Monday, February 8, 2016

January Binding of the Month Club

I'll begin this post with two preliminary matters.  First, I wish all American trade binding admirers and aficionados a very happy new year.  The second is a confession regarding 2016 resolutions: one of mine was to put up Binding of the Month Club posts earlier in the month during the new year.  Fortunately I've blown that one already so I can now concentrate on breaking my other resolutions.

With that preamble over I'd like to present my binding selection for January.  The Friendship's Offering: a Christmas, New Year and Birthday Present, for MDCCCXLIX.

 Friendship's offering

This book was published in 1849 by Phillips & Sampson of Boston.  It's not only a fine example of an embossed binding, but it is also an example of a fascinating genre of books published in America from the 1820s to the 1860s called gift books, literary annuals, or keepsakes.  On top of this, the binding is signed.  What's not to like?

First to the binding.  The design is in three parts, the front cover, back cover, and spine.  The same die was used to stamp the front and back covers which consists of an embossed (raised above the flat surface of the book) ornate floral pattern.  This distinguishes it from a stamped design in which the design is impressed into the cover material (also known as blind-stamping when no gold or color is used).  The twining leaves break into buds and blossoms in the middle of the design and form a cartouche at the center of the cover.  The die is also used to give several "grains" to the cover other than the natural grain of the leather.  If you look closely at the texture of the background leather you will notice that the leather outside the outer band of leaves looks different than the surface around the inner band of leaves, which in turn looks different than the leather within the cartouche.  The following enlargements illustrate these features.

Detail of embossing directly below the central cartouche; note the detail and how high the pattern rises above the surface

"Net" (rectangular) textured grain around the outside border of leaves.  The two lines at the bottom of the image are a raised double rule border and outside of that the actual grain of the leather.
"Sand" grain texture given to the leather between the inside and outside bands of leaves

Left side of cartouche to outer border; the net grain, sand grain, and smooth surface of the cartouche can clearly be seen.

The spine was stamped from a separate die and shows similar features to the cover.

Lower part of spine showing floral decorations with net grain below and sand grain above.

Upper spine with floral decorations on net grain surface.

Lettering on smooth surface.  Note that the lettering is stamped, not embossed.  It is also off-center, particularly the middle line, and the "s" of "friendship's" is not within the title panel but on the raised rule border.  This shows that the lettering was a separate operation from the die embossing on the spine.
 Although the central cartouche is blank on the front and back covers, it looks to me as if the space has been reserved for either some small image or ornament, which probably would have been stamped in gilt, or for the title of the volume which would have been added in a similar way to the gilt spine lettering.  The binding dies, or "plaques" as they are sometimes called, could not only be used on all copies of a particular book. but could also be used on the bindings of other books.  Stereotype or electrotype plates for printing a book's text were part of a publisher's stocks and they were often bought by other publishers for their own editions of an author.  When a publisher went out of business, from death, bankruptcy, or other reasons, the printing plates could be sold or auctioned off, either for further use in printing or for scrap.  The same was true of plates for illustrations and bindings.  There was also an active trade in these during the 19th and early 20th century.  Our own binding design appeared on at least 15 other publications from 1844 to 1854 according to Edwin Wolf 's catalog of embossed leather bindings.  These include ten volumes of the annual Friendship's Offering (1845-1855) and five others.  It was first used on the Friendship's Offering of 1845, published by Boston's Lewis and Sampson, subsequently used on the same title through 1850 by Phillips & Sampson, and by E.H. Butler & Co. of Philadelphia from 1852 through 1854 on a variety of titles.

This brings us to the designer of this binding.  Almost all of the bindings featured on "American Trade Bindings and Beyond" have been from the period of the artist/designer, (1880s-1920s) when an artist would supply a design along with colors, lettering, etc. for a cover but did not do the engraving; this was either done by the publisher/printer if they had the facilities (such as Houghton Mifflin's Riverside Press), or would be contracted out to engravers.  Our book appeared, however, in the period of the die-sinker or die-engraver.  The actual stamping and binding of books were done by a number of bookbinding firms, but the dies were designed and cut by die-sinkers.  We are fortunate to know who produced the particular dies which were used to decorate our binding.  At the foot of the panel used for the front and back covers, just inside the double rules at the outer corners, our die-sinker identifies himself and where he works.

On the left side, the signature "A C MORIN" appears; on the right "PHILA"

Edwin Wolf identifies this signature as that of Alexander C. Morin: "The most active engraver of American manufactured plaques was Alexander C. Morin, a die-sinker of Philadelphia, who for a decade after the mid-1830s worked for the large binderies" (p. 39).  Earlier Wolf describes him as "the most prolific engraver of embossed designs ... whose career lasted until 1859 but of whom very little is known" (p. 32).  Morin was listed in a directory as a "jeweller, chaser & die sinker" in 1821, and he did a good deal of work for the large binding firms of Benjamin Gaskill in Philadelphia and Benjamin Bradley in Boston.  It would not be surprising if Bradley's firm bound our book, as it was published by Phillips & Sampson of Boston, but there is no evidence on our book (Bradley frequently stamped his own name on bindings or pasted in a small binder's ticket).  I was delighted to find evidence of Morin's work as a silversmith in a reproduction of Morin's mark at the fascinating site Sterling Flatware Fashions and Facts

The publisher of Friendship's Offering was the firm of Phillips, Sampson and Company (here appearing under their earlier name, Phillips & Sampson).  The firm was formed in the early 1840s by Moses Dresser Phillips and Charles Sampson, William Lee was hired in 1844 but his name never appeared in the firms imprint (other than as "and Company").  Phillips and Sampson both died in 1859 and the firm was dissolved.  Lee later became a co-founder of the publishing house Lee and Shepard which is well represented in the American Publishers Trade Bindings Collection.  Though the firm was prosperous and in addition to publishing important books founded the Atlantic Monthly in 1857, it is also known as the publisher that passed on Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Lee was worried, apparently, that it would not go over well in Phillips, Sampson's southern market. So they passed and the novel went on to sell 300,000 copies in its first year for John P. Jewett and Company.  Oops.  In the current context I'll add that Phillips, Sampson also published 28 gift books according to Bruce Kirkham's Indices to American Literary Annuals.

