Quite as creditable to its author, and belonging to the same period as the binding above mentioned, is the one upon Washington’s own copy of “The Contrast” (Philadelphia, MDCCXC), a comedy written by Royal Tyler* of Vermont for Thomas Wignell, Comedian, now in the possession of Mr. S. P. Avery, a book made doubly valuable by having the great chieftain’s bold, clear signature upon the title-page.
*”THE CONTRAST was written by Royal Tyler of Vermont for Thomas Wignell, the comedian, by whom it was produced with considerable success in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. He took the part of Jonathan, written expressly for him, and a much more accurate representation of a real Yankee than any of the modern caricatures. It was published for subscribers only. . . . Royal Tyler was a genuine wit. He was aid to the Gov. of Mass, in the Shays rebellion, and followed the rebels into Vt., where he settled, and became eminent in public life. He was a lawyer and Judge. He wrote the ‘ Algerine Captive’ and many articles for the Polyanthus and other Journals – Dec. 3, 1876.” Copy of manuscript note inserted in the book.
It is a royal octavo, bound in a hard, close-textured, highly polished dark red morocco, the sides inlaid with green borders, with ornamental gilt scroll tooling. The back of the volume is elaborately gilt-tooled with small stamps, one of which is the acorn, a tool so frequently used by the Mearnes (the distinguished English article predecessors of Roger Payne), as to have become considered as reliable an indication of their work, as is the ” sausage ” pattern which appears upon so many of the bindings attributed to them.
Positive proof that this binding was executed in this country is lacking, but appearances and the circumstantial evidence in the case, point to that conclusion. This Comedy in five Acts by Royal Tyler, which claims to be the first ” Essay of American Genius in the Dramatic Art” has become exceedingly rare, notwithstanding the fact that as the printed list of subscribers shows, the edition consisted of at least 600 copies. It contains a curious and interesting frontispiece, engraved by Maverick,* after a painting by William Dunlap, which, as a manuscript note in the volume states, comprises five portraits, the persons being dressed as in the scene ; viz., Mr. Wignell as Brother Jonathan ; Mr. Henry as Colonel Manly ; Mr. Hallam as Dimple ; Mr. Morris as Van Rough; and Mrs. Morris as Charlotte.
The “American Latin Grammar, or a compleat Introduction to the Latin Tongue,” which is shown in our illustration, is undoubtedly in its original boards, which are, as may be seen, as perfect, sound and true as when first applied ; and they have had to withstand the exceptionally hard usage, which falls to the lot of school and textbooks
*This must, I judge, have been Peter R. Maverick, the first of that noted family of engravers and copper-plate printers.
These oaken boards continued in general use by binders down to the close of the eighteenth century, and for some time afterwards, were not altogether superseded, by the cardboards now universally employed. The manner in which these thin veneers of wood have retained their shape is quite remarkable. They have neither warped nor cracked through all these years, and have successfully defied alike the cold and dampness of the mouldy cellars, and the heat of the sun-scorched garrets into which they were flung to neglect. Moreover, they have proved a somewhat better barrier than their pasteboard successors, to the ravages of the book-worm ; for are we not told that the Ptinidae generally are not borers of wood ? the chief mischief-maker in this material being that minute insect to which entomologists have given the altogether disproportionate name of Hypothenemus eruditus Westwood or the Hypothenemus bispidedus as it is described by Dr. Le Conte in Trans. Amer. Entom. Soc. 1868, p. 156 – Satis verborum !
” The Columbian Harmonist , A Choice Collection of New Psalm Tunes of American Composition,” by Daniel Read, New Haven, Connecticut, 1793, which lies before us, is clad in its original homely but what has proved to be a fairly serviceable coat of brown sheepskin.
THE COLUMBIAN HARMONIST Number III
A Collection of Anthems and Set-Pieces of Music chiefly New
It makes no articleic pretensions whatever, and simply represents the rank and file of the bindings of the day. This quaint old Psalm Singer, which belongs to an age when the ” singing of psalms was an act of devotion, and not an amusement among the people,” “sings of simple pieties.” and is as plain and unadorned within as without; but doubtless the young men of the village church choir lifted up their voices as lustily in ” Old Hundredth” and the rustic maidens, their fair associates, chanted the Easter Anthem as sweetly, from the coarsely engraved score of this brown and battered “Harmonist” as if it had been cut on copper by a master hand, adorned with a frontispiece by Hogarth, and bound in French gros-grained bright red morocco, elegantly ornamented like unto the binding here displayed, which Francis Bedford placed, at a cost of nine guineas, upon another book of soulful melody, to wit, Mr. Leveridge’s “Collection of Songs with the Musick” London, 1727.
