The Second Exhibition of
American Decorated Publishers' Bindings, 1872-1929

As of March 4, 2008, twelve newsletters have been issued for subscribers to the catalog.
Catalog publication is projected for the fall of 2008.
Pre-publication discount subscriptions are available.
The catalog of the first exhibition may be in a library near you.

February 5, 2008

Dear Subscribers and Advisors,

There are now 100 designs in the database and checklist. The original plan for this exhibition called for that to be the total, but now we are just one-third of the way through the cataloging, with 200 designs still to go. 

Today I had an exciting moment while cataloging the 1907 Fenno edition of IK Marvel's Over His Cigar. You may recall a companion volume from this series of excerpts from Reveries of a Bachelor, titled Over a Wood Fire, that was in the previous catalog. That was signed W.S. and attributed to Will Schrank or Schank, with a ?. The attribution was based on Gullans' monogram list.

I am revising that attribution now, based on this design, also by W.S., whom I now believe is W.E.B. Starkweather. Something seemed very familiar about this design and it struck me that it was similar to the unsigned 1902 Starkweather design on March of the White Guard, which also was in the last catalog. It's copied here so you don't have to look it up. 

Over His Cigar is illustrated, but the artist is not identified on the title page or elsewhere in the text. The marginal decorations are not signed, but the color plates that reproduce paintings are signed on the original art, WEB Starkweather 1906. 

Here is something of a mystery: The wonderful design on Lilla Perry's Impressions is signed, but what is the signature? Stylistically I am inclined to give it to Bernard Grosvenor Goodhue, but the monogram is not one I've seen on others of his books, or elsewhere identified. The cloth is vertically ribbed and is fairly hard and deep-grained, so all the black stamping has green lines running through it vertically, where the cloth was not compressed to its lowest level.  Was this an intentional technique?  It's a beautiful effect. But the monogram is broken up to be almost unreadable.  Here are two enlargements of it--it occurs twice, as the design is repeated on the back cover. If you know this monogram or otherwise have a clue about this design, please let me know! Next to the two instances of the monogram is a notion I had about what it actually might be, if it is Goodhue.

Thanks to subscriber Robert Beasecker at Grand Valley State U. for suggesting several designs, including this 1903 one on His Little World. Robert inquired whether I knew who the designer was.  It is signed with a conjoined AH. 

Gullans list had Anna Hasselman, 1903 for the conjoined AH, so I sent that information off.  Then it struck me that the corner ornaments looked an awful lot like Alberta Hall's geometric-Art Nouveau work, as in these from the last catalog:

Alberta Hall's monogram generally has a long descender between the A and H. The Boss is also 1903, to confuse matters further. I asked John Lehner if he had any Hall monograms with conjoined AH and no descender, and he found one on the title page of the Henneberry edition of Ruskin's Ethics of the Dust. It's more squared off than the one on the Merwin, but reinforces the likelihood it's correct. Although I haven't seen other Halls with ships or trees, the stylistic similarity of the design is too great. The semi-circle that the ship is in is like the inverted one that holds the skyline on The Boss. His Little World is a peculiar hodge-podge of elements that seem unrelated—free floating trees penetrating a ship vignette with corners floating in the middle of the cover. Far from the crisp designs we usually associate with Alberta Hall.

Last year Stuart Walker sent me a list of Evelyn W. Clark designs, and several of them will be in this catalog. One of my favorites is this charming 1901 cottage scene, with its pink sky and foreground blossoms popping out of the picture plane.

The flowers in the foreground with white and pink mirror the clouds in the distance, both in color and form, creating an unusual visual tension

In the December Newsletter we looked at the 1881 "Lives of American Worthies" series binding design, by the artist who was responsible for the proto-futurist cover on Aboard the Mavis. Another group from that unidentified artist were the Bodley books by Horace Scudder, issued by The Riverside Press. What makes this series particularly interesting is that we see the evolution of this style as the books were issued.

Compare The Bodleys on Wheels (1879) to Mr. Bodley Abroad (1881).


The earlier book already has the proto-constructivist elements in play—the geometric breakup of space, lines and circles, the use of red and black. And the free floating elements move through the space, alternately sitting on the picture plane as illustration or drawing and floating in it, as the fish in the sea.

By 1881 the use of deep space, landscape, and pictorial elements has become more sophisticated, building on the Mavis design of 1880. Mr. Bodley Abroad goes beyond the others in anticipating future art movements, with line work that hovers between what one might regard as abstract expressionist and graffiti. Its controlled use in creating illusionistic depth is remarkable, such as the way the jagged blue line moves around the yellow triangle on the back cover, passing in front of and behind it.

I found another little gem, an anonymous undated (©1881) book in Cassell's "Little Folks Series" titled Brother, Sister and I. Here the Orientalist roots of the style are more apparent, and we have almost the same moonlit seascape in the corner, this time resurrecting the sailing ship that is floating off the bottom of the back cover on Aboard the Mavis.

Today's extra credit mystery challenge: Who created the wraparound design for Holt's 1922 issue of Walter de la Mare's The Veil?

Not shown in today's Newsletter but now in the checklist are about 20 others that have been added since the last newsletter, including a 1906 design by Amy M. Sacker on Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys, a 1905 Rome K. Richardson cover on F. Marion Crawford's Fair Margaret, and an undated, unsigned design I attribute to Edwin A. Abbey on Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer. That's a nice multi-textured gold theater mask, and a detail is in the checklist. Also look at Will Jordan's design on Vielé's Myra of the Pines.

I expect to see many of our subscribers at The Grolier Club for the Guild of Book Workers 19th Century Publishers' Bindings Symposium on the 22nd of this month. 

The bibliographic information on the above books is in the checklist. As always, go to the Subscriber's Log-in page and enter your passcode. The updated database file is in there too.

If you have lost your code or have trouble logging on, let me know and I'll get you back in.

Best regards,

Pre-publication discount subscriptions are available.