Monday, February 29, 2016

Hearts Looking at You, Kid: February Binding of the Month Club

The last day of February, in a leap year, has come.  The end of the month of love, with Valentine’s Day falling squarely in the middle—there to spread its aura over the days preceding and following.  Chocolates and candies; flowers; dinners; cards, of course, some with astonishing sentiments--barrels of pure, sweetened and condensed sentiment; and hearts—a profusion of hearts of every variety in every imaginable material.   And “sweethearts,” aka “conversation hearts,” those tiny candy wafers printed with brief but imperishable mottoes (XOXOXO, BE MINE, MARRY ME, and WINK WINK).  I was surprised to learn that the same manufacturer, the New England Confectionery Company, makes, and has made since 1847, the classic and indescribable Necco wafers.

Image from wikipedia (1)

Now that love and hearts have entered this post, I must say that I love, perhaps even heart, the cover of our February book (with more on why after I present the binding).  My local NPR station has relentlessly been reminding me that not only is February the month of love but it’s also the month of giving—“our volunteers are standing by to take your pledge…”  With that in mind we now give you the February binding of the month.  

Heart’s Desire: the Story of a Contented Town, Certain Peculiar Citizens, and Two Fortunate Lovers: a Novel by Emerson Hough.  New York: Macmillan, 1904.

The book is the work of Emerson Hough (1857-1923).  A native of Iowa, Hough was a lawyer, journalist, historian, novelist, sportsman, essayist, early conservationist, and incurable traveler, particularly in the American West.  

Of most relevance in this context, Hough was admitted to the bar in Iowa in 1882.  Shortly afterwards he was invited by a friend to join a law practice in White Oaks, New Mexico, where Hough arrived on June 1, 1883.  White Oaks was transformed into the New Mexico town “Heart’s Desire” in the novel.  One of the central characters is the red-headed cowboy “Curly”, about whom Hough wrote a number of humorous stories from 1902 to 1905.  These stories were turned into his novel about Heart’s Desire, a critical success (2) but a complete financial failure. (3)  Throughout his career Hough was noted for his humor, objectivity, and honesty, particularly on western subjects, though he was never considered artistically successful.  He finally achieved financial security in 1922 on the strength of his next to last novel, The Covered Wagon, which was adapted for the movies.  His final work, North of 36, was also a huge success but he died two months after selling the film rights.  More information about Hough’s life and work can be found in an article by Carole Johnson. (4)

Though not many might find the cover a masterpiece, it does feature a competent and evocative design.  A central panel shows a wagon and team of horses in silhouette cresting a rise against a blue background suggesting “big sky” country.  The whip and use of the cloth color to show the sandy nature of the countryside are nice touches.  The “rustic” western font used for the lettering and the binding cloth used, unpatterned rough grain and sand colored, further reinforce the far western feel of the design.  The cover design is completed with heavy dark red rules and lettering and a vaguely heart-shaped object under the title.  Under slight magnification, the latter appears as two overlapping hearts and confirms that what we will find within is a western love story.  

The two hearts are much clearer on a later printing of the book, in which the design is simplified (and made cheaper to produce) by stamping in black only.

But what elevates this design to the sublime is the sheer goofiness, or perhaps I should say whimsy, of the spine.  The spine is cleanly and modestly decorated with gilt lettering and brown rules.  Then the unexpected enters ...

Now, you can come hat in hand, eat your hat, talk through one, keep things under one, tip it, pass it, or wear two of them.  Likewise your heart can sink, bleed or be made of stone or gold; you can wear it on your sleeve, have it in your mouth, put your hand on it, or change it.  But having a hat on a heart is a long step beyond any cliché or idiom I've heard!  Where did this come from?  Who was the designer who came up with the idea of a heart wearing a hat?  Unfortunately, we don’t know at this time but I for one take my hat off to her or him.

I simply can’t get over this cover.  The only way you could possibly improve on it?

(1) Necco_factory_with_water_tower.jpg: Jill Robidoux - Necco factory with water tower.jpg, Public Domain,
(2) See, for example, the review by Churchill Williams, “Mr. Hough’s ‘Heart’s Desire,’” in The Bookman,  Dec. 1905, v. 22, p. 367-368.
(3)  Although I should note that Heart’s Desire is listed as book no. 5745 in the Catalog of the Illinois State ReformatoryLibrary at Pontiac, Ill., 1912.
(4) Information on Emerson Hough from:  Johnson, Carole M.  “Emerson Hough’s American West.” Books at Iowa 21, Nov. 1974. 

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