Excerpt from the catalog of the collection
American Decorated Publishers' Bindings, 1872-1929
by Richard Minsky

Note: This is a draft--comments and suggestions are welcome!

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The Oriental Influence

All things Oriental were in vogue toward the end of the 19th century, and this influenced every aspect of art and design. From the Arabic and Moorish geometric patters and those of India to the asymmetry of Japanese art, we have many cover designs that either utilized these styles directly or incorporated them into Western binding designs. All the Art Nouveau style bindings are influenced to some extent by this. Some of the designs were on books with Oriental subject matter, and others showed the more general influence of Oriental motifs and concepts on design in general. The artists had a lot of references for influence, and not just in museums and collections. Many books on Oriental art and design* were published in the second half of the 19th century.

Fly Leaves
by C. S. C. [Calverley, Charles Stuart]
With additions from the author's earlier volume of "Verses and Translations"
NY: Holt  and Williams (Leisure Hour Series), 1872 
17 x 11.5 cm.

This binding was recognized early on as an important departure from existing cover designs. In the landmark 1894 exhibition Commercial Bookbindings at The Grolier Club, this book was chosen as

 ...an excellent example of the beginnings from which came the modern commercial cover of the first class. This is the "linen-duster"  cover in which Messrs. Henry Holt & Co. bound their Leisure Hour series. The cloth is light drab linen, cool and inviting as a hammock, and is stamped in black, the title enclosed in a single border line, with a cobweb and a leisurely spider in the lower right-hand corner. This book was published in 1872, and since then the art of designing ornamental covers has flourished like a bay-tree; yet it is doubtful if any more popular cover has been made. It seems exactly suited to its use. 1  

This design was kept for several years, and was replaced by a variant in mustard cloth that showed a greater oriental influence.

Fly Leaves
by C. S. C. [Calverley, Charles Stuart]
With additions from the author's earlier volume of "Verses and Translations"
3rd Edition; with a New Poem
New York: Henry Holt (Leisure Hour Series), 1872 (but 1882, read why below)
16.9 x 12 cm.

The 1872 spider web design morphed into this version. Here we see the tree branch and asymmetrical design, both characteristics of Japanese art that become standard elements in American cover design. This became the uniform cover design for Holt's Leisure Hour Series, which included many titles, at least through Turgenev's Annals of a Sportsman (1885).

It is dated 1872 on the title page. The first "Leisure Hour Series" edition of this book (1872) did not have this cover. The Publishers Note (between title page and contents) indicates this (third) edition is January 1873. There is a lengthy (undated) pencil inscription titled "A new Fly Leaf to go with the Book" occupying the entire flyleaf, ending "Excusez les fautes de / L'Auteur." The endpaper ads include the "Recent Leisure Hour Volumes" in the back, among which is Stevenson's New Arabian Nights, which was issued in 1882. 

This points out a difficulty in dating cover designs. If it were not for the endpaper ads, we wouldn't be able to place this copy later than January, 1873.  We don't yet know if the 1873 issue had this cover.  I have seen an 1875 "Leisure Hour Series" title with the earlier cover, so this design may be later than that.


The Alhambra
by Washington Irving
In Two Volumes. "Darro Edition."
New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1891.
22.4 x 16.1 cm.
[unsigned, Alice C. Morse]

These two Alice Cordelia Morse designs are marvelous interpretations of Mediterranean motifs.. The Alhambra, while evoking Moorish design, has elements reminiscent of the bindings commissioned by Jean Grolier at the beginning of the 16th century, and is also influenced by Art Nouveau.

Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada
by Washington Irving
Author's revised edition. Agapida edition. 2 volumes.
New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1893
22.5 x 14.5 cm.
[unsigned, Alice C. Morse]

Granada adds an Arts and Crafts touch to a synthesis of Arabic and classical European bookbinding design, which is somewhat redundant, as much of European binding design stems from Arabic models. 2

* Owen Jones classic The Grammar of Ornament was issued in London by Day & Son in 1856 and was immensely popular, being reissued by Day in 1865 and reissued by Bernard Quaritch in 1868. His sequel The Grammar of Chinese Ornament was published in 1867. During this period many magazine articles and books were devoted to Oriental art. Among the texts the designers may have referenced:

1870   Raphael Pumpelly, Across America and Asia,  with a chapter on Japanese Art by John La Farge (New York: Leypoldt & Holt)
1876 J.J. Jarves, A Glimpse at the Art of Japan (New York: Hurd and Houghton)
1880  Thomas Cutler, A Grammar of Japanese Ornament and Design (London: Batsford)
1888  Franz Meyer, Handbook of Ornament (New York: Bruno Hessling)
1891 Louis Gonse, Japanese Art (Chicago: Morrill, Higgins & Co)
1897   Edward F. Strange, Japanese Illustration. A History of the Arts of Wood-Cutting and Colour Printing in Japan (London: George Bell)

1. Commercial Bookbindings, New York, The Grolier Club, 1894, p. 9.
2. Also see Mindell Dubansky, "The Proper Decoration of Book Covers and Alice Cordelia Morse," Gazette of the Grolier Club, No. 52, 2001, pp 60-78.

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