Fields of Gold

Fields of Gold

American Decorated Trade Bindings and Their Designers, 1890–1915

Cary Collection

In 1906 appeared a collection of essays called The Building of a Book in which various experts wrote about their particular book-making specialties. One of these experts was the trade binding designer Amy Richards; her contribution was entitled simply “Cover Designing” and, in a matter-of-fact way, she described the steps necessary to produce a decorated binding for a book. The intention was marketing, but the results were often works of art.

Amy Richards, and designers like her, flourished during a unique period in the history of trade binding that roughly spanned the years from 1890 to 1915. The designs of that period are simpler and more fluid than their predecessors and were made in reaction to the decorative excesses of the Victorian Age. Book covers which had seemed extraordinary in the 1870s became stale and debased in the 1880s, as excesses of ornament were piled one on top of another until many Victorian bindings finally toppled of their own decorative weight. But out of the rubble came innovation. During the 1890s, designers abroad and in America took the same materials – cloth, gold foil, and colored inks – and began to fashion book covers that were characterized by imagination and daring. Their strokes were broad and full of life – as far from the overwrought rigidity of the past as it was possible to get. But this creative period came to an end all too soon; by 1920 the decorated binding was nearly extinct, replaced by the cheaper, printed dust jacket.

Almost one hundred years later, we look back at that brief, golden age and can only marvel at the extraordinary variety of designs produced. This exhibition traces the history of those twenty-five years during which gifted artisans labored to create appealing covers. Many of these covers made lavish use of gold that was stamped with dies so precise it was possible to achieve decorative effects that today would be far too expensive even to contemplate. Most of the designers were quickly forgotten, while others went on to achieve a measure of fame in some other field of book-making. Scholars are slowly digging out information on scores of cover designers (many of them women), frequently remembered only by the initials or monograms ingeniously worked into their designs. At the same time, historians of bookbinding technology are documenting the elaborate die-making and stamping processes.

The covers on view here are largely drawn from the David Pankow Collection of Trade Bindings, recently donated to the Cary Collection. The rest came from holdings already in in the library. Taken together, they form an important resource for students of graphic design history. “The designing of book covers,” wrote Amy Richards, “is a minor art, but since there is a constant demand for ornamented covers, the more taste and skill that can be devoted to the making of them, the better.”

–David Pankow, Curator

This exhibition includes the works by following designers.

Margret Neilson Armstrong (1867-1951)

The talented Margaret Neilson Armstrong, one of the best-known New York trade-binding designers around the turn of the century, designed the largest number of books in this display. Though most designers in this time favored simplicity, she departed from the status quo and filled covers of books with symmetrical and rhythmic designs, combining floral motifs With a variety of colors. Although many of her designs are in this display; they represent only a fraction of her more than 300 works.

Born in New York City in 1867, Miss Armstrong undoubtedly receive artistic encouragement by growing up under the influences of her father, a stained glass artist who later became a diplomat. Under the guidance of William Merritt Chase, Rhoda Holmes Nichols, and Irving R. Wiles, she strengthened her artistic abilities while attending the Art Students' League. In 1890, Miss Armstrong began her thirty-year freelance career by creating covers for the McClurg Publishing Company. Shortly afterward, she began Working for a variety of publishers including Scribner, a Company for whom she was to contribute half of her total output. Her design influences included John La Farge and Elihu Vedder, along with English artists Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway. Among her many accomplishments, Miss Armstrong became well known for the memorable binding series she created for individual authors such as Paul Bourget, Henry Van Dyke and Myrtle Reed. In addition to being a prolific cover designer, Margaret was the author of eight books, two of which became best sellers.

Throughout Miss Armstrong's career, certain elements of her lettering designs remained constant. For instance, her titling "M'S",  "W'S" and "R'S" usually bore the same characteristics. She occasionally used an "MA" monogram, which may be seen on several of her bindings in this display. Even though books designed near the end of her career lean toward Victorian excess, a tasteful composition is still maintained. Miss Armstrong's aesthetically pleasing designs clearly place her on a pillar of artistic excellence. Feast your eyes upon the work of a famous, yet seldom studied figure in the history of binding design.


Will Bradley (1868-1962)

Will Bradley's finest achievements in cover designs appeared during a brief period around the turn of the century. While working at the University Press (Cambridge, Mass.) during these years, Bradley merged the traditional roles between artist, author and publisher. Maintaining control over the whole design process, he often selected the paper, size of page, style of composition and binding, while also furnishing designs for covers, titles, headings, and initials. One book critic touted him as being "sort of Beardsley and Grasset and Crane rolled into one."

