Victorian decorated publishers' bindings exhibition

Tallis's history and description of the Crystal Palace ... (1851)New technical developments in the production of binding cloth and press machinery in the first half of the nineteenth century enabled artists to be more experimental with book cover design.

This exhibition includes a number of fine examples of Victorian decorated publishers’ bindings from the University of Reading rare book collections and the library of the .

Until the early 1800s, books were generally sold with paper covers and without bindings, and were bound separately, generally in leather or half leather, according to the purchaser’s wishes. However, the development of new technical methods enabled manufacturers to mass produce cloth bindings. This was also an attractive option for publishers as cloth was a cheaper alternative to leather. New technical developments from the mid-1820s included the production of starched, filled and dyed cloth which permitted designs to be embossed or blocked onto it. In the 1830s, patterns could be produced onto cloth by means of ribbon embossing. This was achieved by passing cloth through heated rollers, which had engraved patterns cut into them. By the early 1830s the development of the arming press enabled manufacturers to use pre-cut heated brass blocks for blocking onto cloth, which could be printed in gold or without, as blind blocking. The colour range of standard cloths was restricted, but included a number of blues, reds and greens. Publishers were now able to issue their publications in a binding that was as pleasing and acceptable as a permanent leather binding.

Cultural developments, such as the growth of the market for books in the 1850s, and events such as the Great Exhibition of 1851, also gave great impetus to the development of book cover design.

The designs were often of a very high quality, with elaborate fine detailing, and intricate and dense patterning. There was also a vibrant use of colour, using inlaid coloured papers, as shown on the binding of The art album, or blocking in colours, as in Beauties of poetry and art, both of which are on display in this exhibition. Artists involved in book cover design were often also involved in the illustration of the book as a whole.

Although many fine bindings were unsigned, a number of artists have been identified from their initials on the book cover or spine design. Notable artists in this field of design included Owen Jones (1809-1874), William Harry Rogers (1825-1874), Albert Henry Warren (1830-1911), Henry Noel Humphreys (1810-1879), and, in particular, John Leighton (1822-1912), the most prolific designer of publishers’ bindings at this time, whose known book cover designs span the period 1845 to 1902.

The exhibition will be on display at the Special Collections Service until 15 February 2010.

List of exhibits

The scouring of the White Horse; or, The long vacation ramble of a London clerk. By the author of "Tom Brown's school days" [Thomas Hughes]. Illustrated by Richard Doyle. Cambridge : Macmillan, 1859. Unsigned binding. Attributed to Richard Doyle (1824-1883) on stylistic grounds, as the cover design is similar to the illustrations within the text. COLE—X414

The origin and progress of the art of writing : a connected narrative of the development of the art, its primeval phases in Egypt, China, Mexico, etc. ... and its subsequent progress to the present day. By Henry Noel Humphreys... ; illustrated by a number of specimens of the writing of all ages and a series of facsimiles from autograph letters from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. London : Ingram, Cooke, and Co., 1853. Binding design by Henry Noel Humphreys. OVERSTONE—SHELF 12I/01

The history of Joseph and his brethren : Genesis chaprs. XXXVII. XXXVIII. XL. London : Published by Day & Son, lithographers, [1865]. Binding design by Owen Jones. PRINTING COLLECTION FOLIO – 222.11

Wine, the vine, and the cellar, by Thomas George Shaw. London : Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, 1863. Binding design by 'W.K.' (W. Kelsall?) OVERSTONE--SHELF 12E/07

Masterpieces of the early printers & engravers : a series of facsimiles from rare and curious books, remarkable for illustrative devices, beautiful borders, decorative initials, printers' marks, elaborate title-pages, &c. by H. Noel Humphreys. London : Henry Sotheran & Co., 1870. Binding design by Henry Noel Humphreys. RESERVE FOLIO--655.1084-HUM

The National Moore. Centenary edition, including the airs of the Irish melodies, national airs &c. and a memoir by J.F. Waller. Volume 3. London : William Mackenzie, [1880]. Binding design by John Leighton. RESERVE--821.75

Quarles' Emblems ; illustrated by Charles Bennett and W. Harry Rogers [engraved by Joseph Swain and Edmund Evans]. London : James Nisbet and Co., 1861. Binding design by W. Harry Rogers. RESERVE--821.49-QUA

Tallis's history and description of the Crystal Palace, and the Exhibition of the world's industry in 1851 ; illustrated by beautiful steel engravings, from original drawings and daguerreotypes by Beard, Mayall, etc., etc. London : John Tallis and Company, [1852] Binding design by H. Bibby. GREAT EXHIBITION--06/07 VOL. 3 (shown at top of page).

