Fall 2002 - Winter 2003
3700 O Street NW · Washington, D.C. 20057
Special Collections | Georgetown University
This exhibit attempts to survey the varieties and chart the development of German publishers' bindings during the 19th century. In that century, in the German states as well as elsewhere in Europe and in this country, the confluence of three separate, but significantly linked, influences brought the publisher's binding to its height of technical and artistic development. An explosive growth in popular literacy spawned an unheard-of demand for books; the processes of cloth casing and stamping in gilt proved both effective and flexible for extended binding runs; and publishers turned to edition binders to provide them with products both solid enough to be considered "permanent" and stylish enough to attract a new buying public.
The history of this development in France, in Britain, in the Netherlands, and in the United States is reasonably well known. Books and articles by Sophie Malavieille, Ruari McLean, Douglas Ball, Fons van der Linden, Sue Allen, and many others shed copious light on many aspects of the development of the edition binding even if no one of them attempts a comprehensive view of the subject. A comparable resource for the development of edition binding in Germany is the 1994 Gebunden in der Dampfbuchbinderei: Buchbinden im Wandel des 19. Jahrhunderts, the 20th volume in the series Wolfenbütteler Schriften zur Geschichte des Buchwesens. In addition, two sites currently available on the World Wide Web have also provided a good deal of information: the Deutsche Bibliothek in Leipzig has a showing of Leipziger Verlagseinbände des 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhunderts (at http://www.ddb.de/museum/verl_einband.htm); the University of Wisconsin hosts German Decorative Trade Bindings, a larger showing for the years 1870-1920 (at http://www.library.wisc.edu/libraries/dpf/bookarts/germanDec.html). The list of edition binders provided on the latter site is of particular utility, not least in gaining an understanding of the centrality of Leipzig to the German binding industry.
For the purposes of the current exhibit "German" is taken as denoting entities defined by language rather than by politics. In the 19th century the German book trade was centered on Leipzig and its great annual fair, where publishers and booksellers celebrated the continued success of the Bourse and resolved issues affecting the trade. The more than 30 more-or-less independent (before unification) German states, Austro-Hungary, and German Switzerland, all annually well represented at Leipzig, shared a common history in publishers' bindings as they do in language. And while there are great similarities between the work produced in these areas and that made in the Netherlands and in Scandinavia, bindings in both of the latter evolved quite differently in stylistic terms.
Like their counterparts elsewhere in Europe and in America, German binders exploited the possibilities of printed paper boards right from the beginning of the 19th century; in fact, they showed very early a taste for pictorial decoration, something that only became popular somewhat later in England and America. But the doing up of editions, or parts of editions, in cloth "in the English manner" as German publishers and binders tended to call the technique, seems to have caught on relatively late in the German-speaking world. Although the technique was used no later than the early 1840s, before about 1860 cloth casing seems to have been more the exception than the rule. All the more surprising, therefore, that the exhibit includes bindings from the 1850s that make use of one or more secondary colors in addition to gilt stamping and the ground color of the cloth casing; in this purely technical achievement England was not much faster. Certainly too, the binding of the anthology Blüthen und Perlen deutscher Dichtung, dating to 1856, shows awareness of, and the technical ability to meet, the norms established by French edition binders for the decoration of cloth casings.
Despite the claim to bind "in the English manner" German edition binders seem, especially in the 1860s, to have routinely broken one of the cardinal English rules by introducing both modelled figures and literal pictorialism into bindings intended to cover titles published for adults. This tendency, by the way, is one which they shared with their Scandinavian counterparts. And as with the attempts at multiple colors, German binders had little fear of handling materials which we now consider unusual. Velvet was established as a commonplace for devotional works from the 1840s, and virtually anything which could be glued to the surface of an embossed cloth binding was, at one time or another. Mother of pearl, metal studs, and composition "cameos" all appear in the exhibit on bindings produced before 1875.
However late German binders may have been in adopting cloth case binding, they developed fairly early on a taste for making sure the purchaser of a book knew who had bound it. J. R. Herzog in Leipzig and Heinrich Koch in Stuttgart both used discreet binder's tickets inserted in the British fashion at the lower inside corner of the rear pastedown. Examples in the exhibit date from 1864 to 1875, and a Herzog ticket is known on a book published in 1880. During the 1860s and 1870s the designers and/or cutters of binding stamps occasionally signed their work, and the exhibit displays a number of examples. The most numerous of these come from the Leipzig establishment of Hugo Horn, an engraver who advertised himself as a specialist in the production of binding stamps. The most teasing of these engravers' names is that of H. G. Wells, which occurs on a number of probably German books distributed in translation in England and the United States, raising the tantalizing possibility that an English or American engraver was engaged to produce stamps for the English-speaking market. But from the early 1880s - perhaps not at all coincidentally just as the use of tickets seems to have ceased - the technique of stamping the binder's name (and frequently a partial address) on the lower cover in blind, or more rarely in black ink, became quite common. Hardly surprising, then, that this concern with identification became paramount just as the cloth edition binding finally became an expected part of publications intended for the German-speaking mass market.
The decade from about 1875 to 1885 saw the emergence of what seems in retrospect the most characteristic of styles in 19th century German edition binding, the Stil der Neorenaissance, with elaborate interpretations in gilt and anything up to a half-dozen colors of ink of ornamental motifs taken more or less directly from Renaissance sources. Found commonly on relatively expensive illustrated books in its first decade, the Stil der Neorenaissance remained in use for reprint literary offerings up until the First World War. As books in the exhibit show, the style was capable of considerable variation, and Hungarian binders seem to have created their own, somewhat orientalized, version as early as the mid-1880s.
Much less usual, though much more in keeping with the developing American ideal of a uniquely conceived binding for every publication, are the bindings created for a number of novels and other publications written by the Egyptologist Georg Moritz Ebers in the 1870s and early 1880s. Besides the four titles in the current exhibit Ebers' Josua (1890) is also known in a similarly-conceived binding.1 Each of the five titles comes dressed in a casing that suggests in its decorative vocabulary that part of the ancient world which serves as the basis for the book's action or relevance, whether Egyptian or Roman or paleo-Christian.
The Ebers bindings anticipate, albeit within the limitations of conservative symmetrical design, the artistic freedom which characterizes many of the items in the exhibit printed and bound after 1890, though such items as the anthology Künstler Humor (1890?) with its almost comically "Japanese" design and the delightfully eggy Kolumbus-Eier (1897?) visually far outstrip anything suggested by the bindings on the Ebers titles. After the turn of the century binders turned briefly to the sinuous designs commonly lumped together in speaking of German art as Jugendstil; the examples in the exhibit, ranging from the almost vulgar splashiness of Chamisso's Werke (1904?) to the far more sedate treatment given the poems of Richard Wagner (1905), demonstrate all too clearly what was possible - and perhaps what sold best.
Just as in the rest of Europe and America the decorated dust jacket (the earliest example in the exhibit is quite late, dating to 1909) ultimately spelled the end of the decorated publisher's binding, and in Germany as in the rest of the world, what was by then the conservative element in the binding trade continued to produce on occasion elegant and distinctive work long after the market had passed elsewhere.
1 Illustrated in Morris, Ellen K. and Edward S. Levin, The Art of Publishers' Bookbindings 1815-1915. Los Angeles: Dailey, 2000, no. 234. (return to text)
Binders in the exhibit
Engravers in the exhibit
Unknown (London? New York?)
Fall 2002 - Winter 2003
Special Collections | Georgetown University