Wednesday, July 8, 2015

American Publishers' Bindings on the Books of Amelia E. Barr 1882-1918

Today hardly anybody knows the name Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr, yet a hundred years ago she was among the most prolific and popular women writing in America. If it were not for the decorated bindings on her books I would not have known she existed. Some of the best cover artists were assigned to her works, including Thomas Watson Ball, Alice Cordelia Morse, Evelyn W. Clark, Blanche McManus Mansfield, Amy Richards, William Snelling Hadaway, Harry B. Matthews, Theodore Brown Hapgood and the Decorative Designers.

After seeing her name on so many books, it struck me that searching for her titles might turn up some designs I had not seen before, and it was true! There are about a hundred items in the exhibition, including the complete original manuscript for one of the books, half typewritten and half handwritten.  Perhaps her typewriter broke halfway through?

Here is an unsigned design that I attribute to T. W. Ball, very much in his style of lettering and panelization, from the time he was doing a lot of work for Dodd:

 Thomas Watson Ball
Souls of Passage
by Amelia E. Barr
with illustrations by Emlen McConnell
New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1901

Amelia Barr was born in  England in 1831, she and her husband emigrated to America in 1853, had nine children, six of whom died, the last three of yellow fever in Galveston, along with her husband, in 1867. She and three daughters moved to New York, and she supported the family writing articles, stories and poems for magazines. The first book of hers I've located was published in 1882, an unattributed early post-Victorian design with Eastlake influence in the lettering:

The Young People of Shakespeare's Dramas
by Amelia E. Barr
New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1882

The exhibition includes only editions published during her lifetime.  She died in 1919 two weeks shy of her 88th birthday, having written about 70 books. This covers the period of greatest change in cover art.

Charles Buckles Falls
The Bell of Bowling Green by Amelia E. Barr
Illustrated by Walter H. Everett
New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1908

The unsigned design below on a small format reprint must have been on a large edition, because nice copies of it are plentiful:

 A Border Shepherdess
by Amelia E. Barr
Dodd, Mead and Company, n.d. ©1887
[likely 1895-1900}

Installation photos of this exhibition are now online. You also can subscribe to the catalog, where you also can read more about her and see additional cover images.

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