Louis Rhead

Louis Rhead (1857-1926) was born in England and influenced by both William Morris and the artist Walter Crane (1845-1915). Rhead was particularly receptive to the necessity for making art accessible for the working class, an important aspect of the socialist ethos of Morris and Crane. He moved to New York City in 1883, where he worked as an art director, a ceramic painter, and a needlework designer before focusing on book illustration and design. Rhead and Howard Pyle were unofficial rivals in illustration, particularly in the genre of juvenile classics. 



1592.jpg 1592 dj.jpg

Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1921)
Illustrated by Louis Rhead (1857-1926), cover by Frank E. Schoonover (1877-1972)
Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum
Carol Jording Rare Book Acquisition Fund, 2017

By the time of Scribner’s 1921 reprint of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, decorative cloth bindings were going out of style. Paper dust jackets were easier and cheaper to produce than stamping or printing on book cloth and, as Rhead shrewdly noted in a letter to Frank E. Schoonover, Harper’s “knew American mothers are attracted by a color picture.” 













Rhead letter.jpg

Letter from Louis J. Rhead to Frank E. Schoonover, c. 1923
Frank E. Schoonover Manuscript Collection, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

In this letter, Rhead explains to Schoonover how the cover commission came about: “I welcome your pictures in the books. It gives a joyous tone to the serious somberness of pen work. You may not know it, Harper’s acted nice about it. From a business standpoint, they knew American mothers are attracted by a color picture (if good), and they asked me to do it – I told them I could – but it would be better to have work from a man whose regular work was color – and it was I who suggested you to them. And glad I am they acted and got you, for it has boosted up sales – How they manage to make any money out of so cheap a vol. I don’t know.”

Louis Rhead