Thursday, December 12, 2013


Long a favorite cover, but still an unidentified monogram, Driving by Francis M. Ware (Doubleday, Page, 1903) is among the most elegant books of its time. Published on the eve of obsolescence for the carriage trade, it is a manual for the acquisition, care, and handling of horse-drawn vehicles, from carriage to sleigh, wagon, sulky, runabout, and many more. All the vehicles are pictured and their features described, along with the proper harness, stabling and stalls for your horses.

The monogram appears to be JEHL or something similar.  If you have a clue who this might be, please post a comment.

by Francis M. Ware
Doubleday, Page and Company, 1903
28 x 19 cm

 Monogram on Driving

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Arncliffe Puzzle

One of the  mysteries that was unsolved at the time of our first exhibition of American Decorated Publishers' Bindings 1872-1929 was the artist responsible for the cover of The Arncliffe Puzzle. It has always been one of my favorites, with a hooded figure blending from within to outside a red-orange circle, holding a gold question mark like a sickle in one hand, and its gold dot like a ball in the other.  It is one of the best examples of an artist playing with the picture plane on a book cover, using both color and imagery to achieve the effect.

The author is not identified on the cover, another mystery.  It says "By the author of A Mysterious Disappearance." That one is solved on the title page, where Gordon Holmes is named. But with no designer's monogram and no comparable covers to help, the artist remained unidentified.

The author's identity was not exactly a clear giveaway, despite the title page attribution. Gordon Holmes was a pseudonym used by more than one author. It was shared by Matthew Phipps Shiell (who also wrote as M. P. Shiel) and Louis Tracy. They also collaborated under the name Robert Fraser. A quick search of WorldCat revealed that in later editions the authorship is attributed to Louis Tracy. But the cover artist was not identified.

More recently, in researching the design influences of artists of the period, I acquired a copy of Decorative Design by Joseph Cummings Chase [Wiley 1915]. This cover is illustrated on page 37, and the design attributed to J.C.C.

  Joseph Cummings Chase
The Arncliffe Puzzle
by Gordon Holmes (Louis Tracy) 
New York: Edward J. Clode, 1906

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Light of Stars and others from R. F. Fenno

I have been looking for a copy of The Light of Stars for years. The title was listed in an ad in another Fenno book, The Tempting of Paul Chester. WorldCat shows only four copies in libraries (LC, Huntington, Ohio State and Bowling Green) and 21 microfilm copies. One finally turned up this month. 

The cover is unsigned and not easy to attribute. The stream flowing out of the woods onto the cover puts it in the category I call "out of the box," in which pictorial elements break a visual barrier established by the artist. Some examples will be in another post. This cover approaches proto-surrealism with a touch of classical illusionism:

The Light of Stars
by Hattie Donovan Bohannon
R.F. Fenno & Company, New York, n.d., ©1909

The closest I have seen to this style of trees, flat and childlike Modernism, is Olive Lothrop Grover's cover for Dana, Estes on The Story Without an End:

 The Story Without an End
by Sarah Austin
Dana Estes, Boston, n.d., ©1899
Cover by Olive Lothrop Grover, with OLG monogram

You can see a very different OLG design in the July 24, 2011 post.

Robert F. Fenno started the company in 1895 in New York City, and the firm published under his name until he retired in 1929.

 The Tempting of Paul Chester
by Alice & Claude Askew
 R.F. Fenno & Company, New York, n.d.,  (after 1909)
Cover signed with an unidentified monogram 

Black Butterflies
 by Berthe St. Luz (K. David)
 R.F. Fenno & Company, New York, 1905
Cover by W. E. B. Starkweather, signed WEBS

The Waters of Edera
by Ouida (Maria Louise Ramé)
  R.F. Fenno & Company, New York, 1900
Florence Pearl Nosworthy, signed FP

Monday, November 11, 2013

New Exhibition Catalog

Pre-publication subscriptions are now available
for the catalog of the exhibition

The focus of the exhibition that you read about in the August 23 post has evolved into a deeper look at covers with Native American themes. Geographically, the covers represent a wide variety of cultures from the Arctic to South America. Stylistically they vary from decorative use of Indian motifs by major designers to pictorial illustrations on children's books.

A few of them are pictured below. For more information about the exhibition, images, and pre-publication discount subscriptions, click here.

by Washington Irving
Putnam, 1897. Two volumes, Tacoma Edition
Cover by Margaret Armstrong
 The Sign of the Prophet
by James Naylor
Saalfield, 1901 

 The Story of Tonty
by Mary Catherwood
McClurg, 1901

  Lords of the Soil
by Lydia Jocelyn and Nathan Cuffee
C.M. Clarke, 1905 

   Wolf: The Memoirs of a Cave-Dweller
by P.B. McCord
B.W. Dodge, 1908
Cover by P.B. McCord

Monday, September 2, 2013

Afloat on the Ohio

A long-time favorite cover is Afloat on the Ohio. Who created it is a mystery. The book is signed CYR on the back cover, but no known book cover designer had that monogram. It is likely their last name--there are and have been several artists named Cyr, and there were many Cyr and St. Cyr families in America at that time.  The name Cyr was well known because of Ellen Cyr, author of the popular series of graded reading books used by many schoolchildren.
     Way & Williams employed some of the best designers, including Bruce Rogers, Maxfield Parrish, J. C. Leyendecker, Frank Hazenplug and Will Bradley. 
If you have any information about who the cover artist might be, please post a comment!

