Gleaming Gold, Shining Silver: 19th-century Book Covers from the Collection of Leonard and Lisa Baskin

Friday, July 26, 2002 to Saturday, October 12, 2002

The skills of 19th- and early 20th-century bookbinders, designers, engravers, and artists are showcased in this exhibition of more than 200 illustrated and decorated book covers from the period 1830 to about 1910. The volumes were selected from a collection of over 800 British and American titles amassed by Leonard and Lisa Baskin and acquired by the Beinecke Library earlier this year. For the most part, these are popular books; their lively and colorful covers were marketing devices, just as dust jackets are today.

The street-floor case to the south of the building is devoted to production methods, such as the manufacture and dyeing of book cloth, the construction of the book, and methods of stamping and imprinting covers. Included is a choice array of brass stamps from the Yale University Library’s conservation department. Special binding materials and a selection of books with decorative endpapers are also featured.

The long case on the north side of the street floor treats the presentation and distribution of books in the late 19th and early 20th century. Dust jackets were beginning to be issued with books and some are on display, along with the boxes that were sometimes used for additional protection. Contemporary prints depicting books shops are shown side-by-side with the sorts of books that might have been purchased in them.

The cases on the mezzanine are thematically arranged, some devoted to particular subjects (such as travel books), motifs (for instance, butterflies or flowers), styles (the symmetrical designs of the early years or the later swirling Art Nouveau patterns), or special marketing devices (books sold to passengers in the early days of train travel). Others cases feature the work of particular binding designers, prominent among them Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944), one of the most prolific and inventive of book artists.