Will Bradley was born in Boston in 1868, but spent most of his life in the Midwest. A self-educated designer, he began his career as a wood-engraver in Chicago. By the early 1890s, however, the skills that he had so carefully mastered were becoming obsolete; in response he turned his energies to drawing for photomechanical reproduction. He maintained close control over the entire reproduction process,making sure his drawings were properly engraved and printed. As graphic arts technologies evolved, he always displayed a willingness to learn new techniques. Among other early accomplishments, Bradley created a series of monthly covers for the Inland Printer, and changed the look of American magazines. He also made important contributions to the America poster movement, producing, for example, a well-received Art Noveau poster for The Chap-Book published by Stone and Kimball.

In 1894, Bradley moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he opened the Wayside Press. When his health began to fail, he oversaw a merger in 1898, between his company and the University Press in Cambridge. The newly formed alliance issued a brochure stating the new Wayside Press would undertake "the printing of choice books and the higher class of commercial work." The binding designs Mr. Bradley created during this time are superb, making them worthy of collection and study. Shortly after 1900, Mr. Bradley opened a design studio in New York City. He undertook a type display campaign for the American Type Founders and later assumed the editorship of Collier's.


Thomas Maitland Cleland (1880-1964)

By carefully examining the artistry of Thomas Maitland Cleland's bindings in this display, you see the work of a perfectionist. His skillful bindings are adorned with a variety of patterns ranging from landscapes and illustrations to rich decorations reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. A Cleland binding can be easily spotted, for his "C" monogram is normally located in the lower left-hand corner of books.

Born in Brooklyn in 1880, Mr. Cleland was just shy of twenty years old when he began illustrating and printing medieval romances in the basement of his father's house. His early design influences were Walter Crane and William Morris. The designs he created were along the same vein as Goodhue's, Hapgood's and Hadaway's earlier works, but, unlike these artists, Mr. Cleland was as much a printer as he was a designer. Mr. Cleland, feeling under-appreciated, moved to Boston in hopes of establishing a stronger reputation. The move did little,for his career, but much for his stylistic development. Upon introduction to Daniel Berkeley Updike, Mr. Cleland began working for him at the Merrymount Press. Even after his return to New York City in 1902, their associations continued.

In 1940, Mr. Cleland earned the Gold Metal from the American Institute of Graphic Artists at their annual opening of the Fifty Books of the Year awards. He shocked the audience and stirred up controversy when he gave an address entitled "Hard Words." In his speech on the degradation of book design and printing, he said, "One wonders if any standards at all would survive the flood of cheap and easy mechanization, careless workmanship and bad taste." As Mr. Cleland was a perfectionist, his expectations for others were equally set.


Decorative Designers

The Decorative Designers was a firm, which employed a synergistic concept of pulling from several talents to create fine artistry in book desigh. As this firm effected a division of labor in the design field, it was based on novel concepts in its day. Some of the designers were known to have completed a book· from conception to completion, but the majority of the some 25,000 were put together by means of community efforts.

In 1895, the Henry Thayer, an architect in the company of McKim, Mead, and White, decided to start his own business which eventually became the highly acclaimed Decorative Designers firm. He employed, and later married, Emma Redington Lee, who had received formal training in the decorative arts. While Mrs. Thayer excelled at Gothic lettering, Mr. Thayer created abstract geometric patterns, paneled designs and architectural entablatures. Mr. Thayer eventually hired more people to do the mechanical work of transferring designs· and creating repeats. Mrs. Thayer was usually in charge of the decorative borders and designs, Mr. Thayer made the lettering decisions, and Jay Chambers was in charge of the figures. The Decorative Designers firm lasted until 1931.


George Wharton Edwards (1859-1950)

created a very popular style, derived from thickened Walter Crane lines with swollen rocaille ornaments. His output was large, and he occasionally created striking books. In 1883, he was brought to American by Appleton to design covers. Some say he was a little behind and out of tune in with the works created around the turn of the century.


Frederic W. Goudy (1865-1947)

Frederic W Goudy, born in 1865, spent a fair amount of time as a designer and calligrapher before he went on to become an American typographic master. Many of the book covers he designed were for his private, presses, first the Camelot Press and the later Village Press. He signed his early work and monogrammed it with a G, not to be confused with the FWG monogram of the same period, which stood for the Chicago banker, economist and world authority on Japanese printing, Frederick W Goodkin.

