Victorian cloth bindings, week 4: the introduction of colour

Friday 16 September 2016

Briony, our Assistant Rare Books Librarian, continues her wanders through the stacks.

It wasn’t long before book binders demanded more than just black ink and gold on coloured cloth, and experiments began with other colours, such as red in the 1850s. Yet these first trials were unsuccessful, with the colours quickly fading and rubbing off.

Even once the application of colour had been perfected the colour could still be prone to being scratched off, as evidenced by this binding. Annie S. Swan, The strait gate (London: S. W. Partridge & Co., [188-?]), r PR6037.M313S77E80.
Publishers therefore sought other means of getting colour into their bindings. One way was by printing the colour onto the cloth, from wood blocks. The technique is first found in the 1840s, and was probably used throughout the nineteenth century.

Briony says: I love the coloured diamonds in this binding, which I believe are printed onto the cloth. G. W. Septimus Piesse, Chymical, natural, and physical magic (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, 1858), s GV1471.P5.

Another means of applying colour was to use onlays. Onlays had already been used on leather, but they were a new development on cloth, and the 1850s is when they first make their appearance. To some extent this was a reaction to the unsuccessful trials of printing coloured inks on cloth. Publishers of more pretentious works were unsatisfied with inks which faded and rubbed, and so instead they overlaid cloths or paper of different colours onto their basic binding cloth.

An example of coloured paper incorporated into the binding design. This item is bound by Ward, Lock & Tyler in red sand grain cloth with a green paper onlay frame blocked in black and gilt on the front cover. James Greenwood, Savage habits and customs (London: S.O. Beeton, [between 1864 and 1872]), Chi GN330.G8.
Onlays can be found in two forms. The first is paper or cloth cut-outs in complementary colour(s) to accord with the design, which were then blocked, usually in gold, in the general blocking of the cover. The publisher Walter Scott produced some the loveliest bindings using this method, with delicate filigree gilt decoration bringing the whole together.

Some examples of Walter Scott bindings; the first two use paper onlays, whilst the third employs two different coloured cloths (on the upper board only). James Hogg, The poems of James Hogg (London: Walter Scott, 1887), r PR4791.P6E87 ; Walter Savage Landor, Pericles and Aspasia (London, New York, Mebourne: Walter Scott., 1890), r PR4872.P2 ; Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poems of R. W. Emerson (London: Walter Scott, Limited, [1885]), r PS1624.A1E85.
In these examples a strip of cloth in contrasting colour has been employed in the binding design. Chauncey M. Depew, Orations and after-dinner speeches (London, Paris & Melbourne: Cassell & Company, Limited., 1890), r E660.D4 ; The ballad, Lizzie Lindsay (Brighton: privately printed, 1895), r PR8660.L5 ; Annie Brassey, Sunshine and storm in the East (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1880 ; bound by Simpson & Renshaw), r D973.B7.
Although blocking in colour had been perfected by the time this work was published, this binding incorporates a strip of tartan ribbon on the spine – it is possibly a Sutherland tartan, but is so faded it’s hard to tell. Historical records of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1883), Hay UA652.A8B8.

The second method in the use of onlays was to use illustrations, which were frequently chromolithographs, laid down on the cover for pictorial effect. Illustrative onlays were very popular in the 1860s.

Examples of illustrative onlays; the first two are chromolithographs. Jacob Abbott, Stuyvesant (London: George Routledge and Sons, [1873]), Chi PS1000.A8S8 ; The illustrated book of nursery rhymes and songs: with music (London, Edinburgh, New York: T. Nelson and Sons, 1882), Chi PZ8.3I5E82 ; Brothers Grimm, Household Stories (London: George Routledge and Sons, [between 1867 and 1887]), r PT921.G7.
This binding incorporates a photographic inlay, which sits into a recess in the binding. Archibald Billing, The science of gems, jewels, coins, and medals, ancient and modern (London: Bell & Daldy, 1867 ; bound by Burn & Co.), Photo NK5550.B5.

Onlays, and inlays, were impractical for general purposes, where continued use would see the super-imposed panels fray or turn up at the edges. As can be seen in the image below, half of the pictorial inlay has been torn away.

An inlay showing signs of wear. Robert Mackenzie Stark, A popular history of British mosses (London, New York: George Routledge & Sons, 1860), s QK543.S8E60.

In order to satisfy the client’s desire for colour before successful colour ink blocking was mastered in the 1870s, publishers contrived other means of getting colour into their bindings, by devising mottled, marbled, or otherwise variegated cloths. Production costs were probably high for such designs, and thus examples remain uncommon. One publisher who appears to have favoured this form of binding is Remnant & Edmonds, of London.

