweetgum balls...

Please feel free to send your own suggestions on a cover design you'd like to see featured.  Our collection can be seen at American Publishers' Trade Bindings, and we'd love to hear from you.
Until next month.

(1) Annual American Catalog, 1908: Full Title Entries, p. 124.
(2) All images except cover are from the Hathi Trust Digital Library scan of a copy from the University of California, Davis.$b798901
Image of sweetgum "balls" are from the Garden Naturally blog at:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Marion Louise Peabody

I always get excited when I discover something new--well, new to me anyway. I was looking around for information on Marion L. Peabody a few months back. We have several books designed by her in our collection, which you can view here. She was a very talented artist who knew how to provoke a response from her art work. I think my personal favorite of her designs appeared on The up grade by Wilder Goodwin (Toronto: Musson Book Company, 1910). The art nouveau cover design was used on the original 1910 Little, Brown and Company edition also.

I was looking for information on Marion Peabody because I was trying to complete her authority record while cataloging a book that had one of her designs. An authority record is set up by library catalogers to establish a standardized form of name that is used for all works by an author or other creator (in this case an artist). We do this so someone searching for a particular person does not have to search all the possible names that she might have used, but can find all her works under the standardized form.(1) The authorized form of her name currently is Peabody, Marion L., 1869-. I was looking around for her death date to add to this authorized form of her name. One of my go to places to find out dates for people is I cannot recommend this site enough. It's free, easy to use, and mostly correct. I would still verify some of the information because part of this information is entered by people like you and me off the street, but when you have scanned documents (like in the case I'm about to discuss), it's hard to dispute the accuracy. 

When I was looking for her death date, I came across her passport application from 1921. You can imagine my excitement if you know anything about passport applications from the 1920s! This document is detailed AND it has a photograph of the artist herself. Nothing makes binding designers more real to me than when I see a photograph of them, or a handwritten letter or something along those lines. 

Looking at her passport application(2) I can verify that she was born in Boston, Massachusetts on April 19, 1869. Her father (who was not living at the time of the passport application) was named Charles K. Peabody and was born in Peabody, Massachusetts. Marion had been living in Italy from April 1912 until October 1920. By the time the passport application was filled out in 1921 she was living at 192 Brattle Street (which is still standing) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She last got a passport from the U.S. Embassy in Rome on July 31, 1920 which was surrendered and cancelled. She was attempting to return to Italy for "family business" and to "study," and she wanted to set sail on a ship named the Critic on May 12, 1921.

I love how descriptive (or non-descriptive) these passport applications were. In addition to a photograph you were supposed to have a written description. Marion Peabody was listed as:

Age: 52 years
Stature: 5 feet 5.5 inches
Forehead: high
Eyes: Brown
Nose: Straight
Mouth: Medium
Chin: Prominent
Hair: Reddish-brown
Complexion: Fair
Face: Oval
Distinguishing marks: none listed. 

This is the photograph that appeared in the application (thanks to the FamilySearch site for making all this information available):

This is not how I imagined that Marion Peabody looked, but then again I'm not quite sure what I had envisioned. I can almost picture her leaning over a table creating the above binding design.

Once you start researching, you never know what you will dig up. Again, I say, thank goodness for technology and digitization efforts. Without people taking the time to make this information available online, I would have never been able to find this image or know about her living in Italy for so long without a lot of research in print resources.

I still haven't found her death date, but I haven't given up. It will take a little more digging and possibly some time for someone to digitize something that will point me to this date. In the meantime, I'll be content with finding cool clues along the way about Marion L. Peabody and the person she was. 

1. If you're interested in this subject, the Library of Congress has prepared a booklet describing the data format catalogers use and the kinds of records we create. You can find it at:
2. "United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925," database with images, FamilySearch( : accessed 18 November 2015), Marion L Peabody, 1921; citing Passport Application, Massachusetts, United States, source certificate #17243, Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925, 1561, NARA microfilm publications M1490 and M1372 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,666,802.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Binding of the Month Club

A certain cover design keeps popping into my head.  I like it for no other reason than … I like it!  I don’t know who the designer was; there are certainly more “elegant” designs; that really doesn’t matter.  If I had been browsing in a bookstore in 1902, that book with that cover would be leaving with me, and my $1.50 would be staying.  The point being that some covers just do that to you—make a strong initial impression and then stay with you.  Perhaps it’s an unusual cloth color, or an image that's hard to forget, or both, as with a cover from my June post.(1)  It might be a great example of a design style or what seems to be the representative cover by a certain designer.  It could be a train wreck that you can’t look away from, or something that makes you smile.

