Bibliopegy in America






“To be strong-backed and neat
bound is the Desideratum of a volume.
Magnificence comes after.”
Essays of Elia.



Publisher’s note:
The following preface pertains to the prints published with the 1902 edition of Bibliopegy in the United States.
The printing details are of course irrelevant for the digital images from this web site.
The color illustrations from the book were scanned and published without alterations, the black and white were colorized to accentuate the details and give an idea of what the book may have looked like to the author.


THE color prints in this book have been produced by two diametrically opposite processes. Those of ” The Contrast,” “The Gift” and “The Rainbow ” are printed from relief plates treated in a special manner, two plates being required for the printing of each color of leather, one for the gold impression. These plates can be printed satisfactorily only upon a dry, highly finished paper.

Half-tone reproductions of leather bindings are by no means a novelty, but so far as I am aware, these plates are the first fairly successful reproductions of leather bindings, made directly from the books themselves by what is known as the direct process. Heretofore the tooled design has been redrawn on a large scale, and reduced to the proper size by photo-engraving ; an imitation of the grain of leather being produced by impressions from one or more additional plates.

The pictures of the ” Gesang Buch,” the ” American Latin Grammar ” and the ” Prompter Book,” are printed from a single photogravure copper plate, on a wet paper, which may be either rough or smooth-surfaced. The Xll Preface colors in this process are applied to the plate by hand, and it is necessary, after each impression is taken, to clean and polish the plate – upon which the printer must then repeat the tedious operation of reapplying the colors. He virtually paints the copper-plate anew after each impression. This process was, I believe, first successfully employed in France.

It is needless for me to draw attention to the designs and engravings by Mr. Sidney L. Smith which happily this book contains. Every lover and collector of beautiful books will recognize in them a revival of the art of the French vignettists of the eighteenth century, in which was reached the acme of gracefulness and skill, in the decoration of the pages of a book.

W. L. A.



HAT book-binding is an ancient, honorable, and esthetic employment, will not be gainsaid by any intelligent student of industrial art, and yet it is only within the last quarter of a century, that it has begun to receive the attention to which it is deemed entitled by that small, but constantly recruited band of enthusiasts, who delight in fine books fitly bound, and who for this and other idiosyncrasies in regard to books, have been mercilessly satirized ever since the days of that ironical old scribe Sebastian Brant. Prior to this comparatively recent period, writers, both here and abroad, taking their cue, it may be, from the crusty author of ” The Ship of Fooles ” and his equally caustic translator, aiderr and abettor, Alexander Barclay, Priest, appear to have regarded the topic as a trivial one, and of too little general interest to justify the expenditure upon it, of even a modicum of their energies and talents ; but of late the times have vastly changed in this respect, and the art which is to so great an extent preservative of the Art of Printing – for without a binding the leaves of a book would speedily part company – has now a surfeit of notoriety. Those past masters in Bibliopegy – the Eves, Le Gascon, Padeloup Le Jeune and the various members of the numerous and talented family of Deromes, would, I fancy, start in amazement from their long, dreamless sleep, could they hear the paeans now chanted in praise of the handicraft they carried to such perfection, in their quiet eyries aloft amid the cooing and circling doves, under the eaves of the steep-pitched roofs, of the old city of Paris.

Few authors, little or great, since the days of that archetype of bibliophiles of loved and revered memory, Richard de Bury, have shown themselves possessed of a love of well-made books, or manifested any concern in regard to the manner in which their lucubrations were printed, bound, and presented to the public gaze. Apparently they regarded the matter with indifference, if not with a feeling akin to contempt – an altogether unnecessary painting of the fair lily of literature, which had budded and blossomed under their fostering care. This attitude on their part must strike even the casual observer, as being a rather short-sighted one, to say the least. Most writers, I have been led by observation to conclude, are not free from a touch of egotism and believe sincerely that ” the thoughts that breathe and words that burn” which flow from the tips of their fluent pens, deserve, and will achieve lasting fame. But how, pray, can they be transmitted to posterity, if printed upon paper that has latent within it the seeds of decay, and encased in machine-made bindings too unsubstantial, to withstand the gentlest usage for any protracted length of time, much less the rough-and-ready treatment that is quite certain to be their future lot; for few people know, or are solicitous to know, how to care properly for books and bestow upon them the zealous guardianship they require, in order to ensure them a ripe and serene old age. If the books of the ancients had been of as perishable a nature, as are the majority of those the modern press puts forth, the perennial fountains, from which we now draw the wisdom and learning of past ages, would have ceased to flow at their very sources, and we should have in lieu thereof, only the scanty and turbid rills of oral tradition and legendary lore. It is only too true that, never since printing was invented has there been a time, when books, as a rule, were in all respects, and not alone in the matter of binding, to so great an extent as they are to-day, the “larcenies from future ages” that Lesne, the poet bookbinder of the eighteenth century, declared poorly bound books to be.
For this state of things, the typographers are responsible. A decline in the art of printing, is inevitably followed by a decadence in the arts related thereto. A fine exterior presupposes a well made book; for as has been well said: ” The binding is the robe of honour in which we insert a noble book, and upon the binding, we impress its external insignia of rank and merit.” The conclusion which forces itself upon the mind of every one interested in the matter is this: that bookmaking in most of its branches, as practised with varying degrees of skill and taste for three centuries after the great invention of movable type, is to-day as completely a lost art as is that of Oiron pottery or the enamel of Limoges.


