& Gold: The Art of Metal Stamping
Anthologie aus den Werken Jean Paul’s (1829)
Gold tooling on spine only
The application and adornment
of metal ornamentation on book bindings has long been
to make books more opulent.
Gold tooling first was used in Persia as early as 1339,
and it first appeared in England in 1519. Colonists brought
the trade with them to America. Prominent Boston bookbinders
Edmund Ranger and John Ratcliffe – and
probably others – decorated their bindings with gold
tooling in the 17th century.
The use of gold on American book
bindings became more widespread after the Revolutionary
War. Gold ornamentation
became progressively more ornate.
Prior to the 1830s, binders applied gold decoration by
hand. The process included making a blind impression in
leather, brushing an adhesive egg-white glair into the
impression, applying gold leaf with heat, and wiping off
the excess. Developments in the early 19th century inspired
some modification, but the process remains essentially
the same to this day.
The Book of Pearls (1849)
Gift book with gold stamping
on front, back, and spine
As railroads spread across the country
and the public enjoyed more leisure time and expendable
income, books became a popular commodity among American
households. Cloth bindings were a more affordable alternative
to the leather bindings that had been used for centuries.
However, these first cloth bindings would not hold impressions
or gold leaf. In 1832, special cloth
available that binders could use in the same way they
had used leather.
At the same time, a mechanical press
was developed that enabled binders to apply greater
force than they could by hand and allowed
them to easily replicate the same design on multiple copies
of a single title. American manufacturers produced
presses by 1838.
Aunt Patty’s Scrap Bag (1872)
Gold stamping combined with black stamping
Gold stamping thus became the choice technique
for decoration due to efficiency and ease. The practice
also was an ideal
marketing tool for publishers and binders alike, adding
to mass-produced books a touch of luxury and an element
The designs changed with the times and
trends. The decoration used in the 1820s and 1830s was
very simple, usually
consisting only of the book’s title stamped on the
spine. At mid-century, when gold was more readily available
and publishers’ bindings became more popular, the
gold-stamped designs often were rich and elaborate. In
the decades to follow, binders began to use gold mainly
as a complement to other methods of binding decoration,
such as black and color stamping and printing.
Samantha at the World’s Fair (1893)
White metal stamping
In the 1880s and
1890s, the popularity of ‘silver’ stamping
grew. Silver leaf had been used in tooling as early as
the 15th century, but binders found that pure silver eventually
would tarnish to black. Binders abandoned silver stamping
altogether in the 1850s.
Aethelburga (ca. 1908);
Gold used with a variety of
However, by the 1880s, the look
of silver stamping could be achieved by using a mixture
of palladium and aluminum, which would not tarnish. Stamping
with such substitute materials – called white metal
stamping – became common.
The 1890s also saw the
increased use of gold foil, a brass-gold alloy that binders
found to be more economical than pure gold leaf while
still providing an opulent look.
Toward the turn of the century, cloth bindings started
to fall out of fashion in favor of paper bindings and printed
dust jackets. However, the spectacular gold-stamped bindings
of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are clear evidence
that, at least for some, the art of gold stamping did not
lose its luster.
Search the PBO database for gold stamping
the PBO database for silver/white metal stamping
Allen, Sue and Charles Gullans. Decorated Cloth in America.
Los Angeles: UCLA Center for
17th- and 18th-Century Studies, 1994.
“Decorative Publisher’s Bindings:
Ohio Imprints and Authors.” Cleveland Public Library.
Diehl, Edith. Bookbinding: Its Background
New York: Dover, 1980.
“‘Eureka! There’s Gold in Them Thar
Books’: Gold Stamping on 19th-Century American Cloth
Bindings.” University of Virginia. www.virginia.edu/oldbooks/exhibitions/eureka.pdf.
Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction
to Bibliography. New
Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1995.
Greenfield, Jane. ABC of Bookbinding:
A Unique Glossary with Over 700 Illustrations for
Collectors & Librarians. New Castle, DE : Oak Knoll Press, 2002.
“Judging a Book by Its Cover: Gold-Stamped
Publishers' Bindings of the 19th Century.”
Columbia University. www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/eresources/exhibitions/gilded.
Lehmann-Haupt, Hellmut, ed. Bookbinding
in America. Portland, ME: Southworth-Anthoensen,
“Library displays book covers in ‘Gleaming
Gold, Shining Silver.’” Yale University.