Most significant in the last decade of the century, particularly in America, is the rise of the artist-designer. From the late 1880s until about the start of World War I, book covers reached new levels of sophistication through highly professional layouts and stylized pictorial representations. The social and economic range of people buying books had perhaps never been greater, and publishers had long known that decorated book covers were very cost-effective advertising.

Architects, landscape painters, illustrators and graphic artists alike were drawn to book design. While some of these designers would be responsible for only a handful of covers, others were extremely prolific, producing hundreds and hundreds of covers. Consequently, decorated cases of this period display an astonishing diversity of design styles and reflect a wide range of influences, including the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau, Japanese prints and the so-called poster style of design. (The work of Thomas Watson Ball exhibits many of these styles: a portfolio of his work may be seen here)

Many of these designers believed that a book's physical appearance should reflect its literary content and made an effort to relate decorations to the text, sometimes in collaboration with the author. The color and texture of cloth was considered in relation to the design it supported, and the cloth weave and texture often became an integral part of the overall design. Decoration began to extend from the front cover across the spine to the back board.

In the 1890s American inventors produced machines that would facilitate, even supplant, the making of cases by hand. George H. Sanborn & Sons of New York introduced a case-smoothing machine in 1891, closely followed by competitors' models in 1893 and 1896. The Smyth Company produced a cloth-cutting machine in 1901 as well as the first successful casing-in machine in 1903. Between 1900 and 1903, the Sheridan Company adapted earlier patents to make an automatic gathering machine. All of the major binding operations--folding, gathering, sewing, rounding and backing and casing--could now be completed by an assortment of machines.

After 1900, cover designs gradually became simpler. By 1910, the widespread use of decorated cloth on books was largely at an end. The illustrated paper book jacket, which had been in limited use for years, caught the public's fancy and proved to be an even cheaper advertising tool than decorated cloth cases. The golden age of publishers' bookbindings was over.

Lafcadio Hearn. Youma. New York: Harper & Bros., 1890.

Sara Jeannette Duncan. Vernon’s Aunt. London: Chatto & Windus, 1894.

Edmund D. Morel. Affairs of West Africa. London: William Heinemann, 1902.

Youma, the story of a slave is bound in a simple untreated dress fabric. From the 1890s on, it was common for the cloth itself to be a featured aspect of cover design, even imitated in the design.

Mae St. John Bramhall. The Wee Ones of Japan. New York: Harper & Bros., 1894.

George MacDonald. The Flight of the Shadow. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1891.

A. E. W. Mason & Andrew Lang. Parson Kelly. New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1899.

Elegant designs making striking use of silver ink.

Alice Brown. Meadow Grass. Boston: Copeland & Day, 1895.

Book cover and poster design are by Louis Rhead, an Englishman who was invited to New York in 1883 by the publisher Appleton & Co. Rhead grew very well known for his poster designs, although he was an acclaimed illustrator as well. Similar in aim to Stone & Kimball, Copeland & Day published eighty beautifully designed and printed books in the six years of their existence.

Bliss Carman & Richard Hovey. Songs From Vagabondia. Boston: Copeland & Day, 1894.

Bliss Carman & Richard Hovey. More Songs From Vagabondia. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. 1896.

The poster, book cover and endpaper design for Songs From Vagabondia are by Thomas Buford Meteyard who also illustrated the texts of the other books seen here. Meteyard was an Impressionist landscape painter who had studied with Monet. He was probably drawn to book design by his friendship with the poets Carman and Hovey, whom he met in 1889. His cover for the Vagabondia series, also seen on the poster, is a portrait of himself with Carman and Hovey. Meteyard signed his work either with his monogram or a tortoise, the sign of his sobriquet.

John Kendrick Bangs. A House-Boat on the Styx. New York: Harper & Bros., 1896.

The poster design for this best-seller is probably by Peter Newell, one of the book's illustrators. The cover design is by an unidentified artist. In the late 1890s Bangs also wrote for Harper's Magazine and edited the American edition of Literature, a weekly paper of literary criticism published in association with the London Times. From 1899-1901 he was managing editor of Harper's Weekly.

Elia W. Peattie. A Mountain Woman. Chicago: Way & Williams, 1896.

This "wraparound" cover design incorporates both boards and the spine but is also successful when those parts are viewed individually.  Like Stone & Kimball, Way and Williams was known for the innovative design of both the text and cases of their books. Between 1895-98, they issued more than fifty volumes but, like many other young publishers of the decade, they were forced to close after a relatively short period.

Joel Chandler Harris. The Story of Aaron. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1896.

Evelyn Sharp. Wymps. New York & London: John Lane, 1897.

Paul Leicester Ford. The Great K. & A. Train-Robbery. New York: Dodd Mead & Co., 1897.

These covers by unknown designers clearly show the influence of the "poster craze" that swept America in the 1890s. The poster movement, driven by miniature periodicals with artist-designed covers and publishers' advertising posters, was at its height from 1894-1896.

Henry Seton Merriman. In Kedar's Tents. New York: Dodd Mead & Co., 1897.

