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The Origin of the Publisher’s Cloth Binding

Rapid changes to Britain’s social structure throughout the 19th century led to a significant increase in literacy and the demand for reading material.  This, combined with the new educated elite’s capacity to purchase books and the technical developments in printing, including the steam-driven rotary press, led to significant changes in the way the book trade was organised.

In the 1820s publishing began to emerge as a separate occupation, carried out by a single person or group and distinct from other activities such as bookselling.  Binders now had to keep pace with the demands of individuals who could afford to have their books custom-bound in leather, plus the demands of the booksellers, as well as those of the publishers who were increasingly taking responsibility for the whole book-making process.  This included the editing, printing and binding of their publications, sometimes as a single part but often the whole of an edition.

The uniform binding of a certain quantity of an edition wasn’t new to the 19th century, however, the form of publishers’ binding that was to become “the standard” was certainly a product of the technical developments of the Victorian era.  The “publisher’s binding”, recognised for its cloth-covered, gilt-blocked casing, refers to a book cover manufactured in quantity which is intended to be identical, and which is applied to a whole or part of an issue bound for a publisher to sell.  The fact that the cloth and boards could be assembled separately from other steps in the binding process went a long way towards addressing the increased demand for books and their speedy distribution, facilitated by the rapid development of the railways.

To market and sell their books, publishers invested in cover designs that had a high degree of artistic involvement but they also pursued far less complex designs so as to ensure affordability.  Many of the designs reflected, in gilt, aspects of the book’s text or its illustrations.  Sometimes the design far exceeded the quality of what lied within!

For such an important innovation then, it is difficult to believe that we have no confirmed account of which binder first introduced cloth and to which title it was first applied.  Today, most evidence points to Pickering as the publisher who first suggested the use of red curtain cloth to his binder, Archibald Leighton, for the 1823 volumes of Diamond classics.

Cabinet 2

The Home Affections Pourtrayed by the Poets. Selected and Edited by Charles Mackay; Illustrated with One Hundred Engravings, Drawn by Eminent Artists, and Engraved by the Brothers Dalziel. Charles Mackay. London: George Routledge & Co. 1858 Blue grain patterned book cloth.  Blind relief embossed with heat, sized with paste-wash and glair (albumen), greased and then further embossed with gold leaf.   Bevelled board edges, gilding to spine and all edges gilt.  Bound by Burn of 37 & 38 Kirby Street, Hatton Garden, London.
RB 821.08 M153h

Home Affections Pourtrayed by the Poets...Charles Mackay. 1858

The Rhine: History and Legends of its Castles, Abbeys, Monasteries, and Towns. W.O. von Horn. Wiesbaden: Julius Niedner, 1872 Dark green patterned grain cloth.  Blind relief embossed with heat, sized with paste-wash and glair, greased and then further embossed with gold and possibly copper leaf.  Bevelled boards, gilding and blind relief embossing to spine, all edges gilt.  Bound by J.R. Herzog, Buchbinderei, Leipzig.
RB 914.3 O29

The Rhine: History and Legends of its Castles, Abbeys, Monasteries, and Towns. W.O. von Horn. 1872

Memorable Wars of Scotland. Patrick Fraser Tytler. Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo. Undated but circa 1867 Blue patterned sand-grain cloth.  Gold debossed decoration to front cover and spine, blind stamping to rear cover, bevelled boards and all edges gilt.
RB/WB 941.1 T996m

Memorable Wars of Scotland. Patrick Fraser Tytler. 1867

Poems by Thomas Chatterton. With a Memoir by Frederick Martin. London: Charles Griffin and Company. Undated but circa 1866 Brown publisher’s cloth with gilt blocked border and portrait vignette of Chatterton.  Gilding to spine, bevelled boards and all edges gilt.
RB/WB 821.63 C49.M

Poems by Chatterton. With a Memoir by Frederick Martin. Undated but circa 1866

Episodes of Insect Life. Acheta Domestica (pseud.) L.M. Budgen. London: Reeve and Benham. 1849-1851 Blue cloth elaborately gilded and decorated with insect vignettes on front and rear cover and spine.  All edges gilt.
RB 595.7 B92

Episodes of Insect Life. Acheta Domestica (pseud.) L.M. Budgen. 1849-1851

A Little Tour in Ireland: Being a Visit to Dublin, Galway, Connamara, Athlone, Limerick, Killarney, Glengarriff, Cork, etc. etc. etc. An Oxonian. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Bradbury & Evans. 1859 Green patterned pebble-grain cloth.  Blind embossed border to front and rear cover, gilt vignette of horse and cart to front cover and gold stamping and lettering to spine.  All edges gilt.
RB 914.15 H729l

A Little Tour in Ireland: Being a Visit to Dublin, Galway, Connamara, Athlone, Limerick, Killarney, Glengarriff, Cork, etc. An Oxonian. With Illustrations by John Leech. 1859

Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations.  Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue. By Authority of the Royal Commission. London: Spicer Brothers, Wholesale Stationers; W. Clowes and Sons, Printers. 1851 Publisher’s blue patterned grain cloth.  Blind relief embossed on front and rear cover with gold-tooled decoration and lettering to front cover and spine.  All edges gilt.  Bound by Remnant & Edmonds, London.
RB 606.4 L84

Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue. By Authority of the Royal Commission. 1851

Album für Deutschlands Töchter. Lieder and Romanzen: Mit Illustrationen von Paul Thumann, W. Georgy, J. Füllhaas u. A. (Album for Germany's Daughters...). Leipzig: C.F. Amelang's Verlag. 1871 Green patterned sand grain-cloth over bevelled boards.  Additional raised, molded border to front and rear cover.  Ornate gilding to front cover and spine, both in the exquisite German style.  All edges gilt.  Bound by J.R. Herzog, Buchbinderei, Leipzig.
RB 831.08 A345

Album für Deutschlands Töchter.  Lieder and Romanzen: mit illustrationen von Paul Thumann, W. Georgy, J. Füllhaas u. A. (Album for Germany’s Daughters…) Leipzig: C.F. Amelang’s Verlag, 1871

New Zealand: Its Physical Geography, Geology and Natural History: With Special Reference to the Results of Government Expeditions in the Provinces of Auckland and Nelson. Ferdinand von Hochstetter. Stuttgart: J.G. Cotta. 1867 Dark green patterned sand-grain cloth blind embossed with additional raised, molded oval border.  Front cover pictorially stamped in gold and copper leaf.  Bevelled boards and finely marbled edges.
RB 919.31 H68 

New Zealand: its physical geography, geology and natural history: with special reference to the results of government expeditions in the provinces of Auckland and Nelson.  Ferdinand von Hochstetter. 1867
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