Last week we considered grains as a form of decoration, whereby the natural grain of the cloth was disguised with a design. Almost simultaneously with the development of a myriad of grains came another revolution in book-binding practice: the discovery of a method of preparing the surface of the cloth so that books could be gold-lettered rapidly and in sufficient quantities for commercial purposes. Again, it was Archibald Leighton who perfected a process for preparing the surface of cloth, and thus introduced the gold-blocking of cloth which has been practiced ever since.
An example of a binding from 1892, showing the enduring popularity of gold blocking. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline: a tale of Acadie (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1892), r PS2271.E8.
In 1832 John Murray published the first book in the world to have gold blocked directly onto its cloth spine. At first gold was primarily used for titles, where they would appear on the spine, often surrounded by a frame.
Examples of spine titles blocked in gold; the first, dating to 1834, has been applied at a slight angle. Thomas Willcocks, Flora poetica (London: Longman, Rees, Orme and Co, 1834), s PR1195.F6W5 ; William Burt, Christianty: a poem, in three books (London: Cochrane & Co., 1835), s PR4349.B51C5 ; Retrospections: a soldier’s story (Dublin: William Curry, Jun. and Co., 1839), s PR3991.A1R47.
Later, gilt was utilised for small central decorations, which could vary in size, some becoming larger and larger, sometimes to the detriment of the overall proportions of the cover design.
Bindings with gilt central motifs, of varying dimensions; that in the second image has tarnished somewhat. William M. Thomson, The land and the book (London: T. Nelson and Sons, 1860), s BS620.T5E60 ; Dionysius Lardner, The electric telegraph popularised (London: Walton and Maberly, 1855), For TK5262.L2 ; C. H. Newmarch, Recollections of Rugby (London: Hamilton & Adams, 1848 ; bound by Remnant & Edmonds), s LF795.R8N4 ; John Lindley, Ladies’ botany (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1847), s QK50.L6.
By the 1850s more and more gilt was being applied to book covers. Whilst an entire cover could be covered in gold, in some instances it was just the spine, where a pattern or design spread down its whole surface. In some instances spine designs were separate entities to the cover design; the best picked up a motif from the cover, but there are those whose design is incongruous.
This is an early example of an all-over design blocked in gold, probably designed by Owen Jones. The date 1841 is blocked on the spine, but this practice was soon discontinued. Ancient Spanish ballads; historical and romantic, translated by J. G. Lockhart (London: John Murray, 1841), r PQ6267.E4B2L7.
The front cover and spine of this binding are extensively blocked in gilt, but the back cover is only blocked in blind. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poems (Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo, 1859), McI PS2250.E59.
On other works the gilt blocking could extend over the whole binding, as in these two examples. The first binding was designed by Albert Warren (his monogram appearing on the spine), the second by John Leighton, whose initials are visible at the foot of the centrepiece. William Wordsworth, Poems of William Wordsworth (London: George Routledge & Co., 1859), s PR5853.W5 ; Walter Scott, The lady of the lake (London: A.W. Bennett, 1863), Photo PR5308.E63.
An early example of a pictorial spine, in keeping with the subject of the book. The spine is bound in calf, whilst the covers are green morocco grain cloth. Mary Howitt, Sketches of natural history (London: Effingham Wilson, 1834), s PR4809.H2S5.
The first binding has a spine entirely blocked in gold, whilst the covers are blue ribbed morocco grain blocked in blind; the second gilt spine picks up the gilt central motif from the front cover. Thomas Hood, Pen and pencil pictures (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1857; bound by Leighton, Son & Hodge), s PR4800.P5 ; C. I. Johnstone, Diversion of Hollycot, or the mother’s art of thinking (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1845), s PR4826.J63D5.
Blocking in blind (where a smooth surface was produced on the cloth without the addition of ink or metallic leaf) followed gilt blocking, and was generally restricted to the use of borders (an ornamental design in a repeat pattern), frames (simple lines to make a rectangle), and cornerpieces, although these were seldom used until the end of the 1830s, becoming more prevalent in the 1840s.
This binding makes use of a blind frame around a blind centrepiece, with very small cornerpieces. The correspondence between Burns and Clarinda (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1843), s PR4331.A3M2.
Examples of decorative borders, the first surrounded by a frame. R. G. Latham, Man and his migrations (London: John Van Voorst, 1851), s GN370.L2 ; Friedrich Schoedler, An introductory manual of the natural sciences (London and Glasgow: Richard Griffin and Company, 1855), s Q161.S7M4.
These two bindings combine a frame with cornerpieces, the second also having a blind centrepiece. George Wilkinson, Practical geology and ancient architecture of Ireland (London: John Murray, 1845), r QE265.W5 ; James Russell Lowell, The Biglow papers (London: Trübner & Co., 1859), r PS2330.L7B5.