This cover was designed by George Wharton Edwards, an illustrator, author, and most famously, Impressionist style painter. From 1898-1903 he was Art Director for Collier's.

Robert Steele, tr. Renaud of Montauban. London: George Allen, 1898.

Dedicated to Walter Crane, this cover may have been designed by Fred Mason, who did the text illustrations and decorations. Heavily starched canvas-like cloth like this, a type of buckram, is still used today.

Francis Thompson. New Poems. London: Archibald Constable & Co., 1897.

This Art Nouveau inspired cover is by an unknown designer. Its heavily glazed buckram is often associated with Irish manufacture. The English poet Thompson, born in 1859, struggled with depression and addiction to laudanum after failing in attempts at a medical career. Virtually all of his poems were written during a four year period of withdrawal, fostered by his then publisher.

Paul Leicester Ford. Tattle Tales of Cupid. New York: Dodd Mead & Co., 1898.

Cover design by Alice Cordelia Morse, a prolific illustrator and designer whose work was well regarded by critics of her time. Morse worked for many of the prominent publishers of the time, including Harper's, Scribner's and Putnam's. Although this cover is signed, many are not and her varying style makes attribution difficult. This title sold very well, going into a third printing in its first year.

R. Bowdler Sharpe. Sketch-Book of British Birds. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1898.

The back board is undecorated. The use of beveled boards is somewhat unusual at this time. The cover is signed "A L" but the artist is unidentified.

Robert Herrick. Love's Dilemmas. Chicago: H.S. Stone & Co., 1898.

Binding, typographical design, decorative initial letters and printer's flowers by Will Bradley. By this time in his career, Bradley and his Wayside Press had become a part of University Press, Cambridge, where this book was printed. As evidenced by this example, he was intimately involved in all the details of book designs at the Press until he left in 1901.

Eden Phillpotts. Folly and Fresh Air. London: Hurst & Blackett, 1899.

The spine is stamped in gold and the back board is undecorated.

The Solitary Summer. New York: Macmillan Co., 1899.

The designer of this cover is unknown. A best seller by the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden, The Solitary Summer was reprinted three times in its first year.

Lafcadio Hearn. In Ghostly Japan. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1899.

This cover design incorporates both boards and the spine of the book and is repeated on the book's dust jacket. Sold for $2.00, the book was described by Literary World: "It has the deep azure coloring of Fuji-San, the sacred mountain; it utters the chirping note of Suzumushi, the caged insect; it is as melodious as Kajika, the singing frog, and is altogether lovely."

Frank R. Stockton. Afield and Afloat. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1900.

The designer of this cover is unknown. Stockton was a best-selling author and Scribner's issued an eighteen volume set of his work in this same year.

Women of the Bible. New York: Harper & Bros., 1900.

The central gilt panel is from an elaborately chased die. Overall the design evokes medieval illuminations. The back board is undecorated.

Mary Johnston. To Have and To Hold. Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co., 1900.

The poster design is by Howard Pyle, who is one of the book's illustrators. The book cover design is by an unidentified artist. Within a few weeks of publication, sales of this book, Johnston's second, passed 135,000.

George H. Boker. Francesca da Rimini. Chicago: The Dramatic Publishing Co., 1901.

The designer of this Art Nouveau inspired cover is unknown, although the cover is signed "HC".

Mary Catherine Crowley. A Daughter of New France. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1901.

Cover design by Amy M. Sacker, a prolific illustrator, poster and book designer, particularly of children's books. Her work is usually found on books published by Little, Brown, Lothrop, and L.C. Page. Sacker studied with Henry Hunt Clark at Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts and founded a school of her own in the late 1890s.

Alice Caldwell Hegan. Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. New York: The Century Co., 1901.

The poster and book cover for this best-seller were designed by Clarence F. Underwood.

Alice Brown. King's End. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1901.

Cover design by Florence Pearl Nosworthy. Beginning in the early 1880s with the designs of Sarah Wyman Whitman, Houghton, Mifflin tended toward simpler covers than many other publishers. By the late 1890s, however, Whitman was in poor health and designing few covers, forcing Houghton, Mifflin to look to other designers.

Richard Harding Davis. In the Fog. New York: R.H. Russell, 1901.

The book cover is designed by Frederic Dorr Steele, one of the book's illustrators. The poster design is signed "AW", probably for Alice Woods.

F. Berkeley Smith. The Real Latin Quarter. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co., 1901.

F. Hopkinson Smith. The Wood Fire in No. 3. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905.

Ernest Crosby. Captain Jinks, Hero. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co., 1902.

Three cover designs by Frank Berkeley Smith, author of The Real Latin Quarter and son of the author of The Wood Fire in No. 3. Smith was also an illustrator and civil engineer who produced a large number of cover designs in the poster style from 1897-1916. The back boards of all three books are undecorated.

Richard Harding Davis. Ranson's Folly. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1902.

Cover design by Edward Penfield. This book is listed for $1.50 in the publisher's insert. The back board is plain. In the early 1890s Penfield worked as an illustrator and art director at Harper's. He would design some of the most popular advertising posters for their periodicals.

