Thursday, May 28, 2015

Publisher's series bindings

These beauties are getting cataloged today! As you can see from the image, they have the same binding designs just with different colors and different images in the frames. I love when bindings like these come across my desk for a couple of reasons. (1) Creating the binding description is less time consuming because you just have to switch out a few details, and (2) I just like to see how many times a series binding can be used on different books. We have several of this particular series binding in CONTENTdm but we like to scan variant bindings of the titles to see the different ways they were issued at the time.

Here are other titles that have the same binding design* as the ones I am cataloging:

Famous beauties in art
Beautiful women in art
Famous authors (women)

Music in art
Famous beauties in art
Famous actors of the day
Famous stars of light opera
The prisoner of mademoiselle
The prisoner of mademoiselle

Amy Sacker designed this particular binding for L.C. Page & Company. The oldest version UNCG holds dates back to 1899 (Famous actors of the day) and continues at least through 1910 (The lovers' treasury of verse). Her innovative styles were relevant for years which is an accomplishment not many designers can claim. To learn more about Amy Sacker you can read all about her on Mark Schumacher's site.

What was most surprising to me about this particular series was how little it changed over that time. Sometimes when publishers reused bindings they would slowly start stripping away the frills in order to produce them more cheaply. This is especially true for the same title being reprinted over the years. The first printing would be beautiful, with illustrations and gilt and anything else you can think of. The next printing might replace the gilt with black, still nice, but a little bit cheaper. Then the next installment would take away an illustration or piece of garland (or a binding signature) and so on and so on until there was just the title left on the book. In this case, the cover of the binding stayed the same except for color variations and paper onlays that were switched out to match the subject of the binding. The Prisoner of Mademoiselle, which was published in 1904 (right in the middle of the years during which the cover design was used) had the most differences. The paper onlay didn't use an illustration or photograph; instead it had a woman's silhouette.  The spine had an additional ornamental design and lettering that were not on earlier or later versions of the binding design. This particular version of the binding was also used on the Grosset & Dunlap printing of The Prisoner of Mademoiselle, except that the silhouette was stamped on the cloth rather than an onlay. It wasn't uncommon for publishers to sell the rights for books or make accommodations (in the publisher's favor of course) with other companies which included the illustrations and book designs.

The bindings weren't the only thing that carried over from book to book, the endpapers and title page designs were also reused in some instances. Most of the books (with the exception of a few such as The Prisoner of Mademoiselle) had the series endpapers that can be seen on the left.  The three prominent visuals in red are two opened books towards the bottom and the Page printer's mark with the Latin motto "spe labor levis" which can be translated as "May the work be light" or "Hope lightens labor" or "The hope of light labor."  The visuals in red are surrounded by a green garland and floral designs with a crown at the foot of the page.

The title page (seen on the right) takes elements from the endpapers and uses them in a decorative border. What I find most fascinating about this is that while the endpapers lack a signature identifying who created the design, the initials H.B.A. can be seen in the lower right hand corner of the title page border. Who H.B.A. is I can't say. My first thought was Helen Armstrong, Margaret Armstrong's sister, but her full name was Helen Maitland Armstrong so that ruled her out immediately. Looking at L.C. Page & Company's records might provide insight as to who H.B.A. could be but I'm not sure who holds their correspondence/archives, so that will have to be left for another day when there is time to do more research on H.B.A.

Why do publishers, in this case L.C. Page & Company, reuse binding designs and illustrations on several books? The number one answer that I can come up with is that it's the most cost-effective way to produce books, so a business strategy. If you already have the plates to print the books and a beautiful cover that you commissioned, you might as well get your money's worth out of them. It's similar to what we do with recycling the metadata. We create it in our cataloging records but then it is recycled and reused in CONTENTdm. It makes life easier and doesn't take up as much time which in turns saves money.

These particular bindings weren't the only series bindings for which Amy Sacker was responsible, or that Page would put out, but that is a subject for another post at another time.

*Binding images taken from UNCG's CONTENTdm American Publishers Trade Bindings Collection