Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2010 Issue

Gilding the Lilly Revisited: <i>New book a market-maker for US decorative bindings</i>


Hazenplug binding of Kipling's The Jungle Book.

Older esthetic combined with writer of lasting value
While many of the books Minsky shows have texts that probably won't ever find an audience again, others are very nice combinations of the older binding esthetic with an author of lasting value. One example, Shadowings by Lafcadio Hearn (Minsky 13), is a good example. Here the text by an American author writing about things Japanese is bound in a beautiful dark blue cloth overprinted in black showing water lilies in an Asian style. The whole effect with its glimmers of twilight is gilt stamped in a wrap around design. It's stunning to put it mildly.

An equally appealing combination of subject and interpretive binding is the 1913 edition of the Jungle Book by Kipling, illustrated by M&E Detmold, published by the Century Company with binding design by Frank Hazenplug which Minsky terms "a remarkable design in which the gold seems to light up the forest, like sunlight filtering through the trees" (Minsky 30). He also shows many examples of effective use of silhouettes and bold patterning, as well as numerous floral inspired motifs and designs from nature done as all over patterns.

One particularly nice set of illustrations groups books by Margaret Armstrong, one of the most talented and best known designers of the period. She created a series of covers for a dozen books by Henry Van Dyke published between 1901 and 1926. All the covers are beautiful, inventive and different, yet clearly the work of the same gifted imagination.

Bitten by the decorative binding bug
If AE readers are anything like this writer, the first step will be to read the book and enjoy the variety and insights presented by the author. But don't be surprised if the very next instant you are browsing the auction records and different book bases looking for inexpensive copies of some of the beauties, hoping to get a bargain for your own collection.

There's a general bibliography at the end. For those who want to read more, the author recommends Allen and Gullans, Decorated Cloth in America as a good general introduction adding, "My suggestion for anyone starting out is go with your gut. If you love looking at it, get it. It will give you pleasure."

Additional Links
Here are a few interesting links related to Minsky and period American bindings.

Interview with Minsky aimed at art students and prospective book artists - link.

Here's a stunning website displaying thousands of photos of the work of Philadelphia publisher Henry Altemus. This firm was a leader in the field of decorative bindings and also produced many series books. This great reference site is a labor of love by Texas collector Cary Sternick - link.

Publishers Bindings online at the University of Alabama Library - link. Click the link for Publisher's Bindings on the right hand side under "Find."

Writer Susan Halas welcomes your comments: she can be reached at halas@hawaii.rr.com

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