Timeline of Publishers' Bindings: 1830-1839

The first decades of the 19th century witnessed a vast increase in literacy, which in turn fueled a demand for more books to be published at a lower cost. As the century progressed, a growing number of literate Americans were reading for pleasure and were able to spend their income on books, but were not inclined to commission custom bindings for them. Two innovations allowed publishers to increase production and lower the cost of binding to meet this demand: the use of cloth, which was cheaper than leather and more durable than paper, as a binding material, and prefabricating the bindings in bulk and subsequently attaching them to the sewn and cut books.

Early cloth bindings were very plain; usually they were left unadorned, though occasionally a paper label was pasted to the spine or the title page was printed directly onto the cloth. As the decade progressed, publishers began to rely on the physical appeal of books to sell their products and took full advantage of advancements in technology to produce attractive books more efficiently and economically. Towards the end of the 1830s, machine-stamped designs of patterns or leather-like grains were employed to disguise the weave of the cloth, and paper labels gave way to stamping the title directly onto the spine. Blind (uncolored) and gilt (gold) stamped ornaments of classical imagery, such as vases, fountains, lyres, and wreaths, were introduced and were often used interchangeably on different books.



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View of Ancient and Modern Egypt, by Michael Russell (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1831)
Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum
Carol Jording Rare Book Acquisition Fund, 2016

This very early American cloth binding features the title page printed directly onto the cloth. The publisher has used the back of the binding to advertise other titles in the series.


















The Flower Faded: A Short Memoir of Clementine Cuvier, by Mark Wilks (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1838)
M. G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

This book features diaper grain cloth, which became very common in the late 1830s. The gold-stamped floral wreath on the cover could be used interchangeably for other titles.

Timeline of Publishers' Bindings: 1830-1839