Kenneth Grahame. Dream Days. London: John Lane, 1902.

Opie Read. Bolanyo. Chicago: Way & Williams, 1897.

Maxfield Parrish did the cover design for both of these titles, as well as the endpapers and text illustration for Dream Days. Now best known for his paintings and their distinctive colors, Parrish found early success with his drawings in black and white. Throughout the 1890s and early years of the twentieth century, Parrish did a considerable amount of book and magazine illustration and poster design.

Mabel Nelson Thurston. On the Road to Arcady. New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1903.

Cover design, endpapers and text decoration by Samuel M. Palmer. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Fleming Revell was the largest publisher of religious books in North America, although they published some general interest books as well.

Jack London. The Call of the Wild. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903.

The unidentified designer of this cover signed it “Cx”. The volume has text illustrations by Charles Edward Hooper.

Hamlin Garland. Main Travelled Roads. Chicago: Stone & Kimball, 1903.

Stone & Kimball were extremely influential in the changing world of cover design. Founded in 1893 by Melville Stone and Ingalls Kimball, the firm set out to "astound most American book-buyers by the mere beauty of manufacture." The following year, the two started The Chap-Book, a widely praised and collected literary magazine. In 1894, Frank Hazenplug joined the staff as house designer and was responsible for many of the series' designs they used. In addition to Hazenplug, Stone & Kimball used artists like Horace T. Carpenter, who designed Main Travelled Roads, George H. Hallowell, Claude Bragdon and Will Bradley.

Aubrey Beardsley. Under the Hill. London: John Lane, 1904.

Beardsley made this design for the cover of Oscar Wilde's Salome. In 1891, at nineteen, Beardsley embarked on a career as an illustrator, and with the help of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes in France and Joseph Pennell in England he quickly made a name for himself. In 1894, after illustrating Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, Beardsley became the art editor of the short-lived The Yellow Book and found widespread public notice. Other major book design work includes The Savoy and The Rape of the Lock. He died in 1898.

Josephine Caroline Sawyer. All's Fair in Love. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1904.

Wallace Irwin. Nautical Lays of a Landsman. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1904.

Cover design, endpapers and text illustration by Charles Buckles Falls. An illustrator and mural painter in New York, Falls worked for Decorative Designers for many years but also freelanced for Dodd, Mead & Co.

Hermann Sudermann. Fires of St. John. Boston: John W. Luce & Co., 1904.

The designer of this cover, who must have been a professional, is unknown. The book is notable here also for its cloth-the weave of which is very visible.

Frances Trego Montgomery. On a Lark to the Planets. Akron, OH: The Saalfield Publishing Co., 1904.

This cover is very much in keeping with the dominant style of the 1880s. Some publishing houses retained a style from decade to decade, while others used an "old-fashioned" style as a marketing device.

Sadakicki Hartmann. Japanese Art. Boston: L. C. Page & Co., 1904.

Cover design by Amy Richards, signed with her conjoined initials.

William Butler Yeats. Poems. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1904.

William Butler Yeats. The Secret Rose. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1897.

William Butler Yeats. The Wind Among the Reeds. London: E. Mathews, 1899.

Cover designs by Althea Gyles, born in 1868 in County Waterford, Ireland. In 1889, Gyles went to Dublin to study art where she formed an association with W.B. Yeats. She moved to London in 1892, began to write verse, moved in the literary circles of the period, and became a member of the occultist group the Golden Dawn. She died in 1949.

E. J. Harvey Darton. Tales of the Canterbury Pilgrims. London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1906.

Hugh Thomson designed this cover and illustrated the text. Born in Ireland, he began working in England in the early 1880s. His pen and ink drawings were very popular and his work is well known via Macmillan's so-called "Cranford Series". The publisher's advertisement lists this edition for six shillings.

Richard Harding Davis. Vera the Medium. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908.

This style of this cover design is a great contrast to the text's illustrations by Frederic Dorr Steele.

Francis N. Thorpe. The Divining Rod. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1905.

Jack London. When God Laughs. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1911.

Andre Castaigne. Fata Morgana. New York: The Century Co., 1904.

Ruth McEnery Stuart. Napoleon Jackson. New York: The Century Co., 1902.

Randall Parrish. Beth Norvell. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1907. [Cover design, signed, by Decorative Designers.]

Cover designs by the prolific Decorative Designers, a New York based firm whose principal figures were Henry Thayer and his wife, Emma Redington Lee, who used the name Lee Thayer. Active from 1895-1932, the firm was responsible for thousands of book covers and jackets. The firm employed other designers for various periods, principally Jay Chambers, Adam Empie, Charles Buckles Falls, and Rome Richardson, but Lee Thayer was responsible for most of the firm's designs. Henry, a trained architect, concentrated on the lettering and details of the business itself.



Winifred Babcock. A Japanese Nightingale. New York & London: Harper & Brothers, 1902.

Margaret Deland. The Voice. New York & London: Harper & Brothers, 1912.

The fonts used for these two titles are similar though their differences are accentuated by the different inks used to print them, their size and placement.

1880-1889 / Sarah Wyman Whitman