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

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century made the mass-production of books possible. To promote sales, publishers produced 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 color, style, and design was affected by social events including the Civil War, Japan’s opening to the west, and the employment of women as designers. Bindings in this exhibit reflect design influences from Victorian opulence to the Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco movements.

Decade by decade, we see the arc of publishers’ bindings: from their experimental beginnings in the 1840s, through 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 in the Belle Epoque

The Dust Jacket Reveal

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For more information about any book in this exhibition, click its image and its online catalog entry will open in another window. To see the entire Roberts Collection of Decorated Publishers’ Bindings, visit our Online Catalog.


Sue Allen​ (d. 25 August 2011), whose writings, research, and especially her teaching, created the field of study of nineteenth-century American book covers. Her Rare Book School course “Publishers’ Bookbindings, 1830–1910,” was the inspiration for both this collection and exhibit. I am honored to carry on her work.

Todd Pattison​, Rare Book School instructor, book conservator and binder, whose 1995 course on early cloth bindings changed the trajectory of my life.
Richard Minsky​, collector, author and book artist, who taught me to look at binding design through the eyes of an artist.

Andrea Krupp​, for her pioneering work on the study and identification of Bookcloth grains and patterns.
Ben Koenig​, Vermont bookseller and friend, whose belief in my collection enabled it to find a home at the American Bookbinders Museum.

-Kathy Roberts

© 2014-2023 American Bookbinders Museum