To celebrate those covers that either of us just like, our Binding of the Month Club begins this month.  (I considered calling it the B##k of the M#nth Cl#b, but that seems to be trademarked.  So we’ll skirt the edges of infringement with the help of our favorite noun.)

The first offering from the Club is the aforementioned head-popping design:

Hamblen, Herbert E.  The Red-Shirts: a Romance of the Old Volunteer Fire Department.  New York: Street & Smith, 1902.

What a cover!  The story, as far as I can tell, is that of our young hero Robert "Bob" Sinclair who moves from New Hampshire to an unnamed large city.  Here he becomes fascinated with the volunteer fire departments.  He is apprenticed as a stonemason (the same trade as his dour and cheap father) and in his teens becomes involved with volunteer fire department 19.  He has a sweetheart, Sallie Taylor.  And a dog!  A Saint Bernard puppy named Bruno who grows up in the firehouse.  He becomes foreman of the Niagara 50 company (Bob, that is, not Bruno), and rises to even greater glory. 

What follows is adventure! Heroics! Romance! Tragedy!  Nuanced examinations of character! Actually not so much of the last...

But there are "thrilling scenes" aplenty, as well as "jolly good humor" in abundance.  An advertisement from the Overland Monthly(2) sums it all up:

Herbert Hamblen.  Image
from Wikipedia
The author, Herbert Elliott Hamblen (1849-1908) was a civil engineer and an author, born in Ossippee, New Hampshire on Dec. 24, 1849.  He came to New York City as a child and later went to sea as a cabin boy.  After 14 years at sea, from 1864 to 1878, and rising to chief mate, he washed ashore and changed careers, becoming a railroad engineer from 1880 to 1894.  He then became a civil engineer for the New York City Aqueduct Department and began writing books in 1896(3).

It's a little hard to tell who the intended audience is ... general audience? young adults? "every old volunteer fireman"?  The 10 advertisements for other Street & Smith publications 
at the end of the novel aren't much help.  They  include 2 books for girls, 2 Alexandre Dumas novels, some "eerie tales of 'Chinatown'", a humorous insect book, (The Book of Bugs), and a book on ping pong, edited by a "ping pong expert", bound in silk cloth,  for only 50 cents!
But let's get back to the cover.  The cloth is a dark greenish-blue stamped with five  colors--black, red, white, tan, and light blue--and gold.  A large figure of a fireman carrying a speaking trumpet and apparently shouting to his right dominates the cover.  He's dressed in the titular red shirt and wears a fire hat with a large badge with the number 19 on it.  There is stylized smoke, or it might be clouds behind him.  The pictorial area is framed by a black line border.  On the spine is a fire bell with the silhouette of a building below it.  Both the front cover and spine are lettered in gold.  
Although it's not really visible in the picture above, the cloth has a fine (that is, narrow) vertical rib grain.  Books have been written about grained cloth, but suffice it to say that here the grained cloth not only gives the book both an interesting visual and physical texture, but emphasizes the orientation of the design.  This image of the back cover shows the grain more clearly.  
Notable in this design is the sense of movement.  The fireman is breaking out of the frame in four different directions: his left foot is so far "forward" that it rests between the first two words of the title with his heel almost resting on the serif of the "E" and his toes nearly supported by the letter "I" in the following line; his right elbow just about touches the black frame, while his hat does touch the upper frame; the mouthpiece of the speaking trumpet actually does push past the right frame.  The abbreviated image of "smoke" or perhaps clouds behind him outlines the silhouettes of buildings, and its lower continuation suggests that he might be running down a street.  When preparing a design it was important that the artist have at least some idea of the subject matter or story that was to be contained within the covers.  Ideally, she would have the text to examine before starting the design, since the object of the cover was not only to attract the eye, but to give the potential buyer an idea of what was inside the book.  No small task when he only had one image to accomplish all this.  Sometimes the design might reflect one aspect of the contents, or it could illustrate a representative or important scene.  Sometimes it might give a general impression of the genre (for example, a society novel), or it might simply be decorative.  I didn't need to scan the book for long to find that the unknown designer of this cover had a specific scene in mind.  Bob has recently arrived in the big city and pages 20-21 tell exactly what inspired the cover:

"As I wondered at what his words portended, a man carrying a brass trumpet came tearing around the corner, running in the middle of the street. He was by all odds the queerest figure I had yet seen.  He had on a leather hat, with the number 19 on a white shield in front. He also wore a fiery red shirt, and was running as if for dear life. He turned suddenly, put the trumpet to his mouth and called out something that I could not understand, but still kept on running."

