The years 1860-1920 witnessed sweeping changes in book design, inspired by technological developments, marketing strategies, and shifting ideas about art. The changes were further fueled by an expanding middle class and significant growth in literacy, providing a ready consumer market for books. This exhibition charts the interdependent relationship that arose between aesthetic innovations and communal working practices. These new approaches were implemented by fine press designers and translated into commercial book design in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Integrated design, which unified content, cover, and illustration, was first promoted by British artists and designers Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris and later adapted by commercial publishers. This “touch of art,” as described by American binding designer Sarah Wyman Whitman, enhanced appeal and increased sales. Collaborative commercial book projects modified the Arts and Crafts principle of “the book beautiful,” broadening the audience for consumption beyond the elite. Authors, binders, illustrators, printers, and typographers worked together on these projects.
Middle class consumers were exposed to a dazzling array of book designs, influenced by Aestheticism, Art Nouveau, Pre-Raphaelitism, and the Arts and Crafts movements. Posters and advertisements were produced to market the books. Art magazines, developed as a result of this new attitude toward book design, further spread these ideas. Advances in printing and book production contributed to innovation, collaboration, and fusion in the art of the book, transforming the face of commercial printing on the eve of the modern age.