Titles on books are important, as they tell us what to find inside without opening the covers. Most often these are found on the spine; after all, this is the part of the book visible on the shelf. But they can also be found on the front cover. In the early days of cloth bindings, titles were printed on a paper label which was affixed to the front cover or to the head of the spine.
With the invention of blocking, titles could be applied directly to the cloth, although William Pickering, a publisher active until his death in 1854, chose the more conservative paper spine label on works published in plain cloth, a style adopted by several other small publishers of the period, such as D.A. Talboys and Francis Macpherson.
Titles were originally lettered in clear fonts, and as we saw earlier in this series could be surrounded by a frame when on the spine.
The 1860s, however, saw the introduction of varied lettering, some so stylised that it could be difficult to read the actual words. The worst were perhaps those done in the gothic style, but other designs include rustic lettering imitating tree branches.
Further developments began in the following decade. One was the practice of reverse blocking the title on gold ribbons, the ribbons often being diagonal rather than horizontal.
Another development was the practice of heightening the initial letter of a word or words in the title, either by added background colour or the use of a gold initial with the other letters in black (or vice versa). Alternatively initials could be floriated, sprigged, or scrolled.
Titles, which began as a means of identifying the work, had now become an integral part of the binding’s design.