Publishers’ Bindings through the Decades:


The life of General Francis Marion
(Joseph Allen, 1828)

In the early 19th century, publishers generally issued their books in paper casings. Buyers often would commission professional binders to bind the books in styles that suited their private collections. These binders usually worked on each book individually, covering the book by hand in leather. However, this process was involved, time-consuming, and the cost prohibitive for many people. Books up to this point were largely only in the homes of the very wealthy.

Responding to ever-growing literate public, publishers responded to the needs of the masses by mechanizing the binding process and issuing books encased in cloth. These bindings, which first appeared in the United States in the early 1830s, were far less expensive than leather, more durable than paper, and able to be done en masse by machine rather than individually by hand, as they previously had been bound.

In the years directly preceding the era of American cloth bindings, publishers issued some books bound in leather and paper that were meant for the masses. As literacy was more widespread, the public continued to seek out books of all kinds for home use. Consequently, publishers began eradicating the need for independent bookbinders by taking on the binding step themselves. These books, published from 1815 to 1829, represent the conception and formative years of the mass-marketed publishers' bindings.

The poems of William Cullen Bryant were among the works the American public consumed in the 1810s. Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" first was published in 1819; his "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" followed in 1820. James Fenimore Cooper was a prolific novelist of the 1820s, publishing Precaution (1820), The Spy (1821), Tales for Fifteen (1823), The Pilot (1823), The Pioneers (1823), Lionel Lincoln, or The Leaguer of Boston (1825), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Prairie (1827), The Red Rover (1828), and The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish (1829). Noah Webster published his 20-year project, American Dictionary of the English Language, in 1828.


Memoirs of Andrew Jackson
(S. Andrus, 1819)

As the publishers' binding era began, the Constitution was but twenty-five years old. The War of 1812 had just ended (in 1815), and America was growing as a country. Between 1816 and 1829, the nation gained six new states. In addition, Arkansas organized as a territory, the United States took control of Florida, and the first American settlers moved into Texas. Government was in constant flux as well. The death of the Federalist Party in 1817 ushered in the one-party "Era of Good Feeling," but the era did not last. Controversy over the presidential election of 1824, which Congress gave to John Quincy Adams, led supporters of Andrew Jackson to form the Democratic Party. Bolstered by the new party, Jackson soundly defeated Adams in 1828.

The venue for most entertainment was the home, where people enjoyed playing games and singing around the piano. Those who ventured out enjoyed operas, dancing the minuet, and began dining at America's first modern restaurants.


View all books from 1815-1829 in PBO database

Decades Gallery Home | 1815-29 | 1830-39 | 1840-49 | 1850-59
1860-69 | 1870-79 | 1880-89 | 1890-99 | 1900-09 | 1910-19 |1920-30



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 Library, 1994.

American Cultural History, Kingwood College, and

American Studies: Literature On-line Textbook, and

Coit, Margaret L., and the editors of Life. Growing Years, 1789-1829, vol. 3 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: Southworth-Anthoensen, 1941.

Museum of Westward Expansion, National Park Service, and

Return to PBO home