- American Signed Bindings Through 1876
In American Signed Bindings Through 1876 Willman Spawn and Thomas E. Kinsella craft two thoughtful essays explaining the history of bookbinding in the colonial, early national, and antebellum periods of American history. These essays accompany an informative and thorough catalog of the mostly nineteenth-century bookbindings in Bryn Mawr College's Canaday Library. Building on the work of early historians of American bookbinding, especially Hannah D. French, Dorothy Miner, and William Loring Andrews, Spawn's and Kinsella's essays and the accompanying catalog are important contributions to the history of American book publishing. The essays provide critical background information that makes the catalog of bindings accessible to scholars with varying familiarity with the history of bookbinding. The book's preface briefly describes the history of the scholarly study of bookbindings, beginning with the Grolier Club of New York's 1907 exhibition of early American bookbindings—an essential context for understanding how Spawn's and Kinsella's work contributes to the history of American bookbinding.
The first essay details the history of Spawn's interest in bookbindings and explains how he developed methodologies for identifying colonial American bookbinders who did not sign their bindings with printed tickets. He explains that, in order to identify discrete binders, he combined archival evidence—city directories, newspapers, waste-books, ledgers, correspondence, and business records—with his knowledge of eighteenth-century bookbinding tools. By identifying tool sets from pencil rubbings of extant bindings and combining this information with archival evidence, Spawn was able to locate and identify several active bookbinders in the colonial period, although some must remain anonymous due to a lack of archival evidence. A strong example of his methodology is his identification of Joseph Goodwin as the binder responsible for binding several copies of the book Cato Major. Spawn explains that while he had clearly recognized a set of thirty-one bindings that used the same decorative roll used on a copy of Benjamin Franklin's 1744 printing of Cato Major, for years the name of the binder remained a mystery. From newspaper advertisements Spawn was able to identify the original binder as Joseph Goodwin, an English immigrant of the mid-eighteenth century. Additional newspaper evidence indicated that Goodwin's heirs sold his tools in 1747. The account books of James Logan, combined with evidence of continued use of Goodwin's tools, demonstrated that one of the purchasers was Nathanael Holland, who worked in Philadelphia until the mid-1750s. This type of detective work is the heart of Spawn's contribution to scholarship on American bookbinding in the colonial and early national periods.
While Spawn's essay focuses almost entirely on methodology for identifying bookbinders in the period before tickets became standard, Kinsella's work provides an overview of the development and uses of tickets. Beginning in the middle of the eighteenth century, several bookbinders in the colonies began to use printed tickets to sign their work, and, as the book trade and publishing industry grew, these tickets became popular ways for binders to advertise their work. Kinsella notes that the introduction of cloth bindings and case binding, "along with increased mechanization and division of labor, led to binding methods that, although still labor intensive, created mass-produced bindings" (28). New binderies, each with its own signature binding ticket, employed hundreds of workers, although [End Page 365] individual bookbinders continued to function into the 1820s and 1830s. As the book trade became more complex and competitive it was increasingly common, however, for these individual binders to combine several functions—bookseller, publisher, and binder—under one. The majority of the bindings in the Bryn Mawr collection represent everyday bindings, including those that used cloth as a cheaper alternative to the leather bindings of the colonial period. Thus, Kinsella states that "these bindings offer insights into the transactions that created and disbursed them, and when provenance is present, insights about the consumers who bought them and read their contents" (32).
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