Afloat on the Ohio
by Reuben Gold Thwaites
Way & Williams
Chicago, 1897
[signed CYR, unidentified]

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Exhibition

The current exhibition features three topics: Native American themes, books by women, and book covers by women. Below are a few snapshots of the installation.  Sorry about the flash glare from the clear dust jackets and the cabinets.

The above cabinet includes covers by Frank Hazenplug,
Thomas Watson Ball, George W. Hood and
The Decorative Designers.
Wah-See-Ola (1905) is a scarce private printing with a cover by the
Decorative Designers. The Virginian (1902) cover by Rome K. Richardson.

The Crystal Rood (1914) cover by Frank Hazenplug

This cabinet features Adrian Iorio, Lee Thayer, Sarah Wyman
Whitman, Alice C. Morse, Blanche McManus Mansfield,
and Margaret Armstrong.

Above covers by Margaret Armstrong, the Decorative Designers,
Thomas Watson Ball, and W. W. Denslow.
Shelf includes Amy M. Sacker, Margaret Armstrong, Rudolph Schaeffer,
and Alberta Hall. The left case is Florence Lundborg's cover on Yosemite Legends (1904).
The right case has sampler-style covers by Lee Thayer (1898) and A. Hilgenreiner (1887).

Covers by Bertha Stuart, Alice C. Morse.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Now Available in Paperback

The Art of American Book Covers 1875-1930 is now available in paperback from George Braziller, with the same high quality paper and printing as the two sold-out hardcover editions. This is a Smyth-sewn paperback—the same sewing used in the cloth editions, so it will open flat and not fall apart. 
     Inside the cover this is exactly the same book that was the recipient of the 2011 Worldwide Books Award for Publications from the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA)

Click the cover to see the details on or read about the book and download sample pages at

Thursday, August 1, 2013

An Earlier Incarnation of a Prendergast

Our July 26, 2011 post featured two covers by Maurice Brazil Prendergast, both published by L. C. Page.  One is an 1898 edition of Friendship and Folly by M. L. Pool. Thanks to research by John Lehner, we now have an earlier incarnation of this design, in dark green and gold, issued three years earlier by the Joseph Knight Company as the cover of Nathan Dole's On the Point.
     Louis Coues Page evidently acquired the stamping dies for the artwork when he bought  Knight in 1896. For the later title the design is colorized. Whether Prendergast had any input on the selection of colors is not known.
     Was the 1901 cover for Muriella also taken from an earlier Knight use that we have not yet seen?  Please take a look at the original post and if you have seen another edition that uses that artwork, please post a comment.

Maurice B. Prendergast
On the Point
by Nathan Haskell Dole
Joseph Knight Company, Boston, 1895

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ball Covers Identified by Lee Thayer

In 1970 Charles Gullans and John Espey conducted two interviews with Emma Redington Lee Thayer (1874–1973), co-founder (with Henry Thayer) of Decorative Designers, the New York firm that created thousands of book cover designs. The firm was started about 1895 by Henry, Emma joined him the following year, they married in 1909, were divorced in 1932 and DD closed. In 1919 Lee Thayer, as she then called herself, published her first mystery novel, which was followed by another 60, the last issued in 1966.

The interviews were conducted May 2 and July 21, and mostly provided attributions for which DD artists created various designs, in preparation for a DD exhibition that Gullans and Espey were organizing at UCLA. But near the beginning of the second interview Lee Thayer started talking about "Robert Ball," whom she recalled being at Harper's for a short time beginning in the mid-1890s. Gullans corrected her that it was Thomas Watson Ball, and referred to the Ball portfolio of 41 designs that had recently sold at the Swann Gallery in New York (see the May 24 2010 post for more on the portfolio). 

Lee credited Ball with the sudden change in quality of cover designs at Harper, and identified a few of the Harper covers that Gullans had thought might be unsigned DD designs as Ball's work. Ball worked as an "Art Editor" (now that might be called "Art Director") for Harper from 1894-1900. 

One  was The Booming of Acre Hill by John Kendrick Bangs (1900). The creative use of paneling for the tails of the lower case g is very Ballesque, and the letterform of the g is similar to that on other Ball designs, such as Light Freights. What is particularly useful about this attribution is that there is a landscape line drawing at the bottom of the cover, which helps stylistically in the identification of other unsigned covers we think might be by TWB.

Another is Abner Daniel by Will N. Harben. Thayer said "I'll betcha that's Robert Ball's." She kept calling him Robert, even after Gullans had corrected her.  It was published in 1902, and though Ball ended his employment at Harper in 1900, he may have continued to do freelance work for them. The lettering does have similarity to other Balls, and panelization was a characteristic of his work, though others copied that style.