Information on gift books, annuals, and keepsakes is plentiful.  Wikipedia’s article is a good short introduction, and the always enjoyable and informative Publishers’ Bindings Online (PBO) site has a longer, well-illustrated essay on the subject.  The references listed below are widely available and give more detailed information.

Very briefly, literary annuals first appeared in Europe in the 1860s, first in France and shortly after in Germany.  The first English language annual was the Forget-Me-Not, published in London by Rudolph Ackerman in 1822.   The Philadelphia publishing firm Carey and Lea produced the first American gift book in 1825 under the title The Atlantic souvenir.  From the beginning these were fine productions, gathering prose essays, short fiction and poetry together with illustrations and issued in often opulent bindings.  They were not only read but were luxury objects to display on the parlor table.  The cost averaged between $2.50 and $5 at a time when an average salary was $3.50 per week according to PBO.  As the name implies, gift books were often purchased and given on special occasions, such as Christmas, birthdays, and other important dates.  They were a product of a time in which literacy was rising, more leisure time was available, and the middle class was growing, particularly in New England.

It didn’t take long for publishers to include a presentation page, often illustrated or chromolithographed, for the purchaser to inscribe to the lucky or treasured recipient.  The primary audience for these books was women and girls, and they were often edited and filled with contributions by women (our own modest collection is shelved in the Woman’s Collection in Special Collections).  The gift books were important for fostering the growth of American literature in that they were mostly or completely made up of contributions from American authors.  Most gift books contained up to ten engravings after American paintings, though some contained many more.  American literature, art, printing and binding all contributed to their appeal.  From 1825-1865 over a thousand gift books were published.

Inside the binding, Friendship's Offering, which you can view in full on the Internet Archive, is quite typical of the genre.  It has a printed title page and an added engraved title page.

Left:  note that the date, in Roman numerals, is in a different font than the rest of the title page and it is much fainter.  This indicates that the title page was re-used from an earlier year with a new line of type for the date substituted.

The contributions consist of a mix of prose and poetry:

With 9 engravings by John Sartain

Image of John Sartain from Wikipedia

John Sartain (1808-1897) was an English artist who emigrated to the United States in 1830.  He was a pioneer in mezzotint engraving in America, and his work was heavily represented in the gift books.  In addition to being a painter, he engraved bank notes and did a great deal of book illustration.  As Ralph Thompson says, "volume after volume is decorated with his work, and for its quantity, if not its quality, a measure of admiration is due. ... Others worked in his manner ... but Sartain himself remained the representative mezzotint engraver of his time." (p. 43).

As mentioned previously, The University Libraries at UNC Greensboro, holds several dozen gift books and annuals.  Most of them are from the 1850s and to a lesser extent the 1840s.  To give just a taste of the variety of bindings used on them, I've included some other images from the collection.
Offering to beauty, 1853 
Odd-fellows' offering, 1850
Evergreen, 1858
Gem annual, 1854
Frienship's token, 18 

Memory's gift, 1856
Pearl, 1830

Golden gift, 1853

Many more images of gift books are available for even the casually interested.  Publishers' Bindings Online offers over 100 images and brief descriptions.  The Columbia University Libraries held an exhibition in 1997 on "Gold Stamped Bindings of the 19th Century" which can still be seen as an online exhibit.  The exhibit included a section on gift books.  Edwin Wolf's book is online and includes many black and white photographs and rubbings of bindings.  There are many other fascinating aspects of this genre to explore, such as "spurious" gift books, in which a publisher would take the sheets for an existing gift book, add a new title page and possibly a new preface or first work, and then publish the same book under a different title.  Apparently many people didn't notice and bought the "new" book for that special someone.  You can still find 19th century gift books for sale at not unreasonable prices.  With less than a week until Valentine's Day, there's still time for you to surprise someone with one.  Feel free to take credit for the idea.

--Thompson, Ralph. American Literary Annuals & Gift Books, 1825-1865. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1936.
--Kirkman, E. Bruce.  Indices to American Literary Annuals and Gift Books, 1825-1865. New Haven, Conn.: Research Publications, 1975.
--Wolf 2nd, Edwin, From Gothic Windows to Peacocks: American Embossed Leather Bindings, 1825-1855.  Philadelphia: Library Company, 1990.  This book is also available online.
--Frederick W. Faxon. Literary Annuals and Gift Books. Pinner, U.K.: Private Libraries Association, 1973.
--"Tokens of Affection: Art, Literature, and Politics in Nineteenth Century American Gift Books."  Publisher's Bindings Online, 1815-1930.
--"Phillips, Sampson and Company." in Dictionary of Literary Biography, v. 49. American Literary Publishing Houses, 1638-1899, part 2, p. 364-366. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1986.
--"Gift Book" on Wikipedia, viewed 2/5/2016.

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