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], 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.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What do May flowers bring? April-May Binding of the Month Club

For the newcomers to this blog, here’s a brief statement of what the “Binding of the Month Club” is all about, from our October 2015 post:

“… 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 … 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”

The intent, reasonably enough, was to feature a binding design every month.  So, my apologies for not posting a binding of the month for April—it was not a particularly cruel month, but it was busy.  To partly make up for this April foolish behavior here’s a binding design by the renowned Margaret Armstrong featuring TWO fools!

Wells, Carolyn.  Folly for the Wise.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1904.

In addition to easing my conscience, this design holds a distinctive place in the work of Armstrong.  Although her covers could be representative of many genres—ornamental, art nouveau, decorative, floral, emblematic—they very rarely were pictorial.  Even scarcer are figurative designs.  Gullans and Espey note that other than on designs featuring medallions or busts (3 in total), the human face doesn’t appear in her cover designs, and the human figure never. (1)  The last is not strictly true, as Folly for the Wise demonstrates.  The two fools are highly stylized, but they do represent Armstrong’s only human figures.  Not that she could not draw figures and draw them well; illustrations and page decorations she created clearly show this.  But for binding designs she chose not to.

The three faces Gullans and Espey mention, appear on 1) some copies of Prince Tip-Top by Marguerite Bouvet, with a medallion of Cerulea that Gullans and Espey ascribe to Helen Armstrong, Margaret’s sister (Chicago: McClurg, 1892, which we do not have in our collection); 2) a medallion on The New Pacific (pictured below); 3) and a bust of St. Cecilia on Love Letters of a Musician.  The last of these designs re-appears on Later Love Letters of a Musician.

Hubert Howe Bancroft. The New Pacific. New York: Bancroft Co., 1900

Myrtle Reed. Love Letters of a Musician.              Myrtle Reed. Later Love Letters of a Musician.
New York: Putnam, 1899                                          New York: Putnam, 1900

For this two month post, I decided to take my inspiration from the rhyme “April showers bring May flowers” (and, just for laughs, here’s how Wiktionary explains the “proverb”:  “April, traditionally a rainy period, gives way to May, when flowers will bloom because of the water provided to them by the April rains.”)  With that astonishing explanation, I’ll introduce our April Binding of the Month.

Echoes of Life, by Old Don Henri.  Chicago, Ill.: Western Publishing Company, 1888.

This is a title that I had forgotten we had until I started searching for some visualization of rain in a binding design.  When I look at a cover I’m usually first concerned with the front cover—how it looks when you’re about to open the book; then I look at the spine only—how it will look on the shelf.  This book requires a third viewpoint—how it looks when fully open.  Most books keep the main interest on the front cover, often only stamping the author, title, publisher, or some combination on the spine in gilt or white.  Less often the spine features some pictorial feature or other ornamentation.  Infrequently the design is continued from the front cover across the spine, and very infrequently the design stretches across the front cover, spine, and back cover.  For the collector/browser in a bookstore (either when the book was first published or in a modern used book store) the spine is the view one gets.  As a collector, one becomes fairly adept at recognizing in which decade a book was published by the look of the spine, which often indicates whether the covers might be decorated and thus saving valuable browsing time.  This book’s spine is very intriguing with its string of silver and black clouds at the top and a mysterious “Old Don Henri” in silver where the publisher is usually found.

When fully opened the design seems to me to progress from the back cover to the front cover, with the spine providing both a connection and break between the main features of the covers.  The back cover shows a very somber image of clouds and rain with a great deal of brown and black in the silver clouds and only a few streaks of silver in the rain which is mostly rendered in black.  There is no brown in the clouds on the spine where the design is reduced to only 2 ¼ inches.  The front cover explodes with “light”, seemingly from between the silver wings—and I should note here that although the light color appears to be white, on the cover it is clearly silver, a hazard of scanning.  An interesting effect is gained by using the grain of the cloth to enhance the beams of light.  When magnified (see below) the machine created “grain” of the cloth is clearly visible.  On this book, the cloth has a very fine diagonal rib grain, running from the upper left to the lower right.  The silver beams follow the grain exactly with the ribs and spaces between them filled with silver thus brightening the effect.  Of course, the rain on the back cover run counter to the grain, making the back cover design even more somber.

