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he richness of the Macmillan Archive housed in the British Library is complemented by the Archive of Macmillan, which is housed in Basingstoke.1 The voluminous material at the British Library provides fascinating insights into how the company conducted its operations, from its earliest years. An essential point of entry for the detailing of the binding work carried out for Macmillan is the Bibliographical catalogue of Macmillan and Co.’s publications from 1843 to 1889.2 The author and title index at the rear of this work gives the retail price of the title. The Bibliographical Catalogue... is the work of James Foster, who had also written the majority of the entries in Macmillan’s Editions Book. The Macmillan Edition Book lists, in alphabetical title order, the print orders, and the price of each book.3

If, however, information is sought on those aspects of the Macmillan operations concerning the bindings, there is much less evidence in the Macmillan Archive at the British Library. Nor is there much written evidence available at Basingstoke. For generations, the bookbinding company of Burn bound Macmillan publications, and Lionel Darley’s book bears testimony to this long standing relationship.4 It was in 1851 that Burn received the first Macmillan title for binding, an event that owed much to the friendship that had developed between Tom Bain (a nephew of James Frederick Burn) and Daniel and Alexander Macmillan. The effectiveness of Burn in completing Macmillan’s binding in the early years meant that by the mid-1850s, Burn were binding all Macmillan’s titles. Invaluable as Darley’s work is, there is a great deal left unsaid about the binding designs made by Burn for Macmillan in the 1850-1890 period.

Consequently, examination of the book covers and their blocking has to be the principal method for accumulating evidence of what was achieved. Exmples of Burn’s work are available at Basingstoke and in the British Library.6 The work carried out for this article suggests that Burn executed bindings with designs very much in common with those of other binding companies of this period. This was true of both the types of cloth used, and the types of blocking applied.

Earlier developments in the use of cloth as a covering material for edition bindings need to be understood, to place in context the work Burn carried out for Macmillan. The use of cloth over boards in quantity for books had begun in 1825.7 Its use spread rapidly, and a feature of the early years was the absence of any pattern embossed (or grained) onto the cloth. Blocking of the cloth in gold was achieved in 1832.8 The dyes put into the ungrained cloth were often a deep blue, green, black, with red and purple more occasionally. The warp and weft of the original cloth manufacture showed. The plain and rather austere appearance of these cloth covers have their own attraction. These cloths remained in use by binders in England throughout the 1830s.

The plain appearance of book cloth did not outlast the 1830s. Before this, perceptions had changed, and equipment became available which made possible the imprinting of patterns on to cloth. This has come to be called the “graining” of the cloth, or “cloth grain”. This graining was done by the early 1840s “... to hide the bareness and stiff uniformity of the threads in the cloth.”9 The method employed to do this involved the engraving of patterns on to metal cylinders. These were mounted, with the lower cylinder heated, and, as the cloth was passed between them, the engraved pattern on the cylinder imprinted onto the cloth. It was also possible to stamp the cloth (or leather) with a pattern engraved on a flat brass die. This was placed on a platen, and forced downwards onto a heated bed, upon which the cloth had been placed.10 The variety of patterns that could be stamped or imprinted was very varied, and the “grains” that resulted from the processes have been listed.11 Some grains on bookcloth became very common at certain times; others are uncommon, probably indicating a small production.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Burn bound books for Macmillan in conformity with the fashion of the time. This is true both in their use of book cloths, and in their use of decoration blocked onto the boockloth. In the field of imaginative literature, Macmillan published many works in the years 1850-1890. Little Estella and other fairy tales for the young was published in 1860, at a price of five shillings. Burn provided a binding in blue wave diagonal-grain cloth, with the covers having blocking in blind only. The spine has the title and fillets blocked in gold (BL 12808.a.50). For the 1866 edition, Burn used green pebble-grain cloth over the boards, with blocking in gold and in black on the upper cover and on the spine. This was provided for a price of three shillings and sixpence (MA 20). In 1864, Macmillan published John Campbell Shairp’s Kilmahoe. A highland pastoral, and also Georgina Lady Chatterton’s Leonore. A tale: and other poems. Both books have Burn’s tickets on the lower pastedowns. The former has blue dyed cloth, with beaded line diagonal-grain cloth over boards; the letter has brown dyed cloth, with the same grain. Burn was able to obtain a different look for each publication next to no cost, using cloths with different dye colours, but the same graining.