Blocking in blind was not often used on its own (covering the front, back, and spine of a book), such examples being rather unusual. More often blind blocking was found in conjunction with gold blocking; a blind border with gilt central motif was a popular combination.
An example of a work whose whole binding is blocked in blind; our copy has had its spine rebacked. John Ruskin, The seven lamps of architecture (London : Smith, Elder, 1849), s PR5261.S4E49.
Further examples of bindings using a combination of blind and gilt blocking. The new Timon (London, Henry Colburn, 1846 ; bound by Westleys & Co.), s PR4922.N4E46 ; Baptist W. Noel, Notes of a tour in Switzerland (London: James Nisbet and Co., 1848 ; bound by Westleys & Clark), s DQ23.N7; Laurence Oliphant, The Russian shores of the Black Sea (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1853 ; bound by Edmonds & Remnants), s DK511.C7O6.
Occasionally blind blocking was used to give a pattern to the size of the book, rather than being designed for the cloth which was then cut to the size of the book. Such bindings are identified by the fact that the design fits the book size, and doesn’t go over the edges. Some designs incorporated floral motifs, but other could be very geometric.
Blocked bindings made for books of a particular size, incorporating floral motifs. The third incorporates the publisher’s name, which was common when a work was part of a series. Fisher’s Drawing room scrap-book. 1835 (London: H. Fisher, R. Fisher, & P. Jackson, 1835), Gil f AY11.F5;1935 ; Maria Norris, Life and times of Madame de Stal (London: David Bogue, 1853 ; bound by Bone & Son), s PQ2431.Z5N6 ; James Boswell, The journal of a tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D (London, Office of the National Illustrated Library, ), Fle DA880.H4E52.
Examples of blocked designs with a geometric flavour. Thomas Miller, Beauties of the country (London: John Van Voorst, 1837), s PR5021.M456B4 ; Mary Howitt, Birds and flowers and other country things (London: Darton and Clark, 1838), s PR4809.H2B8 ; Maximilian Schele De Vere, Stray leaves from the book of nature (London: Sampson Low, Son, & Co., 1856), s Q171.D3 ; Thomas Williams, Fiji and the Fijians, 2 vol. (London: Alexander Heylin, 1858 ; bound by Edmonds & Remnants), s DU600.W6.
Whilst the 1830s saw blocking in gilt and blind, the mid-1840s saw another innovation: the introduction of ink blocking, nearly always in black. This facilitated the publication of cheap editions, where black ink replaced gilt. At the end of the 1850s blocking in black and gilt became a popular combination.
A selection of bindings using black blocking. Andrew Wynter, Curiosities of civilization (London: Robert Hardwicke, 1860), s D10.W9 ; William Stirling Maxwell, Don John of Austria, 2 vol. (London: Longman, Green, and Co., 1883), s DH193.S8 ; A. H. Beesly, Sir John Franklin (London: Marcus Ward & Co., 1881), r G650.1B4.
These are examples of the different use of black and gold blocking; I like the simplicity of the final binding. The blade and the ear: a book for young men (Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo, ), r BV4541.B5 ; Nathaniel Hawthorne, The scarlet letter (London: Charles H. Clarke, ), s PS1868.D4 ; William Hunt, The Somerset diocese (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1885), s BX5107.B3H8 ; Daniel C. Eddy, The young woman’s friend (London: Walter Scott, 1885), s BV4551.E4.
This is a rather effective use of merging the gold and black in the lettering for the title. James Gillray, The works of James Gillray (London: Chatto and Windus, ), r NC1479.G5W8.
Although gold blocking was mastered in the 1830s, silver as a colour was a late developer. It had first been used in 1839. Messrs Longman wrote in September 1839 to Lady Blessington
announcing that a satisfactory invention had been made public for preventing the tarnishing of silver on cloth. Yet it appears that Messrs Longman were either too optimistic, or that the secret was immediately lost, for the few silver-blocked books issued during the next twenty or thirty years have all tarnished badly. It was not until the 1880s that a reliable ‘silver’ (in actual fact aluminium) was developed.
Examples of bindings using silver. F. Edward Hulme, The birth and development of ornament (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1893), s NK1175.H8 ; Edward Frederick Knight, Where three empires meet: A narrative of recent travel in Kashmir, western Tibet, Gilgit and the adjoining countries (London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896), r DS485.K2K6 ; W.C. Brøgger and Nordahl Rolfsen, Fridtiof Nansen, 1861-1893 (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1896), s G635.N3B8R7.
So, this week we’ve seen the development of blocking, from gilt to blind to black to silver. Next week we’ll take a look at how colour was introduced into cloth bindings, from creating colour combinations in the cloth itself to the development of successful colour blocking.
Assistant Rare Books Librarian