Silver & Gold: The Art of Metal Stamping

Hand tooling in gold was a common method for decorating and labeling leather-bound books before the era of publishers’ bindings. Around 1834, when cloth bindings began to come into use, stamping was often used as the choice technique for decoration due to efficiency and ease.

Gold stamping first appeared on bindings in England in 1832 and quickly spread to the United States, where it enjoyed great popularity. First used in the United States around 1838, the mechanical embossing press, which applied the gold to the cloth, made the process relatively quick and easy to replicate a single title or design on multiple copies of one title. The method, which is essentially the same as that used today, consisted of a few simple steps: “glairing the back, laying on the gold, assembling brass type in the finisher’s pallet, heating the type at the finisher’s stove, impressing the letters onto the gold by the force of the finisher’s arm, and wiping off the surplus gold with a rag” (Lehmann-Haupt 174).

The Book of Pearls (D. Appleton & Co., 1849)
Gift book with gold stamping
on front, back, and spine

Gold stamping was an ideal marketing tool for publishers and binders alike. It added to the mass-produced books a touch of luxury and an element of beauty. The designs changed with the times and trends. They began very simply in the 1820s and 1830s, usually only stamping the title of the book on the spine

Through the 1850s and 1860s, after gold was more readily available and publishers’ bindings became more popular, the gold-stamped designs were often rich and elaborate. In the decades to follow, other methods of binding decoration, such as black and color stamping and printing overtook gold stamping as the preferred method of decoration.

Crest on the Wave

In the 1880s and 1890s, the popularity of ‘silver’ stamping rose as gold stamping became less fashionable. The ‘silver’ stamping was not authentic silver; rather, EDIT ME LATER. GET SOME INFO, AND WRITE SOMETHING – PREFERABLY SOMETHING ACCURATE AND FACTUAL.

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 final decades of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century are clear evidence that, at least for some, the art of gold stamping did not lose its luster.

Allen, Sue and Charles Gullans. Decorated Cloth in America. Los Angeles: UCLA Center for
17th- and 18th-Century Studies, 1994.

Diehl, Edith. Bookbinding: Its Background and Technique. New York: Dover, 1980.

Lehmann-Haupt, Hellmut, ed. Bookbinding in America. Portland, ME: Southworth-Anthoensen,


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