Detail of clouds (from spine).

The last feature I’d like to highlight is the binding’s beveled edges.  This is the first instance of beveled boards seen on this blog, and is a feature most often used on gift books, special editions, or on what we might call coffee table books.  Here's a close up of the bevels on the rear board.

“Old Don Henri” was, not surprisingly, a pseudonym.  The actual author was Henry Lathrop Turner, a military man, who later turned to banking and real estate.  He was born in Oberlin, Ohio on August 26, 1844 and died in Chicago on July 12, 1915.  He was married twice and served in both the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, rising to the rank of Colonel.  As the obituary in his alma mater’s (Oberlin College) alumni magazine noted “He was a man of fine literary tastes and was the author of books and poems” (2).   His books included The Amateur Speaker's Hand Book (1906), several books on military topics, and books of poems including The Lovely Land of Sunset: a Souvenir of Santa Barbara (1886), Into Death's Country (1887), Sabre, Saddle and Sentiment for the Full Grown: Story and Song for the Little Ones (1893), and, of course, Echoes of Life (1888).  The poems in “Echoes” don't seem particularly inspired and are presented in a variety of typefaces.   One typeface in particular is so eccentric that it’s almost unreadable.  Here’s a few lines from “The Shadow Prince” to give you an idea of the face:

Though Turner uses a variety of metric forms and rhyme schemes, I was interested to see that this one, as well as the other longer poems, are in trochaic tetrameter (the same meter used in Longfellow's Hiawatha!)  Of more interest is the information given on the verso of the title page that lists the illustrators (Myra Manley, W. De Meza, J.L. Denslow and C.E. Sickles, all under the supervision of Mr. Sickles), the printer (Knight & Leonard Co., printers, Chicago), and the binder (W.B. Conkey, binder, Chicago).   An illustration by W. De Meza, also from “The Shadow Prince”, might even be the inspiration for part of the cover design:

We use all of this information when describing a book, and particularly welcome publisher supplied information on the binder or, very rarely, the binding designer.  W.B. Conkey Company was founded by Walter B. Conkey in 1877.  At the age of nineteen, Walter first set up a small bindery in a Chicago basement.  He later added printing work, and by the late 1890s was a large and successful publisher and manufacturer.  In 1897, Conkey built an enormous plant in Hammond, Indiana, a town close to the southern edge of Chicago on the Indiana/Illinois border.  Conkey was widely known for high quality and craftsmanship in all aspects of his company’s work, while maintaining affordable prices.  Among his competitors’ products, his were known for “their durability and their attractive bindings and design.” (3)  His son, Henry, took over the business after Walter’s death in 1923, and the firm was sold in 1949 to Rand McNally.

Engraving of the Hammond plant, from the Lucille Project website (4)

Postcard with another view of the plant from the early 1900s (5)

General location of the W.B. Conkey Hammond, Indiana plant at 617 Conkey Street today (Google Earth view). 