” Then a book was still a book,
Where a wistful man might look,
Finding something througth the whole
Beating – like a human soul

In that growth of day by day
When to labor was to pray,
Surely something passed
To the patient page at last.

Something that one perseves,
Vaguely present in the leaves,
Something from the workers lent,
Something mute – but eloquent.”

Truth and poetry are equally blended in these graceful lines of Austin Dobson, and now let us read the words penned by that scholar and bibliophile Richard GrantWhite, a quarter of a century ago, concerning the state of the arts of printing and book-binding in this great, free and enlightened Republic. “When I say that the art of printing and of book-making in general has not advanced in New-York, or even in the United States, within the last fifty years, I may expect a chorus of protest, in which I fear the voice of Henry Houghton, of the Riverside Press, may be heard. But I do say distinctly, and without reserve or qualification, that New-York could and did produce a handsomer book fifty years ago than she does (whatever her ability) now, and I hold myself ready to prove this by an example before a jury of experts in the art of book-making. This example is a copy of the Book of Common Prayer, published in New-York in the year 1819. The printing of it, both for accuracy and beauty, is admirable, and would compare advantageously with the best work of its period in England. The letter, the justification, the register, the ink, and the press-work are of the best kind, and have a solidity and dignity of expression which command respect. The binding, which is in straight-grained crimson morocco, is such as William Matthews need not be ashamed of, and such, indeed, as he himself puts only on the finest, specially ordered ‘ extra’ work. The taste of the ornament would not have satisfied Count Grolier, but it is far better than that of the usual English work of its period, and the delicacy of the tooling, both the gilt and the dead work, and the exactness of the mitring are quite equal to that of the most celebrated English binders of the time, superior, indeed, to Roger Payne’s. It might not unreasonably be supposed that such a book as this was printed and bound in England. Not so. It was stereotyped by ” D. & G. Bruce” New York, a well-known firm of that period, and it was printed by “J. & J. Harper” a New York printing firm tolerably well known at the present time, but then only of nascent fame. . . . Who was the binder I do not know, and I am sorry that I cannot give him credit for such a specimen of New York skill and taste at that period. It might be supposed that this copy was specially bound to order, which, however, if it were the case, would not affect the question of the skill and the taste of the period; but it is not so. This copy is not only one of two exactly alike which were in my father’s pew in St. George’s Church in Beekman Street, but I have seen other copies of it exactly like these in design and execution, although the work is not done with a stamp, but what is known as hand-tooling. This shows that the book was bound up for general sale in this style, and although it, of course, must have been very costly at that time, particularly as it is illustrated with line engravings, none the less it is like St. Paul’s Church, the Old City Hall and the statue of Hamilton, a witness to the taste and culture of New York, and the skill of her artisans fifty years and more ago.”
This is warm praise and sharp criticism, and will no doubt be met with a smile of incredulity by our modern book-makers, but the bibliophile will endorse every word of it, save, I trust, the statement that the binding on this Book of Common Prayer is superior to any produced by Roger Payne. I would not name them in quite the same breath, for one is the work of a master, whose style of decoration, as William Matthews has truthfully said, was strikingly his own, the other that of a pupil and imitator. Furthermore the paper used in the book so highly extolled by Mr. White must have contained that deleterious ingredient, which proved the bane of so much of the paper manufactured at that period, both here and in England, and caused it in process of time to ” fox ” and turn a dirty brown in spots, but Mr. White probably was not aware of this imperfection when he wrote his spicy comment and threw down his gauntlet to the book-makers of New York.

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