Welcome to this showcase of a selection of classic 19th-century trade bindings. The book-covers here displayed have all been selected from books in the 3,000-strong collection of volumes donated to the Queen Elizabeth II Library by Roger and Marlene Peattie. The collection focuses on the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, fine nineteenth-century illustrated books and decorative bindings.
The golden age of British bookbinding lasted from the late 1830s to around 1880. It was a period during which bookbinding design underwent a transformation of enormous significance. In the preceding three centuries binding had been a handmade process, done singly or in small batches according to specifications of the customer or bookseller. Thanks to innovations in the manufacture of cloth and new techniques for ornamental blocking, nineteenth century publishers were able to mass-produce books with decorative cloth-covered, gilt-blocked casings, frequently with results of exquisite beauty. For a period of some forty years, as the middle class developed and the demand for reading material increased rapidly, publishers relied on handsome cover and spine designs to make their books attractive as physical artifacts, using not only cloth but also materials such as paper, papier maché and various forms of leather.
The artists who were responsible for designing the bindings had the freedom to experiment widely. The variety achieved in their best work is extraordinary. Many of them signed their covers with monograms, some examples of which are included here. A total of thirty-three representative examples are reproduced that open a window on the level of virtuosity of this era’s cover designs.
The collection can be searched using the University’s DAI site or by using the search boxes below. In addition, a list of the terms used to index the design elements of the Peattie bindings on the DAI site is provided.