The German is nothing if not conservative, and his racial characteristics are slowly modified by new environments. Consequently we are prepared for the Teutonic plainness and solidity of the brass-knobbed calf binding, with its brass-tipped leather clasps, which covers, as with a coat of mail, the Gesang Buch, printed at Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1762, by Christopher Sauer, 2d, for the spiritual comfort of his Dunker Brethren, in their vernacular tongue, and the black-letter type of their Fatherland. The sides have a panel in dumb* or blind tooling which is a modest attempt at decoration, but the book now stands in need of none, for the rich mahogany color and glossy surface which the leather has acquired through careful, reverent use, and the alchemy of time, make full amends for all other deficiencies. This sombre-looking volume, from the hands of the pre-Revolutionary typographer, is indeed a very pleasant thing to sight and touch, and its strong and honest construction inspires one with a feeling of respect, for both the book and its maker.
*”This is an ornamental operation applied after the book has been polished. It is executed in the same way and with the same tools as for gilding, but without any gold applied on the places thus ornamented.”—Arnett’s Bibliopegia.
It has been said that the history of music in New England for the first two centuries is the history of Psalmody alone. It might be asserted with equal truth that the history of book-binding in this country in colonial days, brings us in contact with little besides books of a religious character. Bibles, Psalm and Prayer-books, and Theological Works almost monopolized the time and services of the Printer. As we turn from this book of sacred songs printed by Christopher Sauer, the next volume that falls under our notice is the Book of Books, namely, the English version of the Sacred Writings, printed by Robert Aitkin in 1782.
Robert Aitkin, best known perhaps as the publisher of the Pennsylvania Magazine, which began and ended its journalistic career during that critical period in our national life, the years 1775 and 1776, was born, we are told by Isaiah Thomas, at Dalkeith, Scotland, and served a regular apprenticeship with a book-binder in Edinburgh. He came to Philadelphia in 1769 as a book-seller; returned to Scotland the same year, but came back to this country in 1771, and followed the business of bookselling and book-binding both before and after the Revolutionary War. In 1774 he became a printer, and in 1781-2 printed, at a very considerable pecuniary loss, upon a poor quality of paper manufactured in the State of Pennsylvania, an edition in small octavo of The Holy Bible, which is claimed and generally conceded to be, the first version of the Scriptures in English published in this country; but in Isaiah Thomas’s account, in his ” History of Printing” of the Boston printers, Kneeland and Green, we find the following statement (Vol. I, p. 305):
“The book-sellers of this time were enterprising. Kneeland and Green printed, principally for Daniel Henchman, an edition of the Bible in small 4to. This was the first Bible printed in the English language in America. It was carried through the press as privately as possible, and had the London imprint of the copy from which it was reprinted, viz. : ” London, Printed by Mark Baskett, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty,” in order to prevent a prosecution from those in England and Scotland, who published the Bible by a patent from the crown; or Cum privilegio, as did the English universities of Oxford and Cambridge. When I was an apprentice, I often heard those who had assisted at the case and press in printing this Bible, make mention of the fact. The late governor Hancock was related to Henchman, and knew the particulars of the transaction. He possessed a copy of this impression. As it has a London imprint, at this day it can be distinguished from an English edition, of the same date only by those who are acquainted with the niceties of typography. This Bible issued from the press about the time that the partnership of Kneeland and Green expired. The edition was not large; I have been informed that it did not exceed seven or eight hundred copies”.
This story is doubted by Bancroft and other historians, but Thomas was an author of more than ordinary accuracy and reliability, and some there are who, having investigated the matter, are inclined to the belief that an edition of the Bible was surreptitiously printed by Kneeland and Green as Thomas relates.
Two copies of the first volume of the Aitkin Bible are preserved in the Lenox Library. One is bound in smooth red, the other in olive morocco ; the back of the latter being tooled in a style faintly suggestive of the lace-like pattern characteristic of the bindings of the great French article, Padeloup Le Jeune. The back of the copy in red morocco, is decorated with a design similar in character, to that upon the sides of the copy of “Watts’ Hymns and Spiritual Songs” to which we shall shortly refer. These bindings are unsigned, but it may be presumed that they represent Aitkin’s skill in the dual capacity, of printer and book-binder.
Another of the books in the Lenox Library, the binding upon which might, at a venture, be taken to illustrate a minor phase of our subject, is a copy of Major Donkin’s ” Military Collections” printed by Hugh Gaine, New York, 1777. It is an octavo bound in red skiver (split sheepskin) without the slightest attempt at ornamentation, but aside from the binding the book is interesting for its allegorical frontispiece said to represent Hugh, Earl Percy, being rewarded by Britannia, with Major Donkin seated at a table (Donkin was a Major in the British army serving in America in 1777), engraved by J. Smither, an artist whom Dunlap asserts occupied a unique position in the Arts of his time.
He was, writes the author of the ” History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States” originally a gun-engraver and employed in the Tower of London. He came to Philadelphia in 1773 and undertook all kinds of engraving. He probably stood high in public opinion ; he was the best, for he stood alone. We do not clearly comprehend this singular assertion, for certainly there were others, such as Doolittle, Hill, Turner and Trenchard among Smither’s cotemporaries, whose engravings appear to us to equal, if not to excel his work.
If this book of Major Donkin was bound by the printer of it, as may possibly be the case, we have here an example of Hugh Game’s plain morocco binding, and perchance we may also attribute to him the binding, in olive morocco gilt, on the “Book of Common Prayer” Hugh Gaine, Printer, at the Sign of the Bible, in Hanover Square, New York, 1793, in the possession of Mr. Beverly Chew. This edition, which was published by direction of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the same printer followed, two years later, by one in large folio, for use at the lectern of the Church. It is printed in bold, clear type, and handsomely bound in mottled and sprinkled calf. It is probably as fine a piece of typography as ever issued from the press of the ” turn-coat ” printer, who was deservedly made to say in a poetical version of his petition at the close of the Revolutionary War,
“And I always adhere to the sword that is longest
And stick to the party that’s like to be strongest.”
If Gaine’s political principles and rule of action, had been as sound as the printing of this folio Book of Common Prayer, he would have left a less unsavory memory.
A copy of this noble Episcopal Church Service book, presented by the Scotch merchant, Robert Lenox, ” to his most respected friend James Sheafe,” in 1812, may be seen in the Library founded and endowed by his Presbyterian book-loving and philanthropic son.
Among the countless Hymn Books which have voiced the faith, trust and hope of English-speaking Christians for ages past, is a small octavo, printed in Edinburgh, in 1776, which bears the following title:
“HYMNS AND SPIRITUAL SONGS IN THREE BOOKS.
I. Collected from the SCRIPTURES.
II. Composed on DIVINE SUBJECTS.
III. Prepared for the LORD’S SUPPER.”
The binding on the copy of this Hymnal, which lies before us, might readily be attributed to an English binder, and the dark crimson morocco in which it is encased was undoubtedly an imported article, as also must have been the binder’s tools employed in its decoration. Its native workmanship is, however, established by the inscription upon the fly leaf, which certifies that this was “Hannah Boudinot’s book, bound and gilt at Trenton, 1785″.
It is to be regretted that the artisan who, at this early period, was able to produce a binding of so creditable a character, remains unknown. He left his work unsigned, but this is as we might expect, for the articles of all times have been a modest race of men, quite content apparently to quietly pursue their calling and ” wake up each morning to still find themselves obscure.” The damask, velvet, and pigskin bindings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were frequently stamped with the initials or trademarks of the binder or gilder, but the names which either rightfully or wrongfully we have connected with the several predominant styles of book-cover decoration, which have been pronounced ” as incapable of further development or of finer expression,” and of which we never weary, are seldom found upon the bindings attributed to these masters ; and in order to decipher the minute characters in which the signature of the modern article is all but concealed, at the foot of the inside cover, one almost requires the use of a magnifying-glass. In the same class and order of merit as the binding upon Hannah Boudinot’s Hymn Book, but of a different style of decoration, is the one upon a thick paper copy of the “Federalist” * in the Lenox Library, printed and bound, as the ticket within it attests, at Franklin’s Head, 41 Hanover Square,New York. It is in sprinkled calf, full gilt, as a cataloguer would describe it, the sides ornamented with a scroll border and an oval centre-piece, in the ” Etruscan ” style, so-called, a style common to the architecture, the silverware, and the furniture of the period, as well as to the exterior decoration of the covers of books which inherited its graceful lines, festoons and scrolls from the Greek and should be recognized as classical, but is generally known to us only by the much used and abused term Colonial.
* The Federalist : A collection of Essays written in favour of the New Constitution. 2 vols. Printed and Sold by J. & A. M’Lean, No. 41 Hanover-Square, 1788.
We find similar tools employed and a like design upon the cover of a copy of the American edition of Brown’s Illustrated Family Bible,* bound in red morocco, which material alone, elevates it to higher rank as a binding, than the “Federalist” bound in calf. The back of this cumbersome elephant folio Bible, is panelled in blue and yellow leathers, separated by bands of green, the whole richly tooled in gold ” a petits fers”. The upper panel bears the title of the book, the lower one, the name of the first owner, Mary Ellis, 1792, whose signature also appears upon the fly leaf, under date of August 12,1793. This mosaic binding, for such it is, was produced by Thomas Allen, book-seller, stationer and printer, as he is described in the New York Directory for the same year, and has his ticket on the inside of the front cover:
*THE SELF-INTERPRETING BIBLE. New York, Printed for T. Allen, 12 Queen Street, 1792. Illustrated with copperplate engravings by Tiebout and others.
“BOUND AND SOLD BY THOMAS ALLEN
No. 12, Queen Street.”
Thomas Greenleaf’s semi-weekly paper, ” The New York Journal & Patriotic Register” contains in the number for June 18, 1790, an announcement of this forthcoming publication which reads in part as follows :
” Brown’s Self-interpreting Folio Family Bible, embellished with a variety of elegant Copper-Plates, Being a genuine American Edition, the largest and cheapest ever proposed to be printed in the United States.
” Proposals for printing by Subscription By Hodge, Allen & Campbell, of N. Y. The Holy Bible containing The Old and New Testaments with the Book of the Apocrypha, illustrated with notes, &c. By John Brown, D.D., Late Minister of the Gospel at Haddington, . . . will be printed in large folio on fine paper, American manufacture, and on excellent, large and new type cast on purpose for this work.
“It will be completed in forty numbers, one every two weeks, price One Quarter of a Dollar or Twenty-five Cents.”