The inception of Mr. Goudy's intense interest in type, hand-made paper and private press publications was formed upon his viewing a copy of Poems of Sir John Suckling in 1896 published by the Vale Press. "At that time this particular book, to me, was an aristocrat belonging to an aristocracy of craft and typographic art," he later wrote in A Bibliography of the Village Press. "A new leaf in the book of my life was turned and my interest in fine bookmaking was born." Mr. Goudy, an avid reader, also spent a large part of his youth reading contemporary literature in his father's home library.


Edward Stratton Holloway (1859-1939)

Edward Stratton Holloway was the art adviser to J.P. Lippincott and he designed a plethora of bindings from 1894 to 1924. As he received format training at the Penhsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Mr. Holloway specialized in marine and landscape paintings and decorative designs. The bindings he designed are vast and varied, and since his output was so enormous, his books are relatively easy to find.


Adrian J. Iorio

Adrian J. Iorio's typical bindings don bold, broad lines and simplistic boarder designs. He usually monogrammed his books with his initials, and he sometimes signed his last name in all capitals.

In the early 1900s, Mr. Bradley opened his own office in Boston. At this time, he emerged as a distinct artistic personality-separate from his former employer, Will Bradley. If Mr. Iorio's birth date is recorded correctly, he was only sixteen when he started working for Mr. Bradley at the Wayside Press. While at the University Press, Mr. Iorio mastered advertising and thus produced strikingly commercial designs.


Amy Sacker (1872-1965)

Amy Sacker, one of the most prolific designers of the time, was among the first designers to make extensive use of figurative compositions on book covers and bindings. Unlike her contemporaries who preferred more toward floral motifs and decorative designs, she preferred using black outlines and bright, flat areas of color. Her covers, as shown in this display, were designed similarly to the contemporary posters, and thus her style is sometimes called the poster style.

Miss Sacker received formal design training at the Museum of Fine Arts School in the late 1880s. By the 1890s, she was illustrating children's books for the Joseph Knight Company. Her forte, as display in the 1897 Arts and Crafts exhibition, was illustration and book cover and plate design. She was also known to have taught courses in metal, wood and fabric design in addition to bookbinding and interior decoration at first the Cowles Art School and later at The School of Miss Amy Sacker. Visit the Amy Sacker website by Mark Schumacher.


Sarah de St. Prix Wyman Whitman (1842-1904)

Sarah de St. Prix Wyman Whitman was a pioneer in the design of the modern trade or edition binding. As a well-known painter and designer/manufacturer of stained glass windows, she was pressed into service as a book designer by her many author friends. A woman of unshakable Christian principles and seemingly boundless energy, she desired to please her friends in every way possible.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Mrs. Wyman's family shortly afterward moved to Lowell, Massachusetts. After the usual upper-class schooling, she studied painting in Boston in the studio of William Morris Hunt, and later in Paris under Thomas? Couture. At the age of twenty-four, she married Henry Whitman, a partner in a firm of woolen merchants. Her studio at 184 Boylston Street often served as gathering place for Boston's elite, as did her summer home in Beverly Farms.

Mrs. Whitman started her career in book design in 1880 with Verses by Susan Coolidge, published by Roberts Brothers. Because of time constraints, she chose to become proficient in book cover design. She believed a book cover should have elegance and refinement, both carried out in a very sensitive yet conservative way. She rejected the fussy covers of the 1880's, starting a new with minimum decoration, legible lettering, and quality binding materials. Her decorations were well planned an integral to her understanding of the author's text. "The book;' she said, "must stand in a place all by itself so far as the art of decoration is concerned. The illustrations and the decorations of the cover are to be done especially with reference to the fact that it is in a department of its own, which is to be worked out on the basis of tradition:'

Her rustic, sans serif lettering reached its perfected form in the 1890s. "Letters form a great department of decorative art," she wrote, "and they are so to be regarded. Nothing so vulgarized design as bad letters, and nothing takes so much study to know what is good and what is bad in this matter."

Mrs. Whitman revolutionized edition binding by her commitment to beauty in all its many forms. She was a more modern designer than most of the artists who came after her. She clearly discerned the difference between the bookmaking of the past, when men and women gave their whole lives to the making of beautiful books, and the inferior bookmaking of her day. She strove to revive that seemingly lost past by infusing,her own work with great beauty and a joyful spirit.

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