Bookbinding and Subject

After collecting my data, I realized that the binding of books is heavily dependent on the book’s subject. Once publishers began to see bindings as a way to market and brand their books, the relationship between a particular style of binding and book subject became more important and thus subject began to play a huge role in publisher’s decisions. The connection between binding and subject is overlooked in bookbinding scholarship and children’s literature scholarship. While Foot, in The History of Bookbinding as a Mirror of Society,  does point out that “it was not until the eighteenth century that binding and tool design were more regularly devised to reflect the literary content of the book within,” there is no mention of this connection in regards to children’s literature (67). Within the subject of children’s literature, there are various subjects that determine the different purposes of the text. The subjects of the books I studied were: entertainment, religion, morals, patriotism, and education; these are only some of the subjects of children’s books and they create distinctions and specifications within children’s literature. The most prevalent subject in the one hundred and two bindings I looked at was entertainment with sixty-nine books, followed by fourteen religious, nine moral, seven educational, and four patriotic books. The images seen across the different subjects reflect their particular subject in different ways.


The entertainment subject reflects, for the most part, images of children in its bindings in order to appeal to the likes of the child audience. Out of the sixty-nine entertainment books, forty-nine of them had images of children on their front cover. The use of children in the front cover alludes to the entertaining nature of the book and it establishes the audience of the subject. For example, in The Little Drummer (1880), which centers around an entertaining tale about a war drummer, has the image of a woman reading to two children is printed onto the cover which visually represents the concept of the double transaction; this binding is particularly interesting because it is very meta in terms of depicting the situation in which the book would be read. rThe Little Drummer (1880) is a paper binding with an image on the cover, the paper binding makes it easy for the image to be printed in color and with detail. The size of this book is also big enough for an adult to carry while also being small enough for a child making it physically accessible to both audiences which further enhances the double transaction in terms of the size of books. Through presenting relatable and realistic images, the books are able to appeal to a larger audience who, when looking at the bindings, can see themselves and buy the book. Entertaining books prove to also be a family affair through the image in the binding of The Little Drummer (1880) which presents a visual of the double audience of children’s literature. The inclusion of a woman on the binding appeals to the adult audience while the inclusion of the children appeals to the child audience; this makes a binding incredibly efficient and blunt in its presentation of its audience.

ABC of the war.jpeg Our Glorious Heritage.jpeg

There are also books that are in-between subjects such as The Child's ABC of the War (1914), published in London, which unites the subject of patriotism and education. The binding of this book is really interesting because of the image it uses of children standing next to a British soldier which alludes to pro-war propaganda within children’s books; the publishing location also points to the type of pro-war propaganda within the book which is, in this case, British. I also find it particularly interesting how this book used current events in order to teach children the alphabet albeit in the context of war terms especially since the publishing date of this book is 1914, which aligns with the start of World War I. The unison of the patriotic and educational subject appeals to the parent because they can teach their children about history and the alphabet at the same time; this also appeals to the child because the words that are being used to teach the alphabet are words that are being used a lot during that time. The World War I era is an interesting one to look at in terms of subject conventions as is evident through books like The Child’s ABC of the War (1914) which uses the alphabet as a way to promote the war and to praise the soldiers fighting for their country; one example of this is the letter K being taught to stand for “Kitchener, Lord of Khartum, Planner of Vengeance, Schemer of Doom.” The use of nationalistic propaganda aimed towards children during this time was predominantly British, with three out of the four patriotic books I studied being from England, which makes sense considering that the United States entered World War I much later than England did. I talked about this in my previous sections but we are continuing to see the importance of location in terms of bookbinding and the subject of the books. 

The patriotic books I studied all centered around war which makes sense considering that the time period I researched had several wars. The book ​​Our Glorious Heritage (1914) is a patriotic book that was published in London at the beginning of World War I. One of the main conventions of the patriotic bindings are soldiers and Our Glorious Heritage (1914) is no different; the binding of this book presents a soldier holding the British flag which appeals directly to British audiences, something that is corroborated by London being the publishing location. It is interesting to note that there are no children on this cover which makes the cover undertake a more serious tone and makes Our Glorious Heritage (1914) differ from books like The Child’s ABC of the War (1914) which have a lighter tone. The red cloth binding used in Our Glorious Heritage (1914) book also makes it stand out and it alludes to the red color used in the uniforms of the British army. Also, the fact that this book is bound in cloth makes it stand out from the books bound in cheaper materials and establishes it as more valuable than the other patriotic books not bound in cloth. The binding of these patriotic books serves as a way to present the history of the British citizens that did not go into war and the ways in which war propaganda was used on children as well as on adults. 

It was difficult to find scholarly sources on bookbinding in terms of book subjects. The closest scholarly source that I found that talks about bookbinding and subject in tandem is a blog post made by the American Bookbinders Museum titled “Penguin Bindings: A Short Story.” This blog post focuses on the publishing company Penguin and their use of “colors to indicate the subject” of the book. The use of color-coding in bindings became Penguin’s thing for a really long time starting in 1935; however, using bindings as declarers of the subject has been done in more subtle ways long before Penguin as is shown through my research and observations of the bindings in the Shaw Collection. The twentieth century establishes that publishers are using genre and subject in their bindings but scholarship fails to mention that this connection is also happening in children’s literature and it also fails to mention that it has occurred long before the twentieth century. It is then not an innovation to use bindings as a way to present the subject of the text since bindings have long been used that way but, through Penguin’s use of colors, this became much more apparent. I am attempting to make a scholarly intervention in the realms of bookbinding and children’s literature because the books that the American Bookbinders Museum focuses on do not include any within the subject of children’s literature. There is a very defined gap between bookbinding scholarship and children’s literature scholarship that fails to see the way in which bindings and texts work together.