Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Great Unknown Cover Artist 1879-81

 [This was originally posted Friday, October 9, but had a technical problem and had to be reposted.]

The first post on this blog showed the 1881 cover of Mr. Bodley Abroad, a design decades ahead of its time. Here are four more covers that are clearly by the same artist:

The Bodleys on Wheels
by Horace E. Scudder
Houghton, Osgood and Company
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1879
Printed paper wrapped boards and over spine cloth

Aboard The Mavis
by Richard Markham
New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1880
Printed paper wrapped boards and over spine cloth

Brother, Sister and I 
Frontispiece, title page, and other Illustrations by Kate Greenaway
(monogrammed K.G., engraved by John Greenaway, monogrammed J.G.)
several other illustrators and engravers
New York, London and Paris: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.
n.d., ©1881 by O.M. Dunham
Green cloth spine, blank. Paper wrapped boards

Captain John Smith
by Charles Dudley Warner
Henry Holt and Company, 1881
Greenish tan cloth stamped in black, gold
and orangewith design wrapping to spine
and the orange stampingof the front
repeated in blind on the back cover 

Who could possibly have done these? My thoughts keep returning to the painter and stained glass artist John La Farge.  The authority on La Farge has advised me that there are no records of his having done any book covers.  If they are not by his hand, it looks to me like it may have been his influence.  We know that he taught several of the earliest and best  book cover artists--Sarah Wyman Whitman and Alice Cordelia Morse learned from him, and Margaret Armstrong grew up with La Farge as a neighbor and family friend.

To my way of thinking, the lack of evidence that he did book cover commissions does not rule him out.  It was several years later that artists monograms began to appear regularly on covers. La Farge illustrated many books,  knew the publishers and their art directors, and would be a likely artist for a cover commission.

If you have any other notions about who may have done these covers, or any other opinion, please do not hesitate to post a comment. 


[ unfortunately an early comment from BIBLIOMAVEN was deleted in a technical glitch. It had a link to the excellent blog, where there are images of another cover by this artist:

Salmagundi Booktopia:
By far these have become some of my favorite book covers on your site. They look a little pre-Dada to me. To find one of these would be a dream. Thanks for posting them.
January 17, 2010

Sarah Wyman Whitman

Among the first of the artists who transformed commercial binding design, Sarah de St. Prix Wyman Whitman was a hard working visionary who in many ways represented the modern woman. She was a successful portrait painter, had a stained glass workshop, and designed hundreds of books for Houghton, many with simple lettering, like Timothy’s Quest below.

Timothy’s Quest
by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Boston and New York:
Houghton Mifflin and Company,
Cambridge: The Riverside Press, n.d., © 1890
18 x 12
[unsigned, Sarah Wyman Whitman]

Whitman's pictorial designs for better editions were generally decorative stamped forms with Arts and Crafts elements and Art Nouveau motifs. Her distinct use of lettering, floral decoration and hearts was adopted by other designers.

Dorothy Q
by Oliver Wendell Holmes
Illustrated by Howard Pyle
Boston and New York:
Houghton, Mifflin and Company,
Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1893
20.1 x 13.1
[unsigned, Sarah Wyman Whitman]

Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan
by Lafcadio Hearn
Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company,
n.d., ©1894
21 x 13.7
[unsigned, Sarah Wyman Whitman]

 The Country of the Pointed Firs
by Sarah Orne Jewett
Boston and New York:
Houghton, Mifflin and Company,
Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1897
17.5 x 13.2
[unsigned, Sarah Wyman Whitman]

 The Marble Faun
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1899
17.1 x 11.9
[signed SW in a flaming heart on back cover, Sarah Wyman Whitman]

The earliest known binding by SWW is from 1880, a variation of a Rossetti design that was posted here in August, along with some biographical information--see When did we leave the Victorian era?

There are many resources you can view online to see more of  her work and read about her life. Knowing the work of this important artist is essential to understanding the development of American publishers' bindings.

Sarah Whitman bindings at the Boston Public Library
Sarah Whitman in PBO
PBO database: bindings by Sarah Whitman
Sarah Whitman bindings at the University of Rochester
Sarah Wyman Whitman by Betty S. Smith (Harvard Magazine)
Reflections on a Design by Sarah Wyman Whitman by David Gehring, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Francis G. Hutchins' essay on the Sarah Whitman's Lowell window at the First Parish in Brookline, MA

Te comment below was posted January 17, before I had to delete and re-post this article due to a problem with the system.
Rebecca Rego Barry said...
I'm thrilled to see SWW on your blog. Her work is beautiful! Coincidentally, I posted a blog entry about her on the Fine Books Magazine Blog recently after acquiring an edition of Thoreau's Cape Cod designed by her.