 Although she kept calling him "Robert," Lee Thayer may have known Thomas Watson Ball quite well. I had noticed that many DD designs were so much like Ball's that if they had not had the DD logo they might be attributed to TWB. It seemed likely that he would have worked with Henry and Emma for several years in his role at Harper's, perhaps sketching designs for them to execute. And when Ball was freelancing, he might have done some work for DD, who had enormous output at that time.

A breakthrough came via one sentence in Ball's previously unpublished memoir, which was sent to me by his granddaughter while the exhibition catalog was in preparation. In describing the Greenwich Village neighborhood where he lived as a young man, he mentions a house on the corner of Bleecker Street, writes about the family who lived there and his interactions with them about 1890 (a time when the country went into an economic recession). He continues,
"At that time, owing to a greatly diminished income, the Cairns were compelled to rent some of the rooms in their large house. Their first paying guest was an elderly Scotch clergyman and his daughter. They also had a Miss Lee, a Southern girl who afterwards married Henry W. Thayer, a well known designer who I knew intimately when I was an art editor with the Harpers."
Emma Lee was not actually a "Southern girl." She was born in Pennsylvania. Her parents, Edgar and Jane (Pomeroy) Lee were from Birmingham, Alabama, where their first three children were born, but they moved to Bradford, PA before Emma's birth (genealogy). In New York City she studied art at Cooper Union and Pratt Institute.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Walter King Stone

The Fifth Exhibition of American Decorated Publishers' Bindings from the golden age is now up in the gallery, and it includes some scarce and beautiful cover art. One of my favorites is the wraparound Art Nouveau fantasy village on Poems for Travelers. It is in the limp cloth format, stamped in bright and matte gold.

Poems For Travelers
Edited by Mary R. J. Du Bois
New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1908
[Cover art by Walter King Stone, signed S]

At first it did not appear to have a monogram. Then I noticed a squiggle in a stone in the wall on the back cover.  I sent it to John Lehner to see if it looked familiar. He wrote back, "I am convinced you have found another monogram for Walter King Stone." Of course! Stone was a master at obscuring his initials, and it was a nice twist to disguise it as a stone.

John was the first to decipher the WKS monogram on The Log of the Sun (Holt, 1906). This was in our First Exhibition in 2004, and you may know it from The Art of American Book Covers 1875-1930, which is now out of print in hardcover (none in the publisher's warehouse, though some copies may be available in bookstores or online).  It will be available as a paperback in September.

 The Log of the Sun
by C. William Beebe, Illustrated by Walter King Stone
New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1906
[Cover art by Walter King Stone, signed WKS]

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Two More Balls

These arrived after the exhibition catalog was printed, so you might want to print this page on acid-free paper and slip it into your copy as an addendum.

The Carved Cupboard
by Amy Le Feuvre
Dodd, Mead and Company, New York, 1899
[Cover by Thomas Watson Ball?]
There is a question mark at the end of the attribution for the same reason that convention is followed in the catalog--this design is not in the Ball portfolio, is unsigned, and we have not seen a reference to Ball in a publisher's advertisement. This design looks like none of the confirmed Ball covers, so why do we attribute it to him?  

First, the lettering style is very much like several Ball covers of this period (see catalog pp. 20-23), and we know he did work for Dodd that year (catalog p. 63). More significantly, though this is the only cover of his we have yet seen that is an intricate work of Gothic design, we know that he was a master of the form from his work as a church decorator (catalog pp. 8, 15). 

Rubáiyát of Doc Sifers
by James Whitcomb Riley
The Century Co., New York, 1897
[Cover by Thomas Watson Ball?]

An apparently simple but in fact elaborate production, with stamping in gray, blue gray, light blue, dark purple, off-white and gold. We have no other covers by T. W. Ball from The Century Co., yet this one exhibits so many Ball traits we have to give it a high probability of attribution. The double border panel is on many of his designs, along with the use of a silhouette pictorial (catalog p. 27), the familiar landscape style (catalog. p. 24) and clouds (p. 30), with the overall composition being similar to The Voyage of the Rattletrap (Harper, 1897).

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ball Book Now Available

Thank you subscribers for your patience the last eight months. I have not been posting here while writing, photographing, printing, binding and shipping The Book Cover Art of Thomas Watson Ball. Glad to report that all pre-publication subscriptions have been delivered. Below are images of the Deluxe and Limited editions:

 Above: The Limited Edition

Above: The Deluxe Edition
"It is a beautifully written and wholly terrific thing. The story of Ball's life and work, both as told in Minsky's words and in his own memoir, is fascinating. It is also a classic tale of a designer struggling to maintain his own aesthetic standards in the cruel world of business."
Ina Saltz
Chair, Art Department
City College of New York
Author, Typography Essentials
 All the Balls you have seen on this blog are in the book, and many more--there are 88 designs + variants in the exhibition, and the book includes the five known Ball designs that are not in this collection. Check it out here.