de St. Prix Wyman Whitman (1842–1904)
according to Charles Gullans, was among America’s
most important women designers, as well as part of that “new
generation of designers of book covers” whose work
appeared in the early 1890s. Whitman’s work, however,
appeared earlier than most others; her first known work
was from 1884. Whitman's important association
with the publishing firm of Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
is emphasized by the advertisements announcing her
work featured in Publishers’ Weekly from
1887. During this period, Whitman is reputed to have been
the only professional artist—male or female—who
regularly made designs for book covers. In addition to
her prolific work as a book designer, she also designed
for and maintained a stained glass factory in
are known for their restrained style based primarily on Art
Nouveau. Her designs often reflect traditional shapes
and uses of the book. For example, she incorporated simulated “clasps” in
many of her designs (used centuries before to clamp a
book closed) in the decoration. Whitman preferred gold
stamping over multi-colored inks, as well as lighter and
more brightly colored bookcloths. She
is best known for her ornamental rather than illustrative designs, and she
decorations that complimented the flat book cover. She was one of the first
to carry a design around the cover from the back to the spine and front. For
an example of this, please see pba00745, The
Marble Faun by
Nathaniel Hawthorne. (Houghton Mifflin, 1899).
1893, many of Whitman’s designs carried her monogram.
For an example see pbw00157, The Queen’s
Twin and Other Stories (Houghton, Mifflin & Co.,
1899). When unsigned, Whitman’s designs can often be identified by the
presence of her innovative, distinctive lettering style, a “rustic sans
serif” featuring a strongly curved E, and a serif across the apex of
the A, see pbw00227, Country By-Ways by Sarah Orne Jewett (Houghton,
Mifflin & Co.,
1894). Whitman also used “high-waisted” letter forms, as can be
seen in pbw00165,
and Wayfarers (Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1890).
here to read "Reflections
on a Design by Sarah Wyman Whitman," an essay by David Gehring,
University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Monogram: SW enclosed in
a heart, often with a flame emanating from the top; SW
in a stylized onion topped by a conjoined rectangle.
here to search the PBO database for bindings designed
by Sarah Whitman.
Sources: Brander Matthews,
Bookbindings Old and New (1895; reprint, Garland Publishing,
Inc., 1990); Sue Allen and Charles Gullans, Decorated Cloth in America (1994);
Charles Gullans and John Espey, “American Trade Bindings and Their Designers,
1880–1915” (1979); Nancy Finlay, Artists of the Book in Boston,
to Designers Index