Publishers' Bindings: 1880-1889

This decade's covers explode with imagery. Scenes and design elements overlap one another and flow to the very edges of the cover. Lettering trails across the boards with a fluid quality. With the advent of aluminum blocking, silver finally joined black and gold as a major design component, adding depth to layouts. Colored inks came into widespread use and contributed to the overall liveliness of the period. Satin or "s" grained cloth found favor along with other fine-grained, hard cloths. Japanese motifs and design on the diagonal continued to be popular. The incidence of blind stamping decreased. While the general level of design skill in this period is often considered to be lower than in the 'fifties and 'sixties, books of the 1880s succeed in catching the eye with their lavish use of color and metallic blocking, and occasionally, surprising originality.

By this time, mechanization was making serious inroads to the binding trade. From at least the late 1870s on, America led the way in the development of bookbinding machinery. For example, the Smyth Manufacturing Company was formed in 1880 to produce and sell the various types of sewing machines invented and patented by David McConnell Smyth since 1856. In 1872 the first patent for a wire stitcher had been granted in Philadelphia.

For most of the century, English manufacturers dominated the book cloth market. In 1883, Interlaken Mills in Rhode Island was established as the first major American producer of book cloth. They were followed by, among others, Bancroft & Sons in Delaware and Massachusetts' Holliston Mills in 1893.

Early in this decade a few publishers began to hire established artists to design their book covers and, occasionally, to illustrate the text as well. Among these artists were George Wharton Edwards, Stanford White, and Howard Pyle. Their work, and that of their fellow artist-designers, prefigured the dramatic change in cover design that was to come over the next twenty years.