Publishers' Bindings: 1830-1839

The earliest cloth bindings are plain and unassuming, decorated with nothing more than their own color and a paper or leather label. To a public accustomed to the tradition of leather bound books and the elaborately embossed or silk bound annuals of the 1820s, these books were unattractive. In an effort to disguise the very cloth itself, it was impressed with textures imitating first, in 1830, leather with "morocco" graining and then, in 1831, watered silk with moiré graining. English publishers and binders alike worked to solve the problems of titling and decorating cloth in gold. They finally met success in 1832 with the introduction in England of the Imperial arming press, which applied pressure to an engraved brass die to emboss a cloth case. One of the most significant developments in the mechanization of bookbinding, the arming press made possible the economical decoration of cases by allowing one man to accomplish with one pull of a handle what would have taken a traditional finisher hours to achieve.

Throughout the decade, as the trade became accustomed to the new materials and methods, gold was used with restraint. Early on, only the most visible part of a shelved book, the spine, was decorated with a gilt title, perhaps within a simple frame or decorative border. Binders ventured into cover design by making up simple borders in blind from their stock frames and corner pieces, occasionally adding a central vignette in gold on the front board. In America, publishers and binders followed the stylistic lead of the English.

New patterns of diaper, ribbed and ripple grain cloth appeared in mid-decade, as well as "ribbon embossed" cloth. Produced by the ribbon makers, these distinctive cloths with raised, usually botanical or geometric patterns, lent elegance to the simple bindings of their day. However, because they were sold at ribbon rates and demanded more attention to block well, ribbon embossed cloths were in vogue for a short time, largely disappearing by the early 1840s.

Near the decade's end, the influence of the illustrated novel could be seen as central vignettes became more pictorial. In the coming decades, the trade would begin in earnest to use a book's covers to advertise its content, often drawing scenes or characters out from the pages to meet potential readers.