Bindings for the Bibliographical Society

Cloth covers blocked in gilt, black, blind, or some combination of the three were common in the Victorian period, to increase the external attractiveness of books and hence the hope of purchase. Some of the men who designed bookbindings were well-known illustrators, and as the original designs for the bindings rarely remain, the book is often the sole evidence of the artist’s piece of work. Indeed, considerable change can take place between extant designs and published books, as shown by Mary De Morgan’s Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde and Other Stories(Macmillan, 1880), illustrated by Walter Crane: Senate House Library is fortunate to possess Crane’s drawings as well as the finished product (the latter displayed for the lecture), and the two covers, portrayed side by side in the treasures volume Senate House Library, University of London(Scala, 2012), differ markedly.

Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue ([D.-L.L.] Y [Great Exhibition]

While hundreds of thousands of bindings are unsigned, some are, either with unobtrusive initials or (for Crane) a rebus. The binding for the Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue (Virtue, 1851), with a gilt design on a blue background, was (together with the head- and tailpieces and initial capitals) designed by illustrator William Harry Rogers (1825-1873), who worked for many commercial publishers. Rogers signed it towards the bottom of the gilt title surround. The Senate House Library copy of this book is in fair demand for its connection with the Great Exhibition; King’s lecture showed a new angle to its interest.

The Fife and the Drum, or Would Be a Soldier, by Frederick Charles Lascelles Wraxall (S.O. Beeton,  1864) – given to Senate House Library as part of a collection of works showing western perceptions of Russia, Wraxall having served in the Crimea – has a cover designed by Robert Dudley (1826-1900). Dudley was an artist and illustrator with a considerable contemporary reputation, whose activity ranged from painting seascapes to designing Christmas cards and writing and illustrating children’s books; he is remembered particularly for illustrating W.H. Russell’s The Atlantic Telegraph (1866). Dudley has signed the binding of this book at the base.

Wraxall, The Fife and the Drum ([M.S. Anderson] 1864 – Wraxall)

Another popular Victorian illustrator who designed bookbindings was Richard Doyle (1824-1883), uncle of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Senate House Library has examples of his artwork in the form of illustrations for Punch and for Thackeray (especially The Newcomes). He featured this evening for his binding of Thomas Hughes’s The Scouring of the White Horse(Macmillan, 1859), mentioned in the lecture and displayed. Another publication by Macmillan mentioned was Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862), with a plain dark blue binding with gold fillets. One might expect such mass-produced bindings to be identical, but they are not: the ribbing of the cloth is vertical on the British Library’s copy of this book, but horizontal on the Senate House Library copy. Placed beside more decorative bindings, the Rossetti does not grab the attention, but the ‘new Macmillan simplicity’ was much copied later.[Two books published by Macmillan: Thomas Hughes, The Scouring of the White Horse ([S.L.] I [Hughes - 1859]) and Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market and Other Poems ([S.L.] I [Rossetti, C. - 1862])]

Two books published by Macmillan: Thomas Hughes, The Scouring of the White Horse ([S.L.] I [Hughes – 1859]) and Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market and Other Poems ([S.L.] I [Rossetti, C. – 1862])


Edmund King’s lecture presented new insights into the artefactual interest of mass-produced mid-nineteenth-century books beyond their contents (and, implicitly, a warning of what is lost when such books are rebound). On Tuesday evening, library holdings provided dynamic visual interest to the sixty or so people who assembled at Senate House for the lecture. In a negative way, the Library has for several years been facilitating research on Victorian bindings by recording in the catalogue when books in the special collections issued in cloth have been rebound. If we can have our Victorian bindings recorded on a bookbindings database, positive research value will be greatly increased.

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