A friend pointed me to this wonderful online exhibit of nineteenth century book covers, Beauty for Commerce, at the University of Rochester Library – Rare Books and Special Collections website. It reproduces hundreds of decorative bindings (and some early dust jackets), with running commentary pointing out design elements and techniques. From the introduction:
“This exhibit chronicles the growth of English and American publishers’ binding from its infancy in the 1830s to its decline in the early 20th century. Highlighted are the distinct changes in design that reflected not only technical innovations in the means of book production and decoration but shifting social and cultural trends as well. Viewed as a group, publishers’ bindings represent a revolution in the history of the book. Viewed individually, each binding offers an often gilded window to the fashion of its day.”
Often gilded, indeed! Here’s one of my favorites:
Frances Trego Montgomery. On a Lark to the Planets. Akron, OH: The Saalfield Publishing Co., 1904
The exhibit is divided into ten-year sections (I like to think of them as “chapters”) and includes chapters on notable designers Sarah Wyman Whitman and Margaret Armstrong, plus a miscellany reproducing the covers of three more designers.
Above and beyond the wealth of information and beautiful graphics, the exhibit is superbly laid out and easy to navigate. You can click on the small photo to see an enlargement of each book, which includes a magnifiying box you can move around to inspect details.
I can spend hours here. Er, well I could spend hours here but — back to my day job!