Cover detail from book in Peatie collection

Designers' Biographies

Robert Dudley (active 1858–1893) worked in Matthew Digby Wyatt’s office. He was Superintendent of the restorations and of the monuments and principal draughtsman, under Wyatt, of the Mediaeval and Renaissance Courts of the Sydenham Crystal Palace, 1854. He designed for Goodall & Son, and accompanied The Great Eastern on its cable laying expedition on the Atlantic Ocean in 1866. The celebrated design for The Atlantic Telegraph, displaying the core of the telegraph cable as an onlay on the centre of the upper cover, is likely to be a design of Dudley’s. He provided illustrations for a number of books. He designed a set of Christmas cards in 1887, and wrote the story of King Fo, the Lord of Misrule. A twelfth night story in 1884. His work shows mainly vignettes, several for elaborate designs, such as Poet’s Wit and Humour. Like his more famous contemporary cover designer Leighton, he used pictorial effects in his designs, not relying on figurative work alone. He is represented on this site by bindings for two volumes: Poet’s wit and humour and English sacred poetry.

(Henry) Noel Humphreys (1810–1879), graphic artist and author, was born on 4 January 1810 in Birmingham, the son of James Humphreys and Dorothy Ann Knowles. He was educated at King Edward VI's Grammar School, Birmingham, and received artistic training in Brussels. After his marriage in 1833 he and his wife embarked
upon a continental tour, the Italian portion of which inspired in Humphreys a keen
admiration for the Italian Renaissance and baroque that stayed with him all his life. He also wrote about architectural materials and expressed radical sympathy for functionalism and engineering. A contemporary emphasis appeared in Ten Centuries of Art (1851) with support for the Pre-Raphaelites, and he discussed the Great Exhibition, where he exhibited.

Apart from an interlude in Pinner, Humphreys spent his career in London. Initially, upon his return from Italy, he lived in Bayswater as a neighbour of a relative, the landscape architect and prolific author J. C. Loudon. Together they mixed with leading literary, artistic, and scientific figures, including the Pre-Raphaelites. Humphreys illustrated illuminated manuscripts from many countries. In addition he published books on coinage intended as cheap, illustrated guides, such as The Coin Collector's Manual (2 vols., 1853), or those that promised a faithful representation through colour printing or embossed metal: The Coins of England (1846), Ancient Coins (1849), and The Coinage of the British Empire (1853).

All Humphreys' interests coalesced in gift books, his best-known work. Lithography enabled him to combine illustrations, ornament, and calligraphy into an expressive unity. Some mixed reproductions with page decoration, such as The illuminated calendar and home diary (1845 and 1846) and A record of the Black Prince (1848). Others contained more original work, notably Parables of Our Lord (1846), Maxims and precepts of the Saviour (1848) and Sentiments and similes of Shakespeare (1851). While many owed much to medieval and Renaissance art, a series published by Paul Jerrard from 1851 is rococo in style. Humphreys also ornamented many books illustrated with wood-engravings, mostly editions of poetry aimed at the gift-book market. His interest in architectural colour carried over into colour printing and the design of book covers, for which he exploited many techniques and materials. His cover designs are represented on this site by four volumes: The coins of England, Miracles of Our Lord, A record of the Black Prince and The origin and progress of the art of writing.

Owen Jones (1809–1874) was more consciously involved with the minutiae of book production for a long period, from the early 1840s to the late 1860s. He experimented with techniques, using a design impressed upon wood for The preacher, published in 1849. The renown of The grammar of ornament should not obscure his other achievements in chromolithography also published by Day And Son, such as Paradise and the peri, One thousand and one initial letters and The history of Joseph and his brethren. Jones provided cover designs to accompany his artwork for the text. His cover design for Winged Thoughts is an excellent piece of blocking on leather – elegant, unified and understated.  He is represented on this site by  bindings for four volumes: Jar of Honey, Winged Thoughts, Pictures of English Landscape and Welcome to Alexandra.

John Leighton (1822–1912) was the most prolific if the Victorian cover designers. Dying on his ninetieth birthday in 1912, his known cover designs span the period 1845–1902. He was possessed of a powerful imagination, which was applied time and again to create designs for vignettes and for spine designs, with deft touches and with humour, often in keeping with a book’s subject. Leighton was capable of providing work on a small or on a large scale. His designs for Blackie’s Literary and Commercial Almanack, made between 1853 and 1872, were for a publication not more than 55 mm wide and 85 mm high. By contrast, Leighton’s design for The life of man is on a book measuring 225 mm wide and 288 mm high. This size permitted a complex and intricate design. Leighton provided humour in a number of vignettes or full cover designs. He also had a strong eye for detailing groups of objects within a small space, especially so for spine designs. All of this is ample evidence of his graphic skill, as well as his calligraphic gifts in the designs of novel lettering, albeit at one remove in the production process. Drawings of Leighton’s survive, which show amply his abilities in original form.

Leighton possessed considerable knowledge of heraldry; coats of arms feature on many of his designs. His most single minded heraldic design is for Hodgkin’s Monograms. His Scottish ancestry possibly provided impetus to heraldic designs for the covers of Walter Scott’s Marmion and Lay of the last minstrel. His link by kinship to the bookbinding firm of Leighton Son & Hodge should not be underestimated in providing experience in how to maximise design elements within the constraints of executing the designs on cloth in this period. Leighton signed his designs equally with his monogram, the crossed ‘L’ and ‘J’, or with these initials separately. He is represented in this site by bindings for nine  volumes that give some idea of the range of his work: Longfellow’s  Hyperion, Scott’s Lay of the last minstrel, Julia Maitland, The shipwreck, Eliza Cook’s Poems, A round of days, The life of Man, The story of a feather and Lyra Germanica.

