Judging a Book by Its Cover: Gold-Stamped Publishers' Bindings of the 19th Century

II. Vignettes > Introduction

The earliest publishers' bindings are typified by a border stamped in blind and a central vignette stamped in gold. The design was left largely up to the binder, who used and often reused stock ornaments. The artisan who created the stamps was relatively free to interpret his theme. The vignettes could be original or derived from illustrations in the text. Smaller designs meant smaller amounts of the expensive gold leaf were needed. The bookbinding historian Sue Allen points out that the American vignettes tend to be less polished than their English equivalents, expressing an American vigor in a kind of folk art.

The style never went completely out of favor, as shown here by samples from the 1860s to the 1880s. Other bindings with central vignettes are on display in later cases.

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