52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 33: a 19th century gem designed by John Leighton

Another 19th century beauty makes it to the bindings list this week: the 1863 photo-illustrated edition of Sir Walter Scott’s The lady of the lake.

The front cover of the 1863 edition of Sir Walter Scott's "The lady of the lake".

This book is wonderfully bound in blind stamped green fabric with a raised and gold-stamped full cover design. The design incorporates four lines from the poem and many naturalistic elements characteristic of the poem and of the time that it was printed. The spine is heavily decorated in gold as well, and all edges have been gilt. The centrepiece on both covers, featuring the lady of the lake, Ellen, is signed “JL”.

Detail of the spine of the 1863 "The lady of the lake".

This item makes it to the list not only because of its gorgeous cover, but also the person responsible for its design.  The centrepiece signature “JL” is for John Leighton, one of the most productive bookbinding designers of the 19th century. Leighton worked in the last half of the 19th century, from London, primarily as a designer, but also published as an author and illustrator. He is known for his intricate and detailed work on over 400 volumes during his career. This book was bound by Westleys & Co., a London bindery.

Binder's tag of Westleys & Co., London, found on the back paste-down.

Not only is the book beautiful to behold from the outside, but the work is also illustrated throughout with 14 albumen prints by George Washington Wilson and Thomas Ogle, making this a fairly early example of a book illustrated by this photographic process.

Title page of "The lady of the lake," featuring an albumen print of Sir Walter Scott's tomb at Dryburgh by George Washington Wilson.

DG

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