Publishers Bindings through
The Odd-fellows' Offering for 1852
(E. Walker, 1852)
Ornamentation of book bindings reached
new heights in the 1850s. Red became a popular
cloth color, although elaborate and lavish gold-stamped
designs covered much of the material. Binders began
large pictures, often specific to the topic of
the book. The books commonly were decorated on
both the front and the back covers. Americans
enjoyed giving these works of art as gifts. In
was during this period that gift books or annuals–meant
to be displayed on a table so that their covers
could be admired–became prevalent.
The opulence of book bindings matched the prosperity
that continued in the West. Gold prospectors began
doubling back from California to explore other
western territories, discovering the precious metal
Peak in Colorado and Comstock
Lode in Nevada. Gold rushes hastened development
of those territories, effectively closing the mines
of California and drawing novices who wanted to
escape economic depression in the east. New roads
and railroads aided the westward movement, as did
the new stagecoach lines.
Christmas Blossoms, and New Year's
Wreath, for MDCCCLI
(Phillips & Sampson, 1851)
Meanwhile, debates over slavery reached a boiling point in the east. The Compromise of 1850 included bills bringing New Mexico into the Union as a slave state and imposing a penalty on anyone who failed to turn in escaped slaves. The Supreme Court ruled that because he was black, Dred Scott was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue for his freedom. Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, providing for popular decision on slavery in that territory. A fraudulent election resulted in a dual government, and the violence that followed earned the territory the nickname "Bloody Kansas." Also during this decade, former slave Sojourner Truth made her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at a woman’s rights rally, and abolitionist John Brown raided the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry as part of his effort to establish a colony for runaway slaves.
Literature reflected the atmosphere of the time.
Many of the important books during the 1850s dealt
with slavery, including Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle
Tom’s Cabin and Frederick Douglass’s My
Bondage and My Freedom. Several other
works of the decade still are read today, such
as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The
Scarlet Letter, Herman Melville’s Moby
Dick, Walt Whitman’s Leaves
of Grass, and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.
Important periodicals that began during this decade
include the New
York Times, Harper’s
Weekly, and Atlantic
Minstrel shows continued their popularity, and
intensified antislavery sentiment through their
racist portrayal of blacks. Songs such as "My
Old Kentucky Home" reflected the southern
way of life, while tunes including "Yellow
Rose of Texas" exhibited fondness for
the new American West.
all books from 1850-1859 in PBO database
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Allen, Sue. Decorated Cloth
in America: Publisher’s Bindings, 1840-1910. Los
Angeles: UCLA, Center for 17th-
and 18th-Century Studies, William Andrews Clark Memorial
American Cultural History, Kingwood College, http://kclibrary.nhmccd.edu/19thcentury1850.htm.
American Studies: Literature
On-line Textbook, http://www.auroraweb.com/america/timeline_files/1850.htm.
Coit, Margaret L., and the
editors of Life. The Union Sundered, 1849-1865,
vol. 5 in The Life History of the United States.
New York: Time Inc., 1963.
Diehl, Edith. Bookbinding:
Its Background and Technique. New York: Dover, 1980.
Lehmann-Haupt, Hellmut, ed. Bookbinding in America. Portland, ME:
Museum of Westward Expansion,
National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/jeff/1850_1860.html.