Publishers’ Bindings through the Decades:


The works of Mrs. Sherwood
(Harper and Brothers, 1834)

As the era of cloth bindings began, most book covers were plain, sometimes with a paper label pasted to the spine. By mid-century, advancements in cloth-making and stamping technology allowed binders to work with cloth covers in the same way they had worked with leather. Binders commonly blind-stamped a design on the front cover and stamped the title of the book in gold in the spine.

According to Allen and Gullans, the first publishers' binding is most often pinpointed as appearing in America in 1831, "when binders first began to case entire collections of books into cloth covers." Books of the 1830s were part of an emerging American culture. Writers and artists eschewed foreign formulas in favor of a distinctive American style. Ralph Waldo Emerson figured prominently into this American Renaissance, birthing the Transcendentalist movement with his book Nature. Edgar Allen Poe also was an important American writer of the time. Works with native themes were popular, particularly stories regarding frontier life and legends (such as Davy Crockett). Crockett, who was killed in the Battle of the Alamo (1836), wrote the Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee in 1834. He also was the basis for the character "Nimrod Wildfire" in James Kirke Paulding's wildly successful 1831 play The Lion of the West.


The Gift
(E.L. Carey & A. Hart, 1839)

Families still enjoyed singing around the family piano. Folk hymns such as "Rock of Ages" were among the popular tunes, as was the patriotic "My Country 'Tis of Thee." The first American ballet dancers made their debut. Other forms of entertainment included touring circus menageries and horse shows. Phrenology, the study of bumps on a person's skull, was the 1830s' greatest fad.

The new culture spread easily throughout the population with the aid of penny newspapers– America's first true mass media. The cheap sheets also provided entertainment with their sensational crime reports and hoaxes. Another type of publication that emerged during this decade was the abolitionist journal, led by William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator. Popular magazines such as Godey's Lady's Book allowed readers learn about the latest fashions.

However, many Americans were more interested in the activities of controversial President Andrew Jackson. Among the key events of the Jacksonian Era were the Nullification Crisis in South Carolina and the economic panic that began with Jackson's refusal to re-charter the Second Bank of the United States. Jackson also encouraged Congress to pass the Indian Removal Act, which resulted in the forced migration of Cherokees from Georgia to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. A political party known as the Whigs organized in response to Jackson’s actions.

View all books from 1830-1839 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,

American Studies: Literature On-line Textbook,

Coit, Margaret L., and the editors of Life. The Sweep Westward, 1829-1849, vol. 4 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,

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