Saturday, August 2, 2014

Shelf Candy Saturday #122: Book Illustration and Design

Welcome to Shelf Candy Saturday!!

This is my weekly feature
showcasing beautiful covers!
It also provides information,  if
available, on their very 
talented creators!

For more information
about Shelf Candy Saturday,
just click HERE.

This week, instead of featuring a beautiful cover,  I decided to do some research and write a post about book design and illustration. Book design, specifically of the cover, has always been an integral part of the production of books.  With advances in technology, the process has become increasingly sophisticated.  However, a designer's creativity will always be important.  Without that, no advanced technology can possibly create a memorable cover and/or overall design.

Book design harks all the way back to medieval illuminated manuscripts.  These were produced by monastic scribes.  The larger monasteries had a special room, the scriptorium, which had been designated for the production and copying of illuminated manuscripts.  By the 14th century, such rooms had become more common in commercial, urban settings. 

The manuscripts not only contained miniature illustrations,  but also decorated initials and borders, known as marginalia.  These manuscripts are noted for the richness and beauty of their illustrations, which were frequently done with gold and silver ink.

A page from an illuminated manuscript,
with painted marginalia.
(from Wikipedia Commons)

A closeup of the illuminated letter "P" in
the 1407 AD Latin Bible on display
in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England.
It was hand-written in Belgium, by Gerard Brils.
(from Wikipedia Commons)

Manuscripts were created on sheets of parchment or vellum.  The whole process was very elaborate and time-consuming, and was done in stages.  The manuscript was planned first, then the writing of the text was done, with blank spaces left for the illustrations.  There were scribes who specialized in each stage of the process.   Manuscripts were frequently commissioned by wealthy patrons.

With the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440, the book as we know it today (not counting ebooks) was born.  The format is known as a codex

Before the 19th-century, books were handbound.  Around the beginning of that century, book binding began to be machine-produced.  Although some very beautiful books were produced before the middle of the 18th century, book cover design really began to come into its own with two artistic movements: the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the Art Nouveau Movement.  The first one flourished from 1860 to 1910, while the second was most popular at the turn of the 20th century.  An early and highly influential book cover designer of the time was Aubrey Beardsley.  His covers for a literary journal titled The Yellow Book were very striking, and he was the journal's first art editor. 

Cover designed by Aubrey Beardsley
for The Yellow Book, 1894

There was a "Golden Age" of British bookbinding, which lasted from the late 1830's to 1880.  To quote from a fascinating website I have just discovered: "Thanks to innovations in the manufacture of cloth and new techniques for ornamental blocking, nineteenth century publishers were able to mass-produce books with decorative cloth-covered, gilt-blocked casings, frequently with results of exquisite beauty."  This website is well worth investigating!  It displays photos of gorgeous books produced during this period, selected from the collection of 3,000 books formerly owned by Roger and Marlene Peattie, and donated by them to the Queen Elizabeth II Library.  You can access the article on these books here: Decorative Nineteenth Century Trade Bindings.   For more information on the collection donated by the Peatties, just click HERE.

Another fascinating website, George Smathers Libraries, contains a beautiful collection of 19th-century cloth book covers, in its Special and Area Studies Collections, in the Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature.  Below is a sample from this collection.


The Two Doves and Other Tales,
A Storybook for Holiday Hours
T. Nobel
London, 1850
(from Wikipedia Commons)

This topic is very dear to my bookworm's heart, especially because I love printed books with such a fierce passion!  In spite of their convenience, ebooks just can't compare, since they are completely two-dimensional.  Hence, one cannot feel the texture of the cover, or that of any raised letters in the cover design.  No digital media can possibly do justice to the actual book cover, and, of course, ebooks are part of a machine, so the books themselves can't be held in one's hands. 

Thanks to Stephanie @ Five Alarm Book Reviews (sadly, a now defunct blog; Steph was the original creator/host of "Shelf Candy Saturday"), I have also discovered a magnificent series of modern hardcovers that aim to continue the fine tradition of 19th-century book cover design.  The brilliant designer is Coralie Bickford-Smith.   

The article that deals with these luscious covers is titled "Hardcover Classics",  and is part of the Penguin blog.  The books themselves can be purchased on Amazon.  Below is a collection of the major works of Charles Dickens, for example, which is available on Amazon US.  Just click HERE.  I also have the link for the Amazon UK site, which is HERE. Unfortunately, this collection is a bit pricey, on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Dickens books are also available individually, as are all the rest of the books in this collection by Bickford-Smith.  I bought Great Expectations straight from Amazon US, not a third-party seller, about a year ago, for $14.96 plus $3.99 shipping and handling!! It's gone up in price a bit since then, but not too much.  You can access this book HERE. All of the other classics in this beautiful collection are also available on Amazon, in the US as well as in the UK. 

Major Works of Charles Dickens:
Great Expectations, Hard Times, Oliver Twist,
A Christmas Carol, Bleak House,  
A Tale of Two Cities

Bickford-Smith has also designed a paperback classics series, which, of course, is even more affordable.  These books, too, are very beautiful, and I do love them. However, I would like to start by owning the magnificent Dickens collection pictured above!  Then I might buy a couple of the paperback ones....and we'll see where we go from there...

For Further Information

More Links for Aubrey Beardsley

More Links for Coralie 

What do you think of this post?
Isn't the history of book design and illustration fascinating?
Leave your blog link 
in the comments section, so 
I can visit you and comment
on one of your posts!!


  1. Another great post Maria. I also love very old books but my knowledge about their history, manufacture, etc. is sketchy. Thus I learned a lot from your post.

    The pictures that you posted are terrific. The Latin Bible is incredible. It looks like an very old manuscript but in an odd way it also looks contