Highlights from the Kathleen V. Roberts Collection of Decorated Publishers Bindings

In the 19th century, technologies of the Industrial Revolution made the mass-production of books possible. To sell them, publishers produces beautifully decorated book covers known as decorated publishers’ bindings. Books were bound in colorful cloth and elaborately decorated with silver and gold reflecting the tastes of the age.

Publishers’ use of cloth color, style, and design was affected by major social events such as the Civil War, the opening of Japan to the west, and the employment of women; and visual influences such as Victorian opulence, the Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco movements.

When viewed by decade we are able to see the arc of publishers’ bindings: from their experimental beginnings in the 1840s, though their turn-of-the-century apex as artist-designed masterworks, to their demise with the rise of the inexpensive dust jacket.


1840s-1860s Experimentation, Exuberance, Civil War Restraint

1870s-1890s Victorian Opulence

1890s-1920s The Artist as Designer

1890s-1920s Women as Artist Designers

1890s-1920s Series Bindings in Focus: Bound to Sell

1890s-1920s Books of Beauty: A Holistic Approach

European Origin: Art Nouveau, the Belle Epoque

The Dust Jacket Reveal


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