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. 

The claustrophobic feeling is reinforced by the gilt lettering which pushes the image into an even smaller space. At the same time the train seems to stretch beyond the right frame creating tension in the design. No trees or clouds or any other feature other than snow and train relieve the loneliness of the setting. The colors add to the effect as the light blue reflective snow contrasts with the dead flat black of the train, with the blue cloth suggesting both darkness and cold. We have no real idea how serious the drifting is as there is no indication of how far the drift extends in either direction. But is the wind still howling? You bet! Is the bell on the engine silent? Absolutely—it’s snow covered. And the engineer seems to have removed himself to warmer parts of the train. 

The enclosure by winter is reinforced by the border: dark and with a pattern of snowflakes at the top and either frost patterns or some sort of stylized evergreen shrub leaves below. By a nice trick of optics, the snowflakes seem to be greener than the evergreen even though both are simply unstamped cloth.

But all is not cold and dark; by using touches of gilt the design suggests that in the train cars at least there is light, warmth, and companionship.  One gets the feeling that although the scene is cold and bleak, there’s something enticing about those cars in such a landscape and it might not be at all bad to be “drifted in.”

The use of contrasting gold, blue, and black also shows some very subtle touches, such as the snow-rimmed light at the front of the engine and the tiny square window half-obscured by snow. 

To reiterate a point made above, this complex design is achieved using only gilt, two colors of ink, and a masterful use of the cloth color to enrich the image.  Color stamping was an added cost, and publishers regularly limited the number of colors used.  Each color normally required its own stamping die, and though designers regularly used three, four, or even five colors, it would certainly have been a selling point to use as few as possible.  As mentioned in last month’s post, white was a particularly difficult color to work with and tended to wear badly.  White lettering, particularly on the spine, seldom survives intact; and large areas of white, as in large floral designs or snowscapes, quickly rubbed and flaked.  The Decorative Designers solved this problem by choosing a light blue ink for the snow, enhancing the effect of the design (white would have radically changed the mood the design engenders) while avoiding the inevitable rapid deterioration of white ink on cloth.

The binding design represents a central aspect of the book’s plan as well as enticing the potential reader (and book purchaser, of course) with its captivating image.  As Will Carleton explains in the last section of the book, “After-words”, under the heading “Title and plan of book”:

               “In the course of a number of weeks’ travel each year up and down the country, in the intervals of other work, lecturing, reading, “orating,” etc., I have several times been “drifted in” on trains; and have in such cases seen some very instructive and diverting phases of human nature.  The environment of railroad-life has a character of its own, full of interest: for The World Away from Home is in many respects different from what it is within the precincts of its local bounds.  Especially is this the case under abnormal conditions, as of a train being “stalled” for a few hours, or, as sometimes occurs, for days at a time.”

Over the course of this 136 page poem, the narrator relates a cross country train journey in jogging tetrameter couplets.  The main narrative is interrupted by 34 “incidental” poems, in a variety of meters and rhyme schemes, either told by the narrator as sounds or scenes of the journey inspire him, or by various passengers.  About a third of the way through, the train halts:

“But sounds of the engine’s steam-whirled mill
               Came not to my couch; the wheels below,
That had shaken car and track, were still,
               And nought except footsteps to and fro
The lengths of the curtained aisle, was heard,
With now and then an impatient word,
Less welcome that e’en the loudest din—
Informing us we were “drifted in”!”

After a great deal of confusion the passengers begin to gather together and tell stories, with the narrator introducing each and providing further description and commentary on their plight.  

“Frowned on us the storms white face once more,
With sterner menaces than before;
(Thus—to his sorrow—a punster sinned:
“It’s merely getting its second wind!”)”

Finally it’s over …

“The morning broke with a cloudless sun,
               And all was merry to our glad sight:
The mountains of drifted snow had gone
     Enough to release us from our plight.
There came two rescuing engines near:
The storm was over—the track was clear!”

… and the book ends.

Considering the theme of the journey with interpolated stories from various travelers, I can’t help but wonder if Carleton had in mind a homespun “Canter-buried Tales”.

William McKendree Carleton, poet, journalist, editor, and lecturer, was born October 21, 1845 in Hudson, Michigan and died December 18, 1912 in Brooklyn, New York (1).  As a poet, he was enormously popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, though he is seldom read now.  His poetry was sentimental and humorous, and dealt with the lives of ordinary people, most successfully in his poetry of rural life.  His most successful book was his first, Farm Ballads, published by Harper & Brothers in 1873.  This first book by a relatively unknown poet (his poems had only been published in newspapers and other periodicals to that time) was a phenomenon and highly successful financially, selling over 20,000 copies in the year of publication.  Other volumes in the same vein were Farm Legends (1875) and Farm Festivals (1881) both published by Harper.  He also wrote a similar urban series: City Ballads (1885), City Legends (1889), and City Festivals (1892), all published by Harper and kept continually in print for decades.  In September, 1894, Carleton began his monthly magazine Every Where, “a monthly periodical devoted to poems, short stories and timely topics.” (2)  Carleton himself contributed many of the articles and poems published in the Every Where.  With the magazine Carleton also founded the Every Where Publishing Company in Brooklyn, New York.  In addition to Every Where magazine, the Every Where Company published 21 books or pamphlets between 1901 and 1913.  Both enterprises ended shortly after his death in early 1913.  

