In 1898 H. E. Orrinsmith, art director for the bookbinding firm James Burn & Co., asserted that "the designs of A. A. Turbayne come nearest to perfection." However, despite the acclaim he received in his lifetime, little is known about Albert Angus Turbayne today. Born in Boston in 1866, he moved to Canada in 1881 then to England in 1890, where he would spend the rest of his life. In 1898 he was appointed as a teacher of graphic design at the London County Council School of Photoengraving and Lithography, a position he held until 1920. During this time he also helped set up the Carlton Studio, which became of the largest commercial art studios of its time in London, where he specialized in decorative lettering, initials, and motifs.
Turbayne began his career as a book designer in the 1890s, a decade that is considered the era of the artist-designer as trained, professional artists began to turn their talents towards book design. The previous decades had witnessed sweeping changes in the publishing industry, inspired by technological advances and a significant growth in literacy. As the century progressed and the middle class grew, more people were reading for pleasure and were able to spend their income on books. Beautiful books became a status symbol for the middle class, and publishers were eager to capitalize on the increasing demand for affordable, attractive books by hiring artists to design the bindings.
Turbayne himself noted in an interview that it was a natural progression for him to turn his talents to binding design: “Black and white has always been my favourite work, and the treatment of everything which has to do with the artistic side of book production has long been my special study. In my opinion a masterpiece of literature should be as fitly framed, so to speak, as a masterpiece of painting; and books, if they are worthy to be handed down to posterity at all, should surely be sent abroad in fitting form."