For our next two posts, let’s talk about color. Cloth color. It’s one of the three inescapable features of trade bindings from their beginnings in 1820s England through the 1920s, and one of two that continue to this day. The other two are cloth graining, which was seldom done after the 1910s (I’d say never but there might be some holdovers), and stamping, which today is almost completely reduced to title, author and publisher lettering on the spine. Stamping on the covers is a topic which comes up in every post; cloth graining has made appearances in past posts and is will be covered in more detail in the future.
I’ll be breaking down my remarks on color into two parts: in this first I’ll be considering it in the context of designs on several individual titles and how color alone can vary the impact of a design. In a later post we’ll look at the use of cloth color in designs for “series” or “editions,” that is, series of books by individual authors with different designs on each volume, as well as series with identical designs for different titles. In both, most examples will be taken from the work of Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944) who frequently appears in this blog.(1) She is one of the best (many would say the best) cover designer of the late 19th and early 20th century, and is certainly one of the most collected, thanks to the work of Charles Gullans and John Espey. (2)