The task : a poem, by William Cowper ; illustrated by Birket Foster. London : James Nisbet and Co., 1855. Binding design by John Leighton. RESERVE--821.65

The farmer's boy, by Robert Bloomfield ; illustrated with thirty engravings from drawings by Birket Foster, Harrison Weir, and G.E. Hicks. London : Sampson Low, 1858. Binding design by Albert Henry Warren. PRINTING COLLECTION--821.69-BLO

Hyperion : a romance, by Henry W. Longfellow. Illustrated with twenty-four photographs of the Rhine, Switzerland, and the Tyrol, by Francis Frith. London : Alfred William Bennett, 1865. Binding design by John Leighton. PRINTING COLLECTION--811.34

The World's Fair; or, Children's prize gift book of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Describing the beautiful inventions and manufactures exhibited therein; with pretty stories about the people who have made and sent them; and how they live when at home. London : Thomas Dean and Son ... and Ackermann and Co., [1851] Binding unsigned. GREAT EXHIBITION--08/10 

Three gems in one setting : The poet's song, Tennyson. Field flowers, Campbell. Pilgrim fathers, Mrs. Hemans, by A.L. Bond. London : Ward, Lock & Tyler, [1865]. Binding unsigned. RESERVE--821.808-BON

Agriculture, ancient and modern: a historical account of its principles and practice, exemplified in their rise, progress, and development, by Samuel Copland, the "Old Norfolk farmer" of the Mark Lane Express. Volume 3. London : Virtue and Company, 1866. Binding design by John Leighton. MERL LIBRARY--3521-COP

The life of Julius Cæsar, by John Williams. London : G. Routledge & Co., 1854. Binding design by John Leighton [initials on spine] OVERSTONE--SHELF 30A/21

The six of spades : a book about the garden and the gardener, by S. Reynolds Hole. London : Blackwood, 1872. Binding unsigned. RESERVE--635.9-HOL

The art album : sixteen facsimiles of water-colour drawings, by George Cattermole... [et al.] ; engraved and printed by Edmund Evans. London : W. Kent and Co., 1861. Binding unsigned. RESERVE--761.2-EVA

Beauties of poetry and art. Embellished with sixteen facsimiles of water-colour drawings, and other illustrations, by George Cattermole... [et al.] ; engraved and printed by Edmund Evans. London : Ward, Lock, & Tyler, [1865?] Binding unsigned. RESERVE--821.08-BEA

Moral emblems : aphorisms, adages, and proverbs, of all ages and nations, from Jacob Cats and Robert Farlie ; with illustrations freely rendered, from designs found in their works, by John Leighton... ; The whole translated and edited, with additions, by Richard Pigot. London : Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860. Binding design by John Leighton. RESERVE FOLIO--828.4-CAT

The flower, fruit, and kitchen garden : containing full directions for the hothouse, the greenhouse and every branch of fruit, flower, and vegetable culture, by practical gardeners and florists, &c.. London : E. Lloyd, [1851?] Binding unsigned. MERL LIBRARY—4756-FLO

Further reading

King, Edmund M.B. Victorian decorated trade bindings, 1830-1880 : a descriptive bibliography. London : British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2003. Copy available for loan at the University Library (3rd floor): FOLIO--655.730942-KIN and for reference at Special Collections open access reference: 655.730942 KIN

McLean, Ruari. Victorian publishers' book-bindings in cloth and leather. London : Gordon Fraser, 1974. Copy available for loan at the University Library (3rd floor): FOLIO--655.740942-MAC and for reference at Special Collections open access reference: Folio 686.300942 MAC.

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