Types of Cloth
When cloth first emerged in England as a binding option in the 1820s, its colour and treatment was carried out by the binder as an ancillary operation. Fabrics were mostly cotton, although some binders did experiment with silk. Early cloth tended to hold dark colours better and, as a result, many books appeared in puce – a dark, reddish brown.
As the demand for cloth increased, the specialist book cloth supplier emerged and by 1840 book cloth manufacture was a distinct trade. Lighter and more striking colours such as emerald and orange were produced and experiments also began with marbled cloth. Striped, speckled and dappled cloth appeared in the 1840s and 1850s and was used to bind appropriate titles such as the 1849 Journal of Design.
Cloth graining, in its various forms, also emerged in the 1830s. The graining, or embossing, of cloth gave its surface a distinct raised pattern and had the added advantage of disguising its weave. In fact, the earliest grain pattern simulated morocco leather (goatskin) and whilst this wasn’t done intentionally to deceive the buyer, its purpose certainly was to provide a more “respectable” finish. Other means of decorating book cloth soon followed, including ribbon-embossing, in which a type of ornamentation beyond that of grain, was added to the cloth. The designs were usually repetitive, such as floral motifs or geometric shapes, and were often over the top of a fine ribbed background.
By the mid-19th century, book cloth was available in many different styles, in large quantities and, relative to leather, it was cheap. In addition to the morocco and ribbon-embossed styles, publishers could choose from patterns such as bead, bubble, calico, criss-cross, diaper, dotted-line, hexagon, honeycomb, linen, net, patterned sand, pebble, rib and wavy. These developments allowed publishers to bind entire series in the same affordable colour and pattern.
The use of colour and graining in cloth throughout the 19th century is of particular bibliographical importance today as it assists booksellers, collectors, librarians and conservators alike, in dating these publications, a large number of which were undated in this era.
John Leech's Pictures of Life and Character: From the Collection of "Mr. Punch". John Leech. London: Bradbury, Agnew & Co. 1886 Vivid red, slightly ribbed, cloth over bevelled boards. Debossed gilt and black ink decoration to front cover, reflective of book contents.
RB 741.56942 L483j
Zigzag Journeys in Australia; or, A Visit to the Ocean World. Hezekiah Butterworth. Boston: Estes and Lauriat. 1891 Green cloth cover with black debossed border and gilt vignettes of travellers. Spine title also blocked with gold surround.
RB 919.4 B988
The Defenders of New Zealand: Being a Short Biography of Colonists Who Distinguished Themselves in Upholding Her Majesty's Supremacy in These Islands. Thos. Wayth Gudgeon. Auckland: H. Brett. 1887 Half roan (sheepskin) binding with patterned bubble-grain cloth sidings. Decorative, gilt vignette to cover, gold tooling to leather edges and gold-blocking to spine compartments. Red-coloured top, tail and fore-edges.
RB 920 G92
A Naturalist's Wanderings in the Eastern Archipelago: A Narrative of Travel Exploration from 1878 to 1883. Henry O. Forbes. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington. 1885 Publisher’s original teal-coloured pictorial cloth, gilt and black debossing on cover and spine.
RB 919.1 F693
Cannibals Won for Christ: A Story of Missionary Perils and Triumphs in Tongoa, New Hebrides. Rev. Oscar Michelsen. London: Morgan and Scott. Undated but circa 1893 Publisher’s distinctive patterned bubble-grain cloth. Gold and black debossing to cover and spine. Decorative silver inlay (probably created with aluminium foil), depicting a missionary and a native of Tongoa, Vanuatu.
PACIFIC 266.529595 M623
Half Hours in the Far South: The People and Scenery of the Tropics. London: James Nisbet & Co. 1897 Brown cloth, beautifully embossed in black with anchors, compasses, fish, birds and starfish. Gilt pictorial cover image of a crew of 7-8 men canoeing up the Zambesi. Image is taken from the contents of the book, where it appears again on page 33. More photos...
PACIFIC 919 H169
Jottings from the Pacific. W. Wyatt Gill. London: Religious Tract Society. 1885 Vivid green cloth, lettered and finely embossed in gold. Cover image of Niutao, a coral island north-west of Samoa in the South Pacific, is taken from the contents of the book, where it appears again on page 10. More photos...
PACIFIC 919.6 G47