Finally, a note on the publisher.  The Western Publishing House of Chicago, Illinois, was one of a great many “subscription” publishers in the later years of the 19th century.  Briefly, this type of publisher eschewed the static bookseller model where customers came to view and buy products, and instead viewed books as merchandise to be advertised and sold like other products.  A key feature of this method of publishing was the book agent, whose job was to sell the publishers’ products directly to readers by presenting them with what is variously known as “sample books,” “canvassing books,” or “salesmen’s dummies.”  Generally the books were on popular topics and produced cheaply.  They were often illustrated and were made available in a variety of bindings which the customer could choose from when ordering.  Although many firms specialized in this type of publishing, eventually mainstream book publishers and some department stores began their own subscription publishing departments (think Macy’s, for example).  For an in-depth look at the history of American subscription publishing I highly recommend the University of Pennsylvania's online exhibit: "Agents Wanted:" Subscription Publishing in America. (6)   One of the canvassing books in our collection is shown below, with our description of the binding.  Note that the front cover and spine uses a calf binding  with panels stamped in gilt, while the back cover partly replicates the front cover, but is bound in a blue textured cloth with no illustrations except for the central cartouche.  The potential customer could select either binding style, although the full calf version would be more expensive.  The online exhibit mentioned above gives many more details about these canvassing books.

The Illustrated New Testament.  New York and Chicago: Goodspeed, 1871. 

 Salesman's sample. Front cover in panelled calf over bevelled boards with gilt stamped vignettes and ornaments, spine in gilt calf; back cover in dark blue (C183) pebble grain cloth over panelled and bevelled boards, gilt stamped central panel; plain calf cover mounted on front pastedown; gilt blue cloth spine stamped in gilt and calf spine sample mounted on rear pastedown.

And now, as promised, on to our "May flower!"

Elwyn Barron.  Manders.  Boston: L.C. Page and Company, 1899.  With cover design by Amy M. Sacker.

This is the first time we’ve featured a binding design by Amy Maria Sacker (1872-1965), although one of her designs appeared in Callie’s post from last July (“Going out”).  Sacker was one of the major artists in the second generation of cover designers (along with other luminaries such as Margaret Armstrong, Alice Morse, Frank Hazenplug, etc.)  A lifelong Bostonian, she produced designs chiefly for a number of major Boston publishers, but also did some work for other publishers outside of Boston including the New York firms of A. Wessels, Thomas Y. Crowell, Cupples & Leon, and Silver, Burdett & Company.  She was also a teacher and worked in a variety of art media.  For much more information and an illustrated catalog of her bookwork (including not only cover designs, but illustrations and bookplates) you should head to our colleague’s, Mark Schumacher’s, Amy Sacker website ( ) where you can see well over 300 of Sacker’s covers.  Our American Trade Bindings site contains 224 cover images.

The outstanding design for Manders is striking in its simplicity, featuring a wonderful art nouveau iris in pale green and pink on a dark blue background.  The heavy gilt capital letters emphasize the rectangular shape of the cover space while providing contrast with the soft and ethereal curves of the flower which grows through the space between the author’s first and last names.  A wonderful detail which also ties together the straight and curved aspects of the design is the adaptation of the double rule border.  Single or multiple rules were a standard part of many cover designs, defining the image space within the confines of the cover.  In earlier posts we saw how these spaces could be broken by having the center image extend beyond or behind the borders.  This design, however, rather than breaking the rule barrier, maintains its normal function of defining space while also incorporating it into the image by using the inner rule to meld into the iris by forming the base of two of the three leaves.  To me this detail of blending the soft with the hard and the living flower with the architectural border is a masterful touch.  The design is modestly signed with Sacker’s A S monogram.  Fortunately for those seeking her designs, Sacker often signed her covers with either the letters A S, or with monograms of “A S” or “A M S” variously arranged.  These and other signatures are also documented at

As opposed to Echoes of Life, the plain spine provides no clue to the glory of the front cover.  It is unadorned save for gilt block capitals and horizontal rules.  It would be easy to overlook this book if it was shelved in the traditional way, although to a collector, this spine looks very characteristic of books published somewhere in the later 1890s or early 1900s.  To a book buyer of 1899, of course, one never knew what could appear on the cover of a book with such a modest spine.  I would hope that I would have taken the chance, been bowled over, and put down my $1.50 with no hesitation.  

