Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Holidays from the Decorative Designers

It’s only a few days until Christmas and, as always at this time of year, our thoughts are turning to seasonal and wintry topics: decorating the house, seeing family, vacation, finding the perfect gift for that strange uncle, being stranded on a train by a blizzard …

To celebrate the season, our last post of 2016 is a fine wintry design from our friends the Decorative Designers. 

Will Carleton. Drifted in. New York: Every Where Publishing Company, 1908. 

The cover is a model of using space effectively, color, and suggestion. The effects are achieved using only two colors (light blue and black) and gilt on a grayish-blue cloth. The central image of the snow-bound train is enclosed in a rigid frame, with the front of the engine only one eighth of an inch from the left frame. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

To Autumn: John Keats and Margaret Armstrong

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;”

-- autumn has come and, unbelievably, is nearly past.  Outside it's overcast with not much of autumn's characteristic crispness, and only a few leaves remain on the trees.  But inside we have a crisp binding to share:  The Poetical Works of John Keats, edited with notes and appendices by H. Buxton Forman.  Complete edition.  New York:  Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., c1895.

Before we take a closer look at the design, I hope you’ll bear with me for an anecdote about finding this particular book.  I’ve been travelling to bookstores in search of trade bindings for several decades and browsing for them is not as daunting as it might seem at first.  Although they are generally not displayed with the front covers out, and you’re usually confronted by shelf after shelf (or wall after wall) of book spines, it becomes almost second nature to recognize the look of a book published before 1920, and more often than not to be able to tell in what decade, the 1890s for example, the book was published.  Sliding the book out – not by the headband please! – and glancing at the cover only requires a few seconds, after which the book is either in your pile or back in position and you’re on to the next.  I was once in a bookshop in a small town in northeast Ohio which specialized in small press fantasy and horror titles, comics and ephemera, older paperback science fiction and some general stock, with much of the non-genre books gathered in one place on a range of shelves.  Since trade bindings can be found in almost any subject I glanced over the shelves and, to my great surprise, I spotted a likely candidate almost immediately.  Keats, of course, described my feelings perfectly in his sonnet “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer”:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies 
When a new planet swims into his ken; 
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes 
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men 
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise— 
Silent, upon a peak in Darien. 

I remember the scene in that small town bookstore looking something like this: