In England, ornate, heavily gilt gift books remained popular throughout much of this decade. However, as the years passed, the overall application of gold gradually declined, particularly on spines, which became plainer. The cost of using gold, which required laying on by hand, became higher and higher as wages rose and working hours shortened in the second half of the century. "Dutch gold", an alloy of copper and zinc hammered into thin sheets, was sometimes used in place of the real thing and can be recognized by its oxidation to green or red.

Beginning in the 1850s, perhaps in an effort to introduce more color or to imitate traditional leather bindings, paper (and sometimes cloth) onlays were applied, usually to recessed and shaped covers. Chromolithograph cut outs and occasionally photographs were also pasted on to covers. The trend of using recessed covers that began in the fifties continued, often resulting in heavy books. A new wave of very tactile cloths had come on the market in the late 1850s, adding wavy grain, bead or bubble, dot and line, sand, and herringbone grains to those still in use.

By the second half of the decade, some publishers had reacted to the complexity of design by adopting comparatively stark designs on dark cloths. Increasingly, central vignettes or ornaments were enclosed in some sort of frame. Sometimes a book's title, or a golden facsimile of the author's signature was the central ornament.

In America, the strain of the Civil War was evident in the rather somber covers. While plain ruled borders remained in place, cornerpieces and arabesque frames began to disappear. Pictorial vignettes often took on martial and patriotic themes and pulled back toward the center of the cover. The viewer's focus was very much drawn into the center of the front board, and by extension, into the book itself.


Joseph Barber. War Letters of a Disbanded Volunteer. New York: Frederic A. Brady, 1864.