By the 1840s, cloth bindings had gained public acceptance and binders had gained technical control of the materials. Early on, binders continued to design using a stock set of frames and ornamental dies-lyres, flowers, urns-which they had purchased from engravers. On American books of the late 1830s-40s, the binder's name, and perhaps the city in which he worked, can sometimes be found inside one of the stamped frames. Binders' advertisements often mentioned the quantity and variety of dies they possessed along with the styles of binding they could produce.

Stylistically, the designs of the 1840s were not much different from those of the previous decade, but overall they achieved a better balance. The arabesque ornaments frequently used to create frames lent an air of refinement and central vignettes, often appearing on only the front cover, were well proportioned to the whole. The ruled border on both boards became a convention. Minor improvements and a few new cloth grains appeared, but the cloths most associated with the 1840s are the rare striped and patterned cloths, which like the ribbon-embossed before them, existed for only a few years.

By the mid-forties, illustration was widely used in books, newspapers and magazines. Particularly in America, the public was growing discontented with the use of interchangeable ornaments on their books. They wanted the images inside their books to move to the outside, and publishers and binders recognized the selling power of pictorial images. Binders began to order dies for specific books from engravers, who often adapted illustrations from the text. Book covers were brought to life with gilt scenes of domestic life, public figures, animals, and landscapes.

Trees, urns, cornucopia, wreaths and hands are among the commonly used ornaments of the 1840s.


Mary Robson Hughes. The Ivy Wreath. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1849.

This celebration of “The Swamp Fox”, General Marion, was one in a series of Nafis & Cornish biographies of Revolutionary War heroes. The spine decoration and blind stamping on the boards is carries through the series while the book cloth and gilt central figure vary. Manuals on etiquette were also common in the period.