Except for the white shield on the hat (on the cover it's red), there's the image.  

Why did I choose this cover?  Aside from thinking it's effective, eye-catching, and--most important--makes we want to read and thus buy the book, I find it a very nice example of the poster style of design.  I won't go into much detail on the poster style; books have also been written on that subject.  There's a nice essay on the poster style and publishers bindings at the University of Alabama's Publishers Bindings Online (PBO) site.  Briefly, although posters have been around for centuries, the 19th (and 20th) century illustrated poster style began in France and was taken up in America in the 1890s.  The “father” of the American poster was Edward Penfield (1866-1925), an artist who was born in Brooklyn and died in Beacon, N.Y.(4)  
Image from the Library of Congress.
Prints and Photographs Division
Edward Penfield.  Image from Wikipedia.
He worked from 1891 to 1901 at Harper and Brothers as an illustrator and art editor for the firm and his first poster, for the April issue of Harper's Magazine, appeared in 1893.(5)  His style has been described as effectively combining Art Nouveau, Japonisme, and Arts and Crafts "to create some of the finest posters, advertisements, and magazine covers of the 20th century."(6)  

(Our only Penfield cover in the American Publishers Trade Bindings collection.  Penfield signed his posters and illustrations with his initials, full name, or the "bull horns" monogram shown on the right)

Other publishers soon followed Harper in commissioning posters for their magazines and books, and within a few years America had succumbed to a full-blown "poster craze."  Collectors were enthusiastic and everywhere.  Although the publisher's intention was to use the poster as advertisement and sell more magazines and/or books, the success of the poster as advertisement rather than as a work of art was dubious. In 1896 a collector complained "I purchase the poster now when once I would purchase the book and I do not think my publishers profit thereby."(7)  People were buying or obtaining copies of posters from booksellers, publishers and other outlets, but were not rushing out to buy the books or magazines themselves.  By the end of the decade the publisher poster phenomenon had largely died out.  The designs were instead used on the magazine covers or books themselves.  The characteristic poster style began to appear on book covers towards the end of the 1890s, at the same time that posters themselves were in decline.  The style continued to appear on covers through the first three decades of the twentieth century until it, along with all other styles of cover design, finally succumbed to the dust jacket.  

Let's take another look at The Red-Shirts in comparison to the characteristics of poster style given by the PBO essay:  a bold design--check; a flat, two-dimensional look--check; limited color scheme--check, although 5 colors is in the upper reaches for a book cover; use of the cloth color as part of the image--check; a figural or narrative scene--check to both; stylized features--check; and close integration of image and text/typeface--check.  

Though the poster style came late to American art and even later to American book covers, it was very common by the turn of the century and even more prevalent in the early 1900s.  Many artists adopted it, at least for some of their designs, and for some it seems to be their preferred style.  Our collection contains many examples of this style.  We are now beginning to do some data cleanup and will begin to add "theme" and/or style headings to make it possible to search for such aspects of the designs (don't try searching yet as nothing has been added, but we'll keep everyone updated on our progress).  In the meantime, here are some illustrations of work from well known poster artists paired with one of their cover designs from the collection. 

Will Bradley, 1868-1962

                                                                                                                                                                             Ethel Reed, 1874-

Blanche McManus, 1869-1935

Louis Rhead, 1857-1926

And many others such as Elisha Brown Bird, Decorative Designers, Frank Hazenplug, J.C. Leyendecker, Florence Lundborg, Amy Sacker, and Frank Berkeley Smith.

Today, posters from the 1890s are scarce and expensive.  But designs from masters of poster art can also be seen on thousands of book covers.  We hope you'll browse our collection for covers designed by your favorite poster artist.  The only drawback to actually having some of these is that they're difficult to hang on the wall.

Please feel free to join in the Binding Club.  No obligations, no dues.  But do send us your choice for binding of the month.  Tell us why you like it (“just because” works for us).  And don’t forget to visit our online collection at American Publishers’ Trade Bindings.


