Judging a Book by Its Cover: Gold-Stamped Publishers' Bindings of the 19th Century

December 11, 2017

Feeling nostalgic about 19th-century publishing? Check out this Columbia University Libraries Online Exhibit about just that! The exhibit is called Judging a Book by Its Cover: Gold-Stamped Publishers' Bindings of the 19th Century. It features a wide range of gold-stamped book covers created throughout the years of the technique's heyday. The exhibition site offers this context:

The advent of gold-stamped decoration, circa 1832, was the most important factor in the acceptance of publishers' bindings. Gold stamping brought to the mass-produced book some of the prestige associated with gold-tooled leather bindings of the pre-industrial era. In fact, stamping often imitated the decorative styles and motifs of the hand-finished book. However, gold stamping also developed its own styles and imagery that reflected the period' s taste and culture.

Gold stamping was a favored means of decoration throughout the nineteenth century, but beginning in the last decades, black and color stamping and color lithograph covers gained increasing popularity at its expense. The 1890s did, however, witness a last blaze of glory for the gold-stamped binding, before the twentieth-century triumph of the dust jacket sounded its death knell.

The exhibition not only includes many examples of the gold-stamped books, but places them in the social/cultural context of the times. It's a great resource for book design lovers and history enthusiasts!

Finger-Ring Lore
London: Chatto and Windus, 1877


Communists, Tramps and Detectives
New York: G. W. Carleton, 1878


Sacred Scenes and Characters
New York: J. S. Taylor, 1850


Le Gallienne
The Romance of Zion Chapel, First Edition
 London and New York: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1898


The Red Book of Animal Stories London
New York and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899


Images courtesty of Columbia University Libraries Digital Collections.