Macmillan also published two books by Mark Lemon in 1864. In May of that year, 4000 copies of The jest book, the choicest anecdotes and savings...were printed, price four shillings and sixpence, with a further 4000 copies printed in June. The binding is of red pebble-grain leather, with three fillets in blind on the borders of each cover. The title is blocked in gold on the second of the six spine panels (MA 129). The Edition Book entry for the Legends of Number Nip records that 1,500 copies were printed in December 1864, at a price of five shillings. Burn’s binding has blue dyed sand-grain cloth, with a single fillet on the upper cover borders, and the words: “Popular edition”, both blocked in black. The upper cover central vignette is blocked in gold, with the title blocked above and below the figure of a small winged satyr (MA 40). Both of these works were printed by Bradbury and Evans, at their premises in Whitefriars.19

The 1858 edition of Plato’s Republic has green bead-grain cloth over boards. Both covers have only blocking in blind of three fillets on the borders of each cover. The spine has the Author, the Title, and the Translators’ names blocked in gold, together with the price of 10/6 blocked at the base. This is unremarkable blocking for the price. A history text published in 1862 was John Ludlow’s A sketch of the history of the United States... 750 copies were printed in March 1862, at a price of eight shillings and sixpence. For the work, Burn made a binding using blue rib vertical-grain cloth over boards which is devoid of decoration on the covers, apart from three fillets blocked in blind on the borders of each cover. The spine is divided into five panels by fillets blocked in blind, with the Title, the Author, the Publisher, and the price being blocked in gold on the spine within the panels. This simplicity of design, and the avoidance of decoration on the covers may have had the commercial advantage of increasing profit for the Publisher. However, other publishers, such as Routledge and Griffith and Farran were providing more decoration on the covers and spines of their works for less than half these prices.20

In all of these examples, Burn’s work is representative of the other binders of the period. The use of commonly available grained cloths, with red, blue and green dyes predominating; the use of minimal decoration — all these features demonstrate that Burn was providing work which in no way prevented successful sales of the books themselves. Burn was also providing much edition binding work for other publishers. Burn carried out work for at least twelve other publishers besides Macmillan in the 1850-1870 period, with a higher number of publishers being likely. 21

Neither Burn nor Macmillan saw problems with the re-use of a design. This is particularly true of the titles of Charles Kingsley. 1500 copies of Kingsley’s Discipline and other sermons were printed in December 1867, and were sold at a price of six shillings. The binding is of purple pebble-grain cloth over boards, with dark green endpapers and pastedowns. Both covers have identical blocking in black on both covers. There are three fillets blocked at the head, at the tail and, in the middle, extending across the spine. The fillets at the head and at the tail are blocked out to the fore-edge. Those blocked on the middle end before the fore-edge, in a shape resembling a decorated clasp. The spine has lettering in gold for the Author, the Title, and the Publisher (MA 95). This design was reproduced for the 1874 edition of Kingsley’s Westminster sermons, price ten shillings and sixpence, with only the title letters being altered.23

In 1890, five separate works of Kingsley’s were bound by Burn in an identical manner. They were: All Saints Day and other sermons; Discipline and other sermons; The Gospel of the Pentateuch (MA 96), or the wonders of the shore (BL 07290.e.60). All have the same red diaper-grain cloth over boards. All are blocked identically, with only the titles being altered on the spines. There are two fillets blocked in blind at the head and at the tail, and these are in gold on the spine. Each lower cover has a centre-piece blocked in blind, which shows the Macmillan monogram, blocked in relief, inside an oval renaissance panel. On the upper covers, the centre-piece is the same oval renaissance panel, blocked as a gold lettering piece. It has the initials “C.K.” blocked in relief inside the panel. This was mass production indeed, a testimony to the continuing good sales of Kingsley’s works.

