Timeline of Publishers' Bindings: 1850-1859

By mid-century advancements in technology and more abundant, better quality materials allowed publishers to make their books more ornate. Binders often combined stamping devices to create more elaborate designs, and gold stamping, which before had been used in limited quantity on the spine and front, now spread across the entire binding, including the back. Synthetic dyes were developed, allowing for mass-produced, brightly colored cloth, with red being the color most associated with the decade.

Gift books and annuals—literary compilations that were often given to mark specific occasions, such as holidays, birthdays, and weddings—became popular tokens of affection in America. Publishers marketed these books, which generally ranged in price from $2.50 to $5.00 (roughly the equivalent of $75 to $150 today), to a wealthier clientele who craved the status that they implied. These books were meant to be displayed prominently in the home as visible symbols of the owner’s “cultivated taste, wealth, and respectability.” The interiors matched the exteriors in ornamentation, with engraved or hand-colored illustrations and decorative page borders.




Harvest Gleanings, a Holiday Book, by Mary Ann Dwight (New York, Gates, Stedman, 1850)
M. G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

This gift book contains decorative page borders and engraved illustrations.










The Amaranth, or, Token of Remembrance: a Christmas and New Year’s Gift for 1855, edited by Emily Percival (Boston: Philips, Sampson, and Co., 1854)
Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum
Carol Jording Rare Book Acquisition Fund, 2017


Timeline of Publishers' Bindings: 1850-1859