It must have been from a counterpart of this ” Introduction to Psalmody” by Mr. Read, ” fitly calculated for the use of Singing-Schools,” that the lank, long-shanked school-master, Ichabod Crane, instructed the sweet and buxom Katrina in the divine art of Music, whilst he was laying fruitless siege to the heart and hand already made willing captives, by the dare-devil Brom Van Brunt.
By the close of the eighteenth century, it is evident that the arts of printing and book-binding had come to a parting of the ways, and that the bindery, sanguine of its ability to walk alone, had begun to take upon itself the risks and responsibilities of a separate establishment. The New York City Directories of the closing years of the eighteenth century, contain the names of a number of individuals, among them the following, who style themselves simply bookbinders, although some of them were also stationers and printers:
John Black, 20 Little Queen (Cedar) Street.
Alexander Christie, 15 Cliff Street. Charles Cliland, 15 Madison Street. Peter Kirby, 44 Crown (Liberty) Street.
Robert Macgill, 212 Water Street.
John Reed, 17 Water Street.
Edward Wier, 52 Maiden Lane.
Robert Hodge, 38 Maiden Lane.
Benjamin Gomez, 32 Maiden Lane.
The advertisement of the last-named in the ” New York Journal & Patriotic Register” for the year 1791,reads as follows:
Book-binding carried on with neatness and dispatch.
Orders from the country will be carefully attended to.
That the typographers were, however, disinclined to abandon the field to specialists in Bibliopegy, is shown by this advertisement, clipped from the ” New York Journal” for December 21, 1791 :
Binding, Gilding & Blank-book Ruling
Performed in the neatest manner, and with the utmost
expedition at Greenleafs, No. 196 Water St.
In order to give the most ample
satisfaction to his customers in his
general business, as binding is closely
allied with printing, Mr. Greenleaf
has engaged a complete binder,
gilder, and ruler at an extraordinary
salary, and will engage that
everyone who may be pleased
to employ him shall be satisfied,
or no pay; and that all the work which
may be done shall be charged
quite as low as the current prices….
N. B.—A few well-dressed calf skins for sale.
– Wanted several hundred Sheep Skins.
These establishments were probably able to produce little beyond the mercantile bindings upon blank books, or work of a simple character, although some of the handsome bindings which, as we have seen, the binders of the time were capable of executing may have issued therefrom. Who knows? Admitting, however, that the chances are that these men plied their tools with little skill, all the same we are glad to recognize them as members in good and regular standing of the Guild of Book-binders. Little Brothers of the Honorable Order of the Glue-Pot and Pack Thread, we salute you !
An earnest and creditable attempt to improve the arts employed in the production of books, was made during the few short years of its existence, by the American Company of Book-sellers,* an association of book-sellers in New York, Philadelphia and Boston, founded in 1801, and dissolved in 1805. Annual fairs were held by this organization, in New York City, Philadelphia and Newark, N. J., at which premiums were offered for the best examples of paper, printing, ink, typography and book-binding.
In 1805 a gold medal of the value of $50 was awarded to one William Swain of New York, for the best specimen of binding executed in American leather. Mr. Swain, so far as I am aware, left no mark of identification upon his handiwork, so that we shall never know how meritorious were the bindings that sufficed to win for him, in the early dawn of the nineteenth century, this Bibliopegic prize. of an
* See Book-Trade Bibliography in the United States in the XlXth Century by A. Growoll. New York, 1898.
Books which contain the ticket of an American binder, are so few and far between, that I am disposed to make a note of even the unimportant example of the art of book-binding, to which is affixed the following label :
This little duodecimo Book of Psalms, printed in 1805, is bound in dark red morocco, gilt edges, with a simple decoration upon the back, which is sufficient, however, to lift it out of the grade of commercial bindings, and prove that Mr. Parson was not a mere cobbler of books. More, however, of an adept at his craft, was one Benjamin Olds, as is demonstrated by the binding in red morocco gilt on a copy of the By-Laws and Rules of the Society of the Cincinnati, Trenton, 1808, in which a modest little label one quarter the size of the following appears:
One of the most ornate signed bindings of this period, which has come to my notice is the one upon the presentation copy from the City of New York, to Robert Lenox, of Colden’s Memoirs of the Erie Canal Celebration, New York, 1825. It is bound in red straight-grained morocco, with wide rolled bands partly blind-tooled and partly gilt.
The panel back is elaborately tooled, and at the foot is the signature of the binders, Wilson & Nichols, whose names appear in Longworth’s New York City Directory for 1826-7, as engaged in business at Pine Street, corner of Broadway. The same directory contains the name of William Walker, 32 Eldridge street, at whose bindery or that of his sons, removed to Fulton street, the writer remembers to have had some of his earliest bindings executed. No examples of their skill, or rather the lack of it, are, however, now in my possession. It was a heavy and inartistic binding, only one remove – namely, that of the substitution of calfskin or morocco for Russia leather – from the bindings in which the firm encased the heavy day-books, journals and ledgers which, I judge, constituted their principal business, and won for the establishment the reputation it enjoyed as a bindery.
I regret that I cannot give the names of the binders of the little three-volume “Herodotus” New York, 1828,
which recently fell into my hands, and the copy of ” The Minstrel and Other Poems” by B. A. Eaton, Boston, 1833, belonging to Mr. Beverly Chew, for they are at least an approach to the bindings, which the collector accepts and places on his shelves because they are examples, if not elaborate ones, of book-binding practised as an Art, and not as a Trade.
The design on ” The Minstrel” is surprisingly Aldine in character, and cleanly tooled. Only bindings, in part at least, tooled by hand, rank as artistic in a bibliophile’s estimation, i. e., those bindings, the decoration upon which, is first designed and drawn upon paper, then transferred to the leather, and worked out either with small tools or by these in combination with rolls, fillets and panel blocks. It is not intended, however, by this statement to convey the impression, that a stamped binding is entirely devoid of artistic quality. In the production of a stamped binding, taste in design, as well as a high degree of mechanical skill and accuracy, may be displayed. The brass die which impresses the design, must be made, by the process known in the printing of engravings as overlaying,* to operate upon a perfectly plane surface, otherwise the impression in the leather will be of uneven depth to the absolute ruin of the design. The registry must also be exact, for an impression must first be taken in dumb or blind tooling, the same as in hand work. The gold leaf is then applied, and the book again subjected to the heavy heated press. The back if decorated when on the book, must be tooled by hand. A stamped back, in either cloth or leather, generally indicates that the cover is simply a machine-made case, attached to the book with glue, after the leaves have been sewn together, but the leather may be stamped with the design, before it is applied to the cover, and then drawn over the boards, which are laced to the book, as in fine tooled binding.
*Overlaying consists in pasting exactly where needed, successive layers of paper, underneath the tympan, or top sheet of the printing surface.
The principal items of expense in connection with a stamped binding, are the designing and cutting of the die. If applied to but one book, it might prove a more costly binding than one upon which the same design was tooled by hand. The economy results where long sets of books uniformly bound and decorated, are concerned. The following is an impression from a bookbinder’s stamp :
As an example on a small scale of American stamped binding, executed in the early part of the last century, we have reproduced one which covers a copy of The Poetical Works of Robert Burns, New York, 1813. The fac-simile of the ” National Portrait Gallery “* binding which follows, shows
*” The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, 1846.” conducted by James B. Longacre, Philadelphia ; and James Herring, New York. Under the superintendence of the American Academy of the Fine Arts. 4 vols., royal 8vo and quarto. Contains 144 steel line engravings each accompanied by a short biographical notice.
how elaborate these stamped bindings became, at a later period, and how well they were designed and engraved.
The ” National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans” Philadelphia, 1846, is a book which deserves to be well bound, for it contains the finest cabinet-size steel-engraved portraits, ever executed in this country. This truth we have been slow to recognize, as also the fact, that the book is becoming difficult to find, for the reason, that for years past copies innumerable have been despoiled of their prints, by ” extra-illustrators,” to whom the four quarto volumes, with their nearly 150 very useful portraits, have proved a veritable goldmine. From both an historical and artistic standpoint the “National Portrait Gallery” was an important publication, and it is natural to suppose that certain sets of it would be entrusted to the hands of the best binders of the day.
The cover we reproduce shows how capable, both in design and execution, were the stamp-cutters of those days. The classical medallion centre-piece, links it in a measure to the highly prized bindings said to have belonged to Demetrio Canevari, physician to Pope Urban VIII.