Naturally enough, Burn did provide bindings with greater amounts of decoration.26 Blocking with black was comparatively uncommon when Burn bound copies of Charles Kingsley’s Glaucus; or, the wonders of the shore. The work was first published in 1855, with a second edition the same year; the third edition was published in 1856, and the fourth edition in 1859. The first edition has green rib horizontal-grain, with a design blocked in gold and in black. The use of the black is liberal, showing the same seashell and seaweed pattern on the borders of both covers.31 The upper cover of these four editions have the same vignette blocked in gold, featuring the figure of Neptune, with the title lettering above and below him. For spines only thirteen to fifteen millimetres wide for these editions, there is a quantity of dense blocking, all in gold, continuing the seashore theme, with seaweed and sea shells blocked above and below the title. The blocking of a dolphin near the base of the spine is also typical of the period. So successful was this work that Macmillan published (and Burn bound) a Companion to Mr Kingsley’s “Glaucus” ..., in 1858, written and illustrated by George Sowerby. This volume, in green bead-grain cloth, has the same seashell/seaweed blocking on the borders of both covers, as for the first three editions of the main work.32

Thirty years later, in 1886, Burn provided a presentation binding design on blue ungrained cloth for the fifth edition. Fillets divide the covers into three rectangular panels. In the central panel on the lower cover, a large crab on the seashore is blocked in blind. On the upper cover, seashells are blocked in gold within the upper panel, with ammonites blocked within the lower panel. In the central panel, three fish “swim” around the title letters.

In November 1858, Clay printed 6,000 copies of Thomas HughesThe Scouring of the White Horse. The illustrations were by Richard Doyle. A further 4,000 copies were printed in December 1858. The publication price was eight shillings and sixpence. The fine half-title page illustration of a host of men busily scouring out the hillside to make the White Horse finds its echo on the upper cover. The upper cover design, blocked in gold on blue morocco horizontal-grain cloth, owes much to Doyle’s style, although the work is not signed. There are a large number of figures tumbling down the sides, from the “rustic” title lettering blocked at the head.34 In October 1860, Clay printed 1,000 copies of The Ore-Seeker, for publication at the price of fifteen shillings. Burn supplied a binding with gilt edges and bevelled boards. The blocking is on blue wave diagonal-grain cloth, to a design by John Leighton.35 The design in gold and in black is identical for both covers, with the use of gold (but not black) being omitted on the lower cover. Prominent features of this design are the rich border decoration, the Chinese gooseberries on the inner corners, and the spade and pick-axe blocked at the base of the centre-piece. The same design is blocked onto a copy bound in red morocco.36

Examples of decorative work continue steadily. Henry Kingsley’s Tales of Old Travel was issued in 1869, at a price of six shillings. On the green sand-grain cloth, there is a tropical view blocked in gold on the upper cover, showing palm trees on a beach. J.D. Passavant’s Raphael of Urbino and his Father Giovanni Santi was issued in 1872, at a price of thirty-one shillings and sixpence. Burn’s binding has a Renaissance design on brown ungrained cloth. The design is not over elaborate considering the price. This may be due to the work involved in the making of the plates, which are Woodburytypes made from engravings (MA 22). However, quality of design was not exclusively linked to price. In March 1876, Clay printed 10,000 copies of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark..., with a further 5,000 copies in May, and a further 3,000 printed in November. The original cover price was three shillings and sixpence. Henry Holiday not only provided the illustrations for the work, but also those blocked on to each cover of the work. The contrast between the white ungrained cloth, and the black blocking highlights the effect of Holland’s pictorial designs, with the central buoy on the lower cover and the old man in the ship’s rigging on the upper cover, surrounded by sails (MA 27). The same design was also blocked in gold on to red morocco.40

The 1850-1870 period saw numerous examples of very elaborate blocking of designs on both covers and spines, issued by many different publishers. John Leighton’s designs for The Ingoldsby Legends,41 and for Lyra Germanica42 are typical examples, with hardly a centimetre of cloth undecorated. Whilst Burn avoided these excesses, there are, as we have seen, numerous examples of decorative designs for book covers at this time made by Burn for Macmillan.

If anything, there was for Macmillan and for Burn in this period, a distinct move against over elaboration of book cover design. The involvement of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the designs of a number of books in the 1860s exerted a real influence in favour of simplicity of line for book cover design.43 Rossetti provided the design for Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and other poems, which was first published in 1862, at a price of five shillings. The second edition was issued in 1865, and has bright blue ungrained cloth, with the use of broad fillets intersecting horizontally and vertically, continuing across the spine (BL 11660.aa.16). The blocking of three small circles at the intersections of the fillets focuses the eye at these points, providing a simple symmetry. The design was used identically over thirty years later, on a copy of Christina Rossetti’s Poems, 1896, bound in green ungrained cloth (BL staff copy).

