Margaret Neilson Armstrong
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
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. Armstrong 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
of Virginia by Hallie Rives (The Bobbs-Merrill
From 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.
New Pacific (Bancroft Co., 1900), attributed to Armstrong by
Monogram: MA, slightly overlapped,
with wedge serifs, set in a straight line or with the A
lower than the M.
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
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).
to Designers Index