Publishers’ Bindings through the Decades:

(Concordia, 1897)

The 1890s are considered to be the era of the binding designer. Flat, multicolor stamped poster-style covers were common. The work often was signed by the designer, who was usually a professional artist. These designers were often associated with big publishers such as Harper's or Little Brown, and they designed numerous bindings for many well known writers. Some of the best known binding designers were women, such as Margaret Armstrong and Sarah Wyman Whitman.

Stephen Crane was among the most prolific authors of the period. He published his best-known work, The Red Badge of Courage, in 1895. Crane was among many authors who wrote Civil War fiction in this decade. Science fiction emerged thanks to H.G. Wells’s famous books War of the Worlds and The Time Machine. Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes reached American audiences during the 1890s as well.

A rivalry between Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal touched off a nationwide penchant for sensational reporting, dubbed "yellow journalism" after the "Yellow Kid" comic strip that appeared in both New York papers. Francis Church wrote the famous editorial, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," and journalist Nelly Bly bested Jules Vernes's fictional 80-day journey around the world by looping the globe in 72 days. New mass circulation magazines provided a venue for the first national advertising campaigns, continuing the homogenization of American culture.


Camp Fires of the Confederacy
(Courier-Journal Job Printing Company, 1899)

Americans enjoyed more leisure time during this decade, appropriately called the “Gay ‘90s.” Scott Joplin popularized ragtime music. The first public showing of motion pictures occurred, thanks to the work of Thomas Edison. The Ferris wheel's introduction at the 1893 World's Fair ushered in the golden age of amusement parks, the most popular of which was Coney Island. Sports also were popular, including the newly invented basketball. Many Americans got caught up in a bicycle craze. Even women became more involved in sports, and fashions–including bicycle bloomers and swimsuits–adapted to their active lifestyle.

Women were afforded this leisure time in part by new developments that made the job of the housewife easier, such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, condensed soup, and the electric stove. These items were part of a boom of innovations in the 1880s and '90s that caused the commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office to proclaim in 1899 that everything that could be invented had been.

Another government office, the Census Bureau, made a staggering proclamation when it declared the frontier fully settled. The U.S. soon began acquiring territory abroad. Adventurers flocked to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. The Spanish-American War (1898) led to the acquisition of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippine Islands. The Republic of Hawaii also was annexed in this decade.

Search books from 1890-1899

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


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. Reaching for Empire, 1890-1901, vol. 8 in The Life History of the United States. New York: Time Inc., 1963.

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