Over the last six weeks we’ve had a glimpse into the world of Victorian cloth bindings, from its humble beginnings in coloured cloths and paper labels to bindings ostentatiously covered in gilt, or a riot of colour.
The binding on this multi-volume set consists of a fine vertical wave grain cloth, with wood-effect colouring, with a central figure blocked in gilt on each volume. The Chinese classics, 5 vol. in 8 (London: Trübner & Co., 1861-1872), r PL3001.L2.
Briony says: I just love these spotty bindings, which could also have gilt decoration. R. M. Coopland, A lady’s escape from Gwalior (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1859 ; bound by Westleys & Co.), s DS478.4C7 ; H. G. Nicholls, The forest of Dean (London: John Murray, 1858 ; bound by Edmonds & Remnants), s DA670.D25N6.
Grains were invented to pattern the cloth, followed by the discovery of blocking the cloth itself, first in gold, then in blind, then in black, and finally in silver and colours. From bindings blocked in blind, with a touch of gilt, the 1850s saw the height of the use of gilt, its use obscuring the cloth itself.
The blind border on this binding almost detracts from the gorgeous floral pattern of the ribbon-embossed cloth. Robert Mudie, The sea (London: Thomas Ward & Co., 1835), s GC21.M8.
A lovely example of a floral grain on a fine diagonal rib background. John Warre Tyndale, The island of Sardinia, 3 vol. (London: Richard Bentley, 1849), s DG975.S3T9.
A binding elaborately blocked in gold, a feature of the high Victorian period. Robert Browning, A selection from the works of Robert Browning (London: Edward Moxon & Co., 1865), r PR4203.M5E65.
We’ve seen developments in techniques, such as the use of onlays and inlays to provide colour, the use of a combination of contrasting cloths, and the development of blocking in colours other than black.
Here is a lovely use of a chromolithograph inlay. Additionally, the title is reverse blocked in gold on red cloth onlays. Gleanings from the sacred poets (Edinburgh and London: Gall & Inglis, ), r PN6110.R4G6.
We’ve also seen developments in design. Titles came to dominate the cover, forming an integral part of the cover design. Lettering became more and more elaborate, often to the detriment of being able to read the words themselves.
A dark green fine diagonal rib cloth binding, with the title blocked in gilt in the centre in flowing letters. John C. Johnston, Treasury of the Scottish covenant (Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot, 1887), McK BX9081.J7.
An example of lettering imitating rope, to complement the subject matter. Matthew Fontaine Maury, The physical geography of the sea, and its meteorology (London: Sampson Low, Son & Co., 1860 ; bound by Bone and Son), s GC51.M2E60.
Two contrasting designs for Miss Mitford’s Our Village; published only five years apart they clearly illustrate changes in design between the 1880s (left) and 1890s (right). Mary Russell Mitford, Our village: country pictures (London: Walter Scott, 1888), r PR5022.V5E88 ; Mary Russell Mitford, Our village (London: Macmillan and Co., 1893), r PR5022.V5E93.
From the 1870s covers became more pictorial, whether through onlays, pictorial vignettes, or making the whole cover a blocked illustration. Where appropriate cover pictures were taken from an illustration in the book.
Here are a variety of illustrated spines. Joseph Bonomi, Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1862), Photo DT47.F8 ; The Bentley Ballads (London: Richard Bentley, 1858 ; bound by Edmonds & Remnants), s PR1178.B4D7 ; F. O. Morris, A history of British Butterflies (London: Bell & Daldy, 1870), rQL555.M6E70 (SR) Copy 2.
Such was the draw of book bindings that designers and artists became involved in their design. They often signed their work, and reacted against the developments of the time, bringing bindings back to simpler designs.
This binding design is signed ‘WHC’ in monogram in the lower right corner, and is one of three designed by William Harrison Cowlishaw. Ford Madox Ford, Ford Madox Brown: a record of his life and work (London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896), r ND467.B8H8.
We hope you have enjoyed the last six weeks, and this brief excursion through Victorian cloth bindings. With so much to offer, there is surely something for everyone to appreciate.
Assistant Rare Books Librarian