In 1865, Macmillan also issued William Michael Rossetti’s translation of Dante’s Inferno. Dante Gabriel Rossetti provided the design for Burn to bind, which was done by mid-February 1865. D.G. Rossetti made use of fillets and circles on the upper cover, with the symbolism of stars, flames, alphas and omegas (Barber 316). It seems likely that an adaptation of these designs was made by D.G. Rossetti for W.M. Rossetti’s Spectator essays, re-published by Macmillan in 1867 under the title Fine art chiefly contemporary, at a price of ten shillings and sixpence. Burn bound this work in orange ungrained cloth, with a design of a single fillet on the borders of the upper cover, and three pendant-balls, which show the Macmillan monogram (MA 24). D.G. Rossetti favoured simplicity in the execution of cover design, and his ideas almost certainly had the support and authority from the Macmillans for their implementation. James Frederick Burn, who knew the use of ungrained cloth in his younger days, possibly remained sufficiently attracted to it to assist its re-introduction in the early 1860s when he had the opportunity to do so. His son, James Robert, taken into partnership in 1857, also favoured simplicity of style (Darley 44). Darley called the work done by Burn in the 1860s: “The new Macmillan style of simplicity...” (caption opposite p.38).

Whatever the precise nature of the relationship between artist and bookbinder, the effects of a simpler style were immediate and far-reaching, owing to the enormous popular success of authors published by Macmillan. The combination of fillets blocked on the borders with a central medallion containing simple engraved decoration appropriate to the text featured in Charles Kingsley’s The Water-babies, on the editions of 1863 (BL CUP.400.a.33) and 1864 (MA 95; the BL 12837.b.33). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (BL C.59.g.11), 1866; Through the Looking-Glass(BL C.71.b.33.), 1872, and Alice’s adventures under ground, 1886 (BL MS.FACS. 2013) — all featured this style, with bright dyes for the cloth combined with the simple blocking in gold. Somewhat of an exception to this “house style” was the design for Christina Rossetti’s Speaking likenesses, 1874. The cloth is bright ungrained blue, with a scene of a mother leaning over to kiss a girl asleep in bed. The title words are blocked in large, aggravated letters. These stand out somewhat uneasily in relation to the vignette (MA 27; BL 12803.g.34).

When looking at the relationship between Burn and Macmillan, one of the distinctive aspects is the absence of written documentation about the cover designs. It was simply a feature of the business between Macmillan and Burn that the work of designing covers was conducted almost entirely orally. Indeed, the relationship that developed meant that daily communication was a necessity to ensure proper production. This had the advantage of ensuring that information about the progress of designs for publications was completely up-to-date, allowing quickly the correction of any mistakes. It is likeliest that this situation developed in the earliest years, and was strengthened in the 1860s, with D.G. Rossetti’s participation in cover design.

The procedure followed in the early 1900s has been described by Darley, and there is every reason to suppose that it was being applied in the forty years before this. Each day, preliminary sketches made by Burn would be approved by a member of the staff at Macmillan. The engraver of the brasses would call at Burn’s premises daily, for instructions regarding the making of brass blocks for new titles. Very detailed drawings of the design would be made by the engraver, for cutting the design on to the brasses. From these, proofs were made on to cloth cases, and these were taken to Macmillan for approval. It is clear that although Burn proposed the case design, it was Macmillan who always had the final approval.57 The brasses were retained in drawers, and were the property of Macmillan. They could be retrieved by the means of a reference note written on a slip pasted on to the pattern case. Macmillan was the only publisher for whom Burn produced brasses. The brasses made for blocking on to cloth cases for other publishers were supplied by the publishers themselves (subject to measurements supplied by Burn) and then retained by them after the issue of the work. 58


In the 1850-1890 period, we have seen that Burn executed a prodigious amount of work for Macmillan. Through the efficiency of their operation, they were able to keep pace with the growth of the number of publications issued by Macmillan. Burn was able to execute designs in conformity with the fashions of the day, using cloth grains typical of the time. When called upon to ensure a simpler style, with a minimum of ornamentation, Burn provided this also. It is very likely that price was strongly linked to the size of the print run, rather than any particular expenditure on ornamentation of the covers and spine. In this initial period from the early 1850s to the 1890s, Burn did provide some distinctive designs, many re-uses of very simple work, and designs in the Rossetti idiom, which combined simplicity with effectiveness of message. The one simple reality of the trade remained wholly true for Burn, from the beginning: timely delivery of bound books to enable Macmillan to sell what had been ordered.

Last modified 30 November 2014