(2) Overland Monthly, Nov. 1902, p. iv.  Viewed online.  
(3) New York Times, Jan. 15, 1910.  "Queries and Answers", p. 34.  Viewed online.
(4) A quick pause to admire the name "Penfield" for an artist.  It's the same pleasure found in a fishmonger named "Salmon," or a dentist named "Toothaker."  Imagine my joy when I found that Penfield studied under George de Forest Brush!
(5) The Library of Congress has a large number of posters digitized.  See in particular their Artist Posters collection at  All poster images are taken from this digital collection.
(6) Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975. Madison, Conn.: Sound View Press, 1999.
(7) American art posters of the 1890s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987, p. 51. Cited in Nancy Finlay’s essay, "American Posters and Publishing in the 1890s," which is particularly valuable for this context.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Going out

We have a few beautiful bindings that came in over the last few weeks.  After cataloging they're making their way to their future home in Special Collections. We can identify binding designers for some of them, and some, as usual, are still a mystery.

 This copy of A Rose of a Hundred Leaves by Amelia E. Barr was published by Dodd, Mead and Company sometime in the early 1900s. We know it wasn't after 1905 because it's inscribed "Xmas 1905" and it was copyrighted in 1891. We know that Alice Cordelia Morse created  this particular binding thanks to Mindell Dubansky's book, The Proper Decoration of Book Covers. There is another version of this binding for this title, also by Alice Morse, that keeps the same concept but has a more elaborate spine and lacks the author's name at the foot of the front cover. It's also a different shade of green and the title decoration seems to be a little bit smaller, although the book itself is bigger so the decoration might be the same size. This edition was deemed the "pocket" edition according to Dubansky.

Marse Chan by Thomas Nelson Page was also designed by Alice Cordelia Morse. Once again, we know this thanks to the work of Mindell Dubansky. As you can see just from these two examples, Alice Morse was a very talented binding designer. The styles on these two bindings are very different, even down to the lettering. This book will be in the Charles M. Adams American Trade Bindings Collection.

Nathalie's Sister by Anna Chapin Ray will go to the Girls Books in Series Collection. It was published by Little, Brown, and Company of Boston in 1909. It's part of The Teddy Books series which, as you can see, appears on the cover. Even though this binding is not signed, it has been attributed to Amy Sacker by our own Mark Schumacher (see his Amy Sacker website ). This title was first published by Little, Brown in 1904 and which has the same cover design but with Amy Sacker's monogram in the lower left corner of the top panel. As we have said in earlier posts, as books go through successive printings, the publisher often would start stripping off the fancier, more attractive parts of the bindings so they could produce them more cheaply (they even stripped away designers' monograms!). The first printing not only had Amy Sacker's monogram but the lettering and ruled borders of the panels were in gilt rather than in ink (as on this copy).

We don't know who designed the rest of the bindings, but the research is always ongoing.

Persis Putnam's treasure by Myra Sawyer Hamlin; illustrated by R.C. Hallowell. Nan series.  Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1908.. 

Sometimes we transfer books from the Library's general stacks into Special Collections. The People of our Neighborhood by Mary E. Wilkins seems to have been first published serially by the Curtis Publishing Company of Philadelphia.  It was issued in book form in 1898 as part of the Ladies' Home Journal Library of Fiction, jointly published by Curtis and Doubleday & McClure of New York. It has a completely different cover (we hold this edition in our Woman's Collection). The copy pictured has the imprint: New York: Melville Publishing Company, 1903. It also includes The Jamesons, by the same author, bound in at the end of the volume, with the imprint: New York: International Association of Newspapers & Authors, 1901. Even though the title page for this copy of the book has the "Melville Publishing Company" as the imprint, it retains the International Association of Newspapers & Authors binding design (note the "I.A.N.A." at the foot of the spine). This will be part of the Woman's Collection

Mabel's mishap by Amy E. Blanchard. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1900. Illustrations by Ida Waugh. Part of the Lad and Lassie series in the Girls Books in Series Collection.

Dorothy Brooke at Ridgemore by Frances Campbell Sparhawk.  New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1912. Part of the Dorothy Brooke books series, this title will be added to the Girls Books in Series Collection. 
It is in its dust jacket (not pictured).

*All books, unless otherwise noted, were donated by Mark Schumacher in memory of his mother, Dorothy Schumacher.

