Publishers' Bindings: Miscellany

John Feely and John Leighton

The engraver John Feely and the designer John Leighton were both working from roughly 1845 to 1875; Feely in America and Leighton in England. While we cannot be certain of who, if anyone, was directing Feely's engraving, it seems that most of his brasses were cut from his own adaptations of a text's illustrations. Leighton was hired by publishers to design covers, but did not engrave the dies himself. While the actual work they performed was different, both men were responsible for interpreting how to portray a book's content upon its cover. A comparison of their work illuminates the stylistic differences in English and American cover design.

The binding historian Sue Allen has done extensive research on John Feely and the facts that follow are drawn from her work. Feely was born in Ireland around 1820. After working in England for a short time, he emigrated to America in the early 1840s and settled in New York. Many of Feely's covers are signed either "Feely" or his initials "JF" fashioned together as one letter. Ms. Allen has attributed many unsigned covers to Feely based on a characteristic sinuous line he cut as shading or as background (see Dress and Care of the Feet e.g.). Feely's engravings are, for the most part, derived from illustrations within the given text. His adaptations of those drawings, however slight or significant, make his cover engravings particularly evocative of their period. Rather than idealized representations, the people he portrayed possess quite realistic expressions, physical characteristics and attitudes. Their surroundings and personal effects are usually rendered in wonderful detail. Feely's stamps are excellent examples of the forthright style that dominated American pictorial cover design until the rise of the artist-designers at the century's end.

Born in 1822, John Leighton was the great-nephew of Archibald Leighton; many of his relatives were involved in the book trade. Leighton was a gifted artist and active in many fields. He designed cloth and leather bindings, illustrations, title-pages, greeting cards and more. He was an author and lecturer, traveler and book collector. Leighton signed some of his work with his own initials "J L" or those of his pseudonym, Luke Limner. While the bulk of Leighton's work reflects the English predilection for ornament and symbol rather than pictorialism in design work, and he is most associated with gift books of the 1850s-60s, he was quite versatile. The sophistication of both the English book trade and book buying public demanded a different sort of decoration than their American counterparts. John Leighton's work, in its wide range of styles, offers a clear view to Victorian design of the mid-century along with its myriad influences.

The publication date on each of these volumes is 1857, but the pink copy has an advertising insert for the Phrenological Journal & Life Illustrated for 1865. At first glance, the engravings on these two copies appear to be the same. However, when comparing the two images, particularly the faces, one can immediately see significant differences between the two cuts. The pink copy is signed "Feely" and the blue, "JF". The back board of the blue book is a repeat of the front in blind while the pink has only the blind frame.


T. Robinson Warren. Shooting, Boating and Fishing. 
New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1871.

John Leighton

The publisher's insert for "Christmas Presents and Gift Books" describes this volume as "including much matter not included in previous editions, printed in a new type, and illustrated with engravings from designs by Birket Foster. Foolscap, 8vo., cloth, emblematically gilt, plain edges, 4s. 6d. The same edition, cloth extra, gilt edges, 5s." This "emblematically gilt" version was bound in morocco grain cloth by Leighton, Son & Hodge.

Robert Southey. The Poetical Works and Remains of Henry Kirke White. London: George Routledge & Co., 1852.

Thomas Watson Ball