Examples of marbled cloths for the publisher John Murray, the first two works bearing a binder’s ticket for Remnant & Edmonds. J.J.A. Worsaae, An account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland, and Ireland (London: John Murray, 1852 ; bound by Remnant & Edmonds), s DA158.W6 ; Lady Theresa Lewis, Lives of the friends and contemporaries of Lord Chancellor Clarendon, 3 vol. (London: John Murray, 1852), s DA407.A1L5 ; Walter Bourchier Devereux, Lives and letters of the Devereux, Earls of Essex, in the reigns of Elizabeth, James I and Charles I, 1540-1646, 2 vol. (London: John Murray, 1853), s CS439.D3.
Further examples of marbled and otherwise variegated cloths. Mrs Thomson, Recollections of literary characters and celebrated places (London: Richard Bentley, 1854 ; bound by Westleys & Co.), s PR5653.R4 ; James David Forbes, Occasional papers on the theory of glaciers (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1859), For QE576.F6E59 Copy 2 ; T. Percy Jones, Firmilian: or the student of Badajoz (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1854 ; bound by Edmonds & Remnants), s PR4047.F5 ; Bahrida, the maid of the Ganges (London: Printed for the author, 1833), s PR3991.W3W3B2.

In the 1870s a satisfactory method of printing coloured inks onto cloth was finally achieved. Now we see greens, reds, oranges, and yellows being blocked into the cloth. A characteristic of the following decade was the extent of polychromatic blocking and the use of aluminium to complement gold – especially in juvenile and illustrated books. So this week we’ll leave you with some images of colourful bindings!

A multitude of colours have been used in this binding. Jesse M. E. Saxby, The lads of Lunda (London: James Nisbet & Co., [1887]), Chi PR5299.S28L2.
Briony says: Although the design bears no relation to the content, I love the use of colour for the leaves in this binding, which give a feeling of autumn. Robert Pollok, Ralph Gemmell: a covenanter’s story (Edinburgh and London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, [1895?]), r PR5189.P2R2.
The development of colour blocking didn’t always mean trying to crowd in as many colours as possible; these designs are all effective with one or two. Edgar Allan Poe, Tales of romance and fantasy (London: Blackie & Son, 1894), r PS2612.T2R7 ; Alice Lang, The adventures of Hand Müller (London, The Religious Tract Society, [1894]), r PR4875.L4A3 ; Marcus B. Huish, Greek Terra-cotta statuettes (London: John Murray, 1900), r NB155.H8 ; Annie S. Swan, St. Veda’s or the pearl of Orr’s Haven (Edinburgh & London, Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1893), r PR6037.M313S78E93 ; Annie Brassey, In the trades, the tropics, and the roaring forties (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1885), r GV822.S8T8 (SR).

Some examples of bindings employing both gold and silver. William Makepeace Thayer, From log-cabin to White House: the story of President Garfield’s life (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884), r E687.T5E84 ; Moses Forster Sweetser, King’s handbook of the United States (London: Osgood, McIlvaine & Co., 1891), r E158.K6S8 ; George Milner, Country pleasures (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1881), r PR5021.M6C7.

Briony Harding
Assistant Rare Books Librarian

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6 thoughts on "Victorian cloth bindings, week 4: the introduction of colour"

  • Jake Benson
    Jake Benson
    Friday 16 September 2016, 4.23pm

    In his Whole Art of Marbling, Charles Woolnough describes having obtained a patent for manufacturing marbled book cloth in 1851. The passage is found on pp 78-79 of the 1881 edition, but Richard Wolfe also describes it in the first edition 1853.

  • Ann Marie Wall
    Ann Marie Wall
    Sunday 18 September 2016, 4.23pm

    Thank you. The marbled cloth is particularly exciting.

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    Friday 23 September 2016, 12.01pm

    […] copy of the 1554 edition of Lydgate’s Boccaccio, which has a late 16th or early 17th century manuscript recipe for a pommander against the plague inscribed on a blank […]

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    Friday 23 September 2016, 12.47pm

    […] to attract readers. You can see a lot more detail about the history of this type of binding via this blog from St. Andrews’ university library rare books […]

  • Tony
    Monday 30 September 2019, 8.41pm

    Great blog!

  • Lynne Prunskus
    Lynne Prunskus
    Wednesday 1 April 2020, 4.46am

    I notice that watered silk, as in the Bahrida example, appears to be used exclusively for books about feminine subjects or love. Is there a masculine counterpart I wonder? Thank you for this interesting post.


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