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Publishers' Bookbindings: Major Designers

A guide to decorative books in special and circulating collections at Brooklyn College Library, and research resources for related topics.

About Margaret Armstrong

A standout amongst her contemporaries, Margaret Neilson Armstrong (1867 - 1944) was noted for her use of symmetry, bold bookcloths (textured, unusual tones), and dynamic ink colors. Included in the cohort of important nineteenth-century women book cover designers - and arguably the most prolific, with over 270 designs to her credit - Armstrong's works reflect her strong interest in the natural world and apply Jugendstil, or Art Nouveau, motifs. In addition to a guide to wildflowers, she later wrote mystery novels and biographies. Over 100 of her wildflower drawings and several of her publishers' bindings are in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

How to Find Armstrong's Work

  • Sign your work! - Look for the "MA".
    • Armstrong almost always signed her covers with her initials
  • The "R"s have it - Look for the lette R. Does it have a long "leg" (the part beneath the loop)?
    • That's a common Armstrong device! Even in her unsigned work, Armstrong's Rs all have long legs
  • Common authors:
    • Armstrong designed covers for Henry Van Dyke, Myrtle Reed, and Frances Hodgson Burnett. Look for their work in the library catalog, and you might find a hidden Armstrong!

About Sarah Wyman Whitman

An advisor to Boston-based publisher Houghton Mifflin and a noted designer and artist in her own right, Sarah de St. Prix Wyman Whitman (1842 - 1904) influenced a generation of women book designers and was best known for her use of symmetry and "stylized simplicity." An accomplished stained glass artist, she worked with John La Farge, studied under Richard Morris Hunt and also in Paris, and helped fund Radcliffe College and Tuskegee University. Whitman's designs applied the aesthetics of the Arts and Crafts movement and border on abstract, a move away from the era's popular "Eastlake Style". She rarely signed her work; she is credited with over 200 book cover designs, mostly for Houghton Mifflin.

How to Find Whitman's Work

  • Sign your work!
    • Whitman's books are almost always unsigned
  • Part(s) two:
    • Many of Whitman's designs have two asymmetrically sized panels
  • The Letters Have It:
    • Whitman used distinctive lettering style for A, E, and G
  • Author, publisher:
    • Whitman designed numerous covers for author Sarah Orne Jewett, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Lafcadio Hearn; and for publisher Houghton Mifflin & Co. Look for their work in the library catalog.

And don't be so sure....

  • Some Whitman-esque designs were executed by Houghton Mifflin after her death, or copied her designs. Check the publishing date and other resources