And what would I receive for my money?  According to an advertisement in a catalog bound in at the end of Maurus Jokai’s The Baron’s Sons, I was in for “Bright descriptions of student life in Paris, views of human frailty, and a dash of dramatic force” not to mention “A romance sweet as violets.” (7)

Spoilers will follow, so skip the following paragraph if Manders is on your must read list.
A contemporary review described the book as “a bright and wholesome story, introducing a child-hero whom every one will love.”  The titular Edouard Manders is the son of a British cad and Marie, a “Quartier Latin grisette, suspected of posing for artists who were unable to paint draperies and despised landscapes.”  The cad dies, the widowed Marie goes back to modeling, and meets and falls in love with a rich American student, Walter Blakemore.  “What might have been the outcome, had not little Manders interfered, we can only conjecture…” intones the review.  Afterwards Manders sings to raise money, the American leaves, complications ensue, Marie pines away and dies for the love of Walter just after he returns to her in Paris, and Manders grows up to become a famous opera singer.  The favorable review is chiefly because of Manders, “one of the most winsome child characters whom we have met in fiction for many a day.” (8)  The brief notice in The Saturday Review (London) was decidedly more mixed, beginning with “’Manders’ is the piteous story of an unchildlike little child who pondered many things.  The passages relative to America … we dismiss at once, not because they are badly done, but because they have been better done often enough before.”  Ouch.

Finally, a note on the author.  Elwyn Alfred Barron (1855-1929) was born in Lima, New York.  He attended Robert College in Tennessee, and worked at the Chicago Inter-Ocean as a drama critic and editorialist from 1877 to 1895.  During this time he also wrote plays, novels and poetry.  He left Chicago to live in Paris and London where he continued to write novels and plays, sometimes in collaboration with Wilson Barrett.  Between 1900 and 1916 he copyrighted 11 plays.  From 1907 until his death he lived and wrote in New York City.  Both in his plays and novels, Barron often used historical settings. (10)  His works include the plays A mountain pink: realistic description of life among the moonshiners of North Carolina (1885), and an adaptation of George Eliot’s Romola (1897); the novels In Old New York (1900), Marcel Levignet (1906), and The Triple Scar (1907), in addition to Manders which was first published by J. Macqueen, London, in 1898; and the dramatic poem The Viking (1888).

So there you have our bindings for April and May.  Please remember that we welcome comments and would be delighted if you proposed your own binding of the month.  As long as it's in our collection, American Publishers' Trade Bindings, we will feature it on the blog.  If you'd like to provide your own reasons for liking the binding and any other comments, we'll be sure to include them too.   Until next month.

But wait!  I almost didn't remember the question posed in the title of the post.  I know this creaks with age and I shouldn't go there, but I must...

What do May flowers bring?

(1)  Gullans, Charles, and John Espey. Margaret Armstrong and American Trade Bindings.  Los Angeles: Department of Special Collections, UCLA, 1991, p. 22-23.

(2)  Obituary from Oberlin Alumni Magazine, v. 12, no. 1, Oct. 1915, p. 29, viewed online May 26, 2016.

(3)  Murray, Timothy D.  “W.B. Conkey Company.”  In Dzwonkoski, Peter, ed.  American Literary Publishing Houses, 1638-1899, pt. 1. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1986.  Dictionary of Literary Biography, v. 49, p. 100-101.


(5)  image from

(6)  "Agents Wanted:" Subscription Publishing in America, can be seen at:

(7)  "Selections from L.C. Page and Company’s list of fiction."  Catalog (15 p.) in back of Maurus Jokai, The Baron’s Sons.  Boston: L.C. Page and Company, 1900.

(8)  Review from The Literary World, v. xxx, no. 23, 11 Nov. 1899, p. 375.  Boston: E.H. Hames  Company, 1899.

(9)  The Saturday review of politics, literature, science, and art, 28 Jan. 1899, p. 121, v. 87, no. 2,257. London: Saturday Review Office, 1899.

(10)  Barron, Elwyn A. Papers, finding aid, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.