Margaret Neilson Armstrong (1867–1944)

Margaret Armstrong monogramArmstrong was among a number of important woman cover designers, beginning her work in the late 1880s. She began her career at A.C. McClurg and then went on to other publishers, primarily Scribner’s, for whom she designed half of her total output of about 270 books. She also specialized in designing many of the works of a few authors including Myrtle Reed, Henry Van Dyke, Paul Bourget, and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Her interest in nature was often reflected in her cover designs, and she specialized in plant, vine, and flower themes. Margaret Armstrong monogramArmstrong utilized bold and strikingly colored inks and bookcloths, and often designated that gold-stamped areas be both glossy and matte to heighten the effect and create interest. Her use of slightly asymmetrical designs, however, set hers apart from both many of her contemporaries and the prevailing style based on art nouveau or Jugendstil. Over the years, Armstrong’s lettering style moved progressively toward thicker stems and heavier wedge serifs. For an example, see pba00095, The Valiants of Virginia by Hallie Rives (The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1912), unsigned.

Margaret Armstrong monogramFrom 1913 on, Armstrong took on fewer commissions in order to concentrate on her own drawings and writings. Her designs for particular authors proved so successful, however, that publishers, particularly Scribner’s, engaged “imitators” to ensure that books retained her distinctive look. Gullans noted that before 1895, Armstrong “never signed a binding, and not always after that.” An example of an unsigned design by Armstrong created after 1895 is Hubert H. Bancroft's The New Pacific (Bancroft Co., 1900), attributed to Armstrong by Gullans (1968).

Monogram: MA, slightly overlapped, with wedge serifs, set in a straight line or with the A lower than the M.

Click here to search the PBO database for bindings designed by Margaret Armstrong.

Sources: Brander Matthews, Bookbindings old and new (1895; reprint, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990); Charles Gullans, A Checklist of Trade Bindings Designed by Margaret Armstrong (1968); Charles Gullans and John Espey, “American Trade Bindings and Their Designers, 1880–1915” (1979); Nancy Finlay, Artists of the Book in Boston, 1890–1910 (1985).

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