After looking at images of most of Every Where Pub. Co.’s output, this book struck me as an anomaly.  Putting aside the pamphlets, their book work looks plain and amateurish.  A representative example is Ralph Kent Buckland’s In the Land of the Filipino (1912). 

The cloth color is an unattractive green rib cloth and the lettering is wildly disjointed, which a closer view makes more obvious.

I can only find two decorated covers besides Drifted In.  The design on one of them is garish and unattractive in so many ways.  The third is modestly decorated with three lyres and wreaths, and has a similar weird lettering combination.

I particularly wonder about that dangling bead serif on the right side of the "Y" in "BY" ...

So what happened to make the cover of Drifted In so strikingly dissimilar from any other publication put out by Every Where Publishing Company?

Enter Moffat and Yard.

William David Moffat (1866-1946) and Robert Sterling Yard (1861-1945) were both Princeton graduates who worked for Charles Scribner's Sons, Moffat as business manager of Scribner's Magazine, and Yard as manager of book advertising for the company.  In 1905 they announced that they would forming a general book, picture and periodical publishing business in New York. (3)  From the beginning it was obvious that they would be publishing attractive books; and it was also obvious that they would be using skilled and respected artists for their books.  Their first published book was Richard Barry’s Port Arthur: a Monster Heroism, featuring a signed cover design by the Decorative Designers; in fact, between 1905 and 1908 (and perhaps after) the firm did numerous covers for Moffat, Yard and Company, mostly signed, but with others so much in the Decorative Designers style that the covers can be attributed them with some confidence. 

In 1907, Moffat, Yard asked Carleton to write a poem to correspond with illustrations already made by James Montgomery Flagg.  Carleton sent them “In Old School Days” which was published with floral signed endpapers by the Decorative Designers, and an unsigned cover design and decorations probably also by them. (4)

In 1908 Drifted In was also published by Moffat, Yard in addition to the “edition” by Every Where Pub. Co.  

An image of the Moffat, Yard cover, cruelly barcoded.

Here are the two title pages, the image on the left from the Every Where Publishing Company, that on the right from Moffat Yard.

Note that the title pages are identical, other than the places of publication and publishers' names.  The fonts used for the imprints are identical, so the question is, who produced the book?  It seems obvious that Moffat, Yard produced all copies of Drifted In, adjusting the imprints for each publisher on the title page and spine.  

A final oddity is the publisher's mark on both title pages.  From other books published by the firm, the mark is identifiable as Every Where's.  Why Moffat, Yard also included it on their title page is unknown.
By October 1907, Every Where magazine was advertising Drifted In as “Ready December 1”.  The cover was described immediately below the book’s availability as “Handsomely bound in silk … with magnificent special design—uniform with his other works.  Illustrated by famous artists.”  Interestingly the edition size is also mentioned:

“The first edition will be limited to applications received; that is, only a sufficient number of copies will be printed to fill advance orders.  As first edition copies are most highly prized—ORDER TODAY—copies for yourself and your friends.”

Advertisement from Every Where magazine, October, 1907, for Drifted In, with a second ad from the preceding page which I couldn't resist including.

I’m not sure what was meant by “uniform with [Carleton’s] other works” as the design is unique.  Size is a possibility though other titles, such as Farm Ballads, are larger while others, such as Rhymes of Our Planet are smaller.  Perhaps this was just meant to play on the seeming human need to collect sets?  And what are we to make of the “first edition” information?  Does this mean that “first editions” were the books with the imprint of Every Where?  Was the number of copies printed with that imprint limited to the number of “advance orders” received by the time the book appeared in December?  When did the Moffat, Yard copies first appear relative to the Every Where copies?   Or is it simply the equivalent of today’s “this price is only available to the first five hundred callers?”

For those who can’t get enough of the Decorative Designers, this book provides another treat.  The advertisement mentions that Drifted In is “illustrated by famous artists,” and the book does include nine illustrations—a color frontispiece and 8 black and white plates.  Three of the illustrations are unsigned, three are signed “Wm. Oberhardt”, and three are signed with the DD monogram of the Decorative Designers.  William Oberhardt (1882-1958) was an American artist, portrait painter, illustrator, and sculptor.  He was widely known and very popular in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States, so these illustrations came from early in his career when he was establishing his reputation.  Who among the Decorative Designers produced the three DD illustrations we don't know, but they demonstrate that the firm could do much more than cover designs. 

Happy Holidays!

(1) Carleton portrait from Amos Elwood Corning’s Will Carleton: a Biographical Study.  New York: Lanmere Publishing Company, 1917.
(2) Corning, p. 68.
(3)  Tebbel, John.  A History of Book Publishing in the United States.  New York: R.R. Bowker, 1975.  Vol. 2, p. 378-9.
(4)  Corning, p. 70

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