When we think of beautiful books, illuminated manuscripts or vellum-bound volumes usually come to mind. But 19th-century English and American book publishers produced some amazing decorative cloth book bindings as well. The HLS Library’s Historical & Special Collections has a number of these attractive, and occasionally amusing, law books. The examples shown here were published in the United States and London between 1873 and 1889.
As you can see, the works tended to be popular rather than scholarly. The ornate illustrations, bright colors, and extensive gold tooling were intended to attract the buyer’s eye.
While most books from earlier centuries were individually bound and illustrated according to the taste and pocketbook of each customer, 19th-century publishers were able to mass-produce beautiful books that recalled earlier bookbinding traditions – particularly the use of color and gilding – while being very much of their time.