**Note on series: UNCG has created our own series for some of these books. Just because we have a series listed, does not mean that that book necessarily has a series statement present or was issued in a publisher's series. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

The flowers that bloom in the spring ...

Tra la!

I was taking a walk around campus the other day, idly kicking up grass toupees, when I passed a small enclosed garden with some beautiful blooms.  I can tell a pansy from a pie plate, but beyond that I'm fairly hopeless at plant identification.  Not so with many binding designers.  Among them the best botanist was probably Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944).  For collectors, researchers, and admirers of American trade bindings, Armstrong needs no introduction.  But unless you're able to see a large number of her bindings, it might not be obvious just how important an element nature was to her aesthetic.

Of her 300+ known designs well over half feature floral designs or motifs and her title page and text border designs usually also featured botanical elements.  We could say that this culminated in her 1915 title Field Book of Western Wild Flowers (Putnam 1915) for which she supplied not only the text but 550 illustrations.  With several other women, she traveled across the West and into Canada in search of specimens, and she and her friends were the first women to descend to the floor of the Grand Canyon.(1)  As Gullans and Espey describe her: “She was a fine, amateur botanist, and would later in her career become the nearest thing to a professional that one can be without the certifying academic degrees.” (2)  A selection of her designs seems the perfect way to close out this season.

So as the hot and steamy North Carolina spring gives way to the hotter and steamier North Carolina summer, I offer this posy of pictures of Margaret Armstrong bindings.  Some of them may be new to you and some may be old favorites.  Enjoy them all!

Let's start with a few on appropriate subjects in appropriately colored cloths. 

Frances Theodora Parsons, who usually wrote under the name Mrs. William Starr Dana, was a botanist who authored the first field guide to North American wildflowers, How to Know the Wildflowers (1893).  Armstrong did two covers for this book—for the 1893 edition and a different design for the 1895 edition.  An 1897 reprint of the second design is pictured at the head of this post.  According to Season was published in 1894 (left) and was issued again in 1902 with a completely different cover design also by Armstrong (and be sure to look at a third design for this title shown later in the post!)  She also designed the cover for Parson’s How to Know the Ferns (1899).  Her own Field Book of Western Wild Flowers (1915) was frequently reprinted on a number of surfaces including limp leather and a wide variety of cloth colors.  The Commuter’s Garden (1914) edited by Walter Hayward is an odd one.  Gullans and Espey note the “clumsy” lettering squashed into the small central space as not by Armstrong and speculate that the design was done earlier and adapted for this late (in Armstrong’s design career) printing.  However, no earlier book is known to have this design--perhaps Armstrong or the publisher, Crowell, for whom she did a number of covers, had it on hand.

Two classic designs for Victorian poets.  The Tennyson (1905) was issued in several cloth colors and features that essential garden accessory, the sundial.  Though difficult to see without enlarging the image, the blossoms on Pippa Passes (1900) are actually stamped on a rectangular cloth onlay which is pasted to the green cover cloth.

Here they are: the quintessential Margaret Armstrong designs.  Two representative covers from the Myrtle Reed “lavender” series and the Henry van Dyke “blue cloth” series.  If one knows no others, these designs leap off the shelves of used book stores shouting, “I am Margaret Armstrong.”  Though each cover design is distinctive in both series, the general look of them was  so well-known that a buyer could spot them from across a room just by their spines.  Armstrong did a dozen titles in each series over decades and the look of the covers became an essential part of books from these authors.  Even after she tired of working on these series, publishers continued to issue books with similar designs by other (unknown) designers in the characteristic cloths.  Both were continually reprinted, the Reed titles in particular, sometimes several times a year.  The Reed books were bound in a variety of materials other than the standard lavender cloth.  These include cloths in a darker lavender, lavender silk, green or gray, red leather, standard leather, and ooze leather (now called suede).  Some were housed in dust jackets and/or printed cardboard boxes.  Old Rose and Silver was first issued in September 1909; the copy pictured is the sixth printing from July 1910 (so at least six printings were called for in less than a year—hard to believe if you’ve tried to read it!)  The Blue Flower was issued in 1902.  Although Armstrong produced designs for a number of series, both for individual authors (Washington Irving and H.C. Bunner, for example) and for subjects (such as the “American summer resorts” series), none came close to the impact these two had on the reading public.

How do you like your days?  With, or without dogs?  (both published in 1904).

Published by Houghton Mifflin, The Tent on the Beach (1899) is considered one of Armstrong's masterpieces (there are many!)  Note that the gold stamping is in three forms:  gloss, matte, and embossed (the crabs at the foot of the cover).  The design was used on at least 5 colors of cloth, of which two are in the American Trade Bindings Collection.  

This design made an unexpected reappearance 91 years later on a Houghton Mifflin reprint of According to Season, by  Mrs. William Starr Dana.  Feel free to speculate on ... what were they thinking??  The cover has nothing to do with the contents, and why did it reappear at this time?  Did Houghton Mifflin still have "rights" to it?  Did it appear on any other titles in the intervening century?  Did Houghton Mifflin just need an "antique looking cover" to put on a reprint?  These kinds of questions and the odd byways of publishers' bindings keep our interest fresh and work with these materials too much fun.

Here’s an unusual title.  This little book (above) was issued in 1910 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in a box as part of the “Ariel booklets” series.  Many titles were published in this series but most of them were issued in bright red “leather” with gilt decoration on the cover.  As far as I know, only titles bound in suede were designed by Margaret Armstrong.  Gullans and Espey do not list this title or any other Ariel Booklet in their checklist of her binding designs.  I would conjecture that this is a gift book and was probably also issued in other formats, the suede binding putting it at a higher price than standard issues.  I don’t know if any other titles were issued in this binding but I suspect that there are a few more titles out there … somewhere. 
Margaret and her sister, Helen Maitland Armstrong, worked on a series of books by Marguerite Bouvet, but Tales of an Old Chateau (1899) was the only one in an “out of series” binding.  This copy was issued in 1901.  I like the two dark green pod-like things flanking the title though I have no idea what they represent.  Can anyone help with this?

Two titles published by Bobbs-Merrill, The Pioneer in 1905 and Huldah in 1904.

As we near the end of our floral journey, here are two more designs, one considered a masterpiece and one--not so much.  Zelda Dameron is another Bobbs-Merrill title published in 1904, and Blue-Grass and Rhododendron was published by Scribner in 1901.  Which one catches your eye?

Finally, three of my current favorites.  Two are pictorial--one of my weaknesses.   To my taste, Pipetown Sandy, in particular, would make a wonderful poster.  And yes, it was written by that John Philip Sousa (after all, in keeping with this post's theme, he was known as "The March King"). (3)
The importance of condition for these covers is repeatedly stressed by anyone who has anything to say about them.  The Irving title makes this point better than any argument with its almost pristine white cloth. When one can find a copy of any decorated binding of this period in excellent condition, as is Rip Van Winkle, the difference is that of a cloudless spring day to an overcast February afternoon when one wants to see the sky:  the latter holds out some promise, but the former is breathtaking.  The gold, green, red and yellow stamping fires a twenty-one tulip salute against the background of white coarse cloth.  Simply gorgeous!

At the top of my Margaret Armstrong list, and the last cover I'll show today, is a late design, The Quest of the Dream (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1913).  We're fortunate to have a deluxe edition in dust jacket and slipcase, on both of which the cover design is repeated.  I like to put myself in the position of a book purchaser in 1913 who would come across this title in a bookstore.  The design looks nice on the slipcase though it's simple, and with its plain line border lacks the ornamentation that so many bindings featured--kind of romantic, though the brown on tan doesn't do it any favors.  Slipcase set aside, we find a printed dust jacket with the same images in the same colors.

But then I remove the dust jacket and am just about stunned by the actual cover with its brilliant blue cloth stamped with a single white poppy blossom against what appears to be the moon.  It's impossible to tell from the image, but the gilt is in both gloss and matte--the moon being the only feature in matte. On the cover, the poppy seems to be floating slightly above the surface of the cloth, which has a very fine rib grain, particularly where it overlaps the moon.   Needless to say, I purchase the book.

Until next time when we'll show some recent acquisitions destined for our bindings collection.

(1) For an account of their journey see: Armstrong, Margaret, “Canyon and Glacier”. Overland Monthly, v. 59, no. 2, p. 95-104.

(2) Gullans, Charles and John Espey. Margaret Armstrong and American Trade Bindings. Los Angeles: Department of Special Collections, UCLA, 1991, p. 36.

(3) Image from the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (cph 3c10617