William Harry Rogers (1825–1873) was a contemporary of Leighton. The eldest son of William Gibbs Rogers, a renowned wood carver, he began drawing artwork for book covers in his twenties. His illustrations for page borders, head and tail-pieces, are to be found in many books. He is notable for intricate cover design work, often showing elaboration of title letters, or dense foliage. Three of his most elaborate overall designs for covers are those for Spiritual conceits and for Tupper’s Proverbial philosophy, and, with Charles Henry Bennett, Quarles’ Emblems.

Rogers invariably used his full initials WHR as a monogram. He is also distinctive for the way he placed his monogram in his designs, sometimes small or very small, and, at other times, inserting it within a design, seemingly inviting the viewer to hunt for it. Unlike Leighton, his imaginative powers did not extend much into the pictorial, as the delineation of human or of animal forms scarcely occurs on his cover designs. His death in 1873 prevented any further development of his draughtsmanship. However, he paid a strong attention to the detail of ornament, a mastery of the forms of its proportions, seeming to delight in providing intricacy and denseness. Rogers’ cover designs are represented here by two volumes:  Sabbath bells chimed by the poets and Mrs Gatty’s Parables from nature.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) found fame within the Pre-Raphaelite movement. His work illustrating books formed only a small part of his artistic endeavour, creating but ten significant illustrations in four books published between 1855 and 1866. The involvement of Rossetti in the designs of a number of books in the 1860s exerted a real influence in favour of simplicity of line for book cover design. Rossetti provided the design for Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and other poems, which was first published in 1862, at a price of five shillings. The second edition was issued in 1865, and as for the 1862 edition, has bright blue ungrained cloth, with the use of broad fillets intersecting horizontally and vertically, continuing across the spine. The blocking of three small circles at the intersections of the fillets focuses the eye at these points, providing a simple symmetry. The identical design was used over thirty years later, on a copy of Christina Rossetti’s Poems, 1896, bound in green ungrained cloth. This design for Goblin Market introduced a simplicity of line out of step with many of the showy, densely ornamented designs of the 1850s and 1860s, and was much copied.

Two examples of Rossetti bindings have been selected for this site. The cover for Christina’s 1866 volume, The prince’s progress and other poems, exhibits Rossetti’s characteristic simplicity of ornament displayed in an asymmetric overall design. In contrast, his design for T. G. Hake’s 1872 Parables and tales shows us Rossetti overcoming his professed dislike of ‘small symbolism’ in bindings and acceding to the author’s preference for elaborateness. The result is an intricate tapestry of images, each representing a title of one of the poems in the volume. The Lily of the Valley and the Deadly Nightshade betoken the two poems of those names. Other design elements – spade, cot, stars and crown of thorns – evidently point to ‘Old Mortality’, ‘Mother and Child’, ‘Old Souls’ and ‘The Cripple’ respectively. 

John Sliegh (active 1841–1879) was clearly a gifted artist. He was one of the twenty artists employed on copying exhibits at the Hyde Park Great Exhibition for Digby Wyatt’s The industrial arts of the nineteenth century. His cover designs show a good sense of proportion of design in relation to the size of the covers. Sliegh used the Gothic style, particularly for Evangeline and Gertrude of Wyoming, with elaborate use of fanciful letters. Not much is known about him and even his name has a variant spelling – Sleigh.  He is represented in this site by his cover design for the collection Odes and Sonnets Illustrated which also contains ornamental designs by him. The cover bears his monogram ‘IS’.

Thomas Sulman (active 1855-1900), architectural draughtsman. He was a student of Dante Gabriel Rossetti at the Working Men’s College during the 1850s. Besides fine bindings he is noted for his book illustrations. Little else is known about him. The binding by him selected for this site, Sakoontala, lacks his signature but other copies include it. The copy here showcased also has gauffered edges.

Albert Henry Warren (1830–1911) was the eldest son of Henry Warren (1794–1879), President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colour. He was articled to Owen Jones and worked with him on the construction and decoration of the 1851 and 1862 Exhibitions. He assisted Jones with the illustration of The grammar of ornament and The Alhambra. He made the drawings for St. James’s Hall, Piccadilly, assisted his father in painting panoramas of the Nile and the Holy Land, and helped his uncle John Martin with the designs for the Thames Embankment. He was Professor of Landscape at Queen’s College, London, and gave lessons in illuminating and floral painting to Princess Alice and Princess Helena. His work was exhibited at the Royal Academy and elsewhere in London between 1860–1870. He was a volunteer in the Artists’ Corps (20th Middlesex). He received grants from the Royal Bounty Fund in 1893, 1896, and 1900.
Warren’s artistic abilities were well adapted to the medium of design on covers, with designs from the expensive to the simple. Three of Warren’s bindings have been selected for this site: Beattie’s Minstrel, Goldsmith’s Poems and Moore’s Lallah Rooke.

Unsigned bindings (Unknown) Many excellent cover designs from the heyday of Victorian trade bindings were the work of artists whose identities remain unknown because they were not signed. Five examples have been included on this site:  Robert Pollok’s The course of time, Poems of Jean Ingelow, Poems of Thomas Hood, The Sermon on the Mount and The Grammar of Ornament.


Ball, Douglas. Victorian Publishers’ Bindings. Williamsburg, Virginia: The Book Press, 1985.

Barber, Giles. ‘Rossetti, Ricketts and some English publishers’ bindings of the nineties’ in: The Library. 5th series, 1970. pp. 314-330.

King, Edmund M. B. Victorian decorated trade bindings, 1830-1880. A descriptive bibliography. London: The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2003.

Matthew, H. C. G. , Brian Harrison and Lawrence Goldman, eds., Oxford dictionary of national biography (online).  Oxford: Oxford University Press, [2004-].