Publishers’ Bindings through the Decades:

Zigzag Journey in the Sunny South; or, Wonder Tales of Early American History
(Estes and Lauriat, 1887)

Publishers' bindings of the 1880s are what one might consider archetypical 19th-century bindings -- their overall look embodies a Victorian sensibility, characterized by elaborate lettering and the combination of several different components on one book cover. Black and gold were still used in abundance, although stamping in color began as well. Binders also perfected an alloy of aluminum and palladium known as white metal stamping, to mimic silver but avoid its tarnishing tendencies. Some of the earliest bindings designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman appeared during this decade.

Advances in bookbinding mirror the nationwide progress of the 1880s. American society became homogenized as mail-order catalogs combined with the completed national railroad system to make the same products–including regional produce–available across the country. America also became more modern with conveniences that not only improved sanitary conditions, but also the very quality of life. Running water, sewer systems, gas, and electricity permeated major cities.

New York City saw the opening of three of its major landmarks: Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Chicago erected America's first skyscraper, George Eastman patented roll film, and the first electric streetcars transported the masses to and from their jobs in the big cities. Thomas Edison applied for a patent in 1880 to trademark improvements he made to the light bulb.

All Among the Lighthouses
(D. Lothrop Co., 1886)

Vaudeville began to emerge as a cleaner, more family-oriented form of burlesque. Active Americans enjoyed baseball, golf, roller skating, and the newly invented football, and could cool off after a brisk game with newly formulated fountain sodas such as Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper at their local pharmacy.

While America became increasingly urban, the frontier breathed its final gasps. The Oklahoma land rush opened the last major territory to settlers. Cattlemen and farmers took over the last land of the Plains Indians. The capture of Apache Chief Geronimo put an official end to the last major Indian War, and the Dawes Act dissolved Indian tribes as legal entities. The Ghost Dance Cult of the late 1880s represented one last effort to reestablish the Indian way of life but ended with the Wounded Knee Massacre.

To draw attention to the U.S. government's treatment of Native Americans, Helen Hunt Jackson published A Century of Dishonor and Ramona. Mark Twain’s popularity continued with The Prince and the Pauper, Life on the Mississippi, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Children’s books, such as Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy and Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott, were widely read as well. Other important books of the 1880s included Lew Wallace's Ben Hur and Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady.

View all books from 1880-1889 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.

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