Publishers’ Bindings through the Decades:


Selections from the poetical works of Robert Browning
(T.Y. Crowell & Co., 1872)

Postwar prosperity in major publishing cities such as New York and Boston brought the return of bright colors to book bindings, as well as more elaborate ornamentation. With the introduction of black stamping, many book covers of the 1870s featured black and gold together. Asymmetrical designs, often with exotic abstract motifs, were common. English architect Charles Eastlake had a great impact on American book design as well. Best known for its use in furiniture and architecture, the Eastlake style was characterized by fine lines, strong diagonals, and heavy leaf floral ornament.

Popular literature of the time featured coming-of-age stories, animals, travelogues, and realistic novels depicting life and nature in America. Important books included Anna Sewell's Black Beauty and Henry James’s The American and Daisy Miller. Mark Twain was prolific during this decade, publishing Roughing It, The Gilded Age, Sketches New and Old, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.


Mark Twain's Sketches
New and Old
(American Publishing Co., 1875)

Although many of Twain’s stories emphasized the wild frontier, the Great Plains had become saturated with settlers. Many of the migrants were restless Civil War veterans who sought to become cowboys in the booming cattle industry. Fearing that the wilderness would disappear entirely, the government aimed to preserve some of it by creating Yellowstone National Park. However, the government failed to preserve Indian land when miners flooded the Black Hills of South Dakota seeking gold.

The Native American lifestyle was dwindling as well, partly because hunters such as "Buffalo Bill" Cody were erasing their main source of livelihood–the buffalo. Through the Great Sioux War, Native Americans attempted to salvage their way of life. Although the Native Americans enjoyed victory over Gen. George Custer and his Seventh Cavalry at Little Bighorn, chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse eventually surrendered. Sioux land in South Dakota shrank from 134 million acres to 15 million acres, and the remaining tribes were forced to live on reservations.

In the east, the Industrial Revolution was beginning with a flurry of invention. The Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia introduced a number of items to the American public, including the refrigerated boxcar, the typewriter, and the telephone. Thomas Edison figured prominently in the scene of innovations, particularly regarding electricity. Edison perfected the lightbulb and made electricity available for home lighting with the invention of a practical electric lamp. Edison also patented the phonograph in this decade. Progress in a range of industries allowed for numerous new products to make their way into American homes, including the bicycle, margarine, Tabasco hot sauce, Heinz Ketchup, and Ivory Soap.

As the popularity of traveling burlesque shows heightened, the first permanent burlesque theater opened on Broadway. Americans also could enjoy P. T. Barnum's three-ring circus, which traveled the country by rail.

View all books from 1870 -1879 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,

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,

Weisberger, Bernard A., and the editors of Life. Age of Steel and Steem, 1877-1890, vol. 7 in The Life History of the United States. New York: Time Inc., 1963.

Williams, T. Harry, and the editors of Life. The Union Restored, 1861-1876, vol. 6 in The Life History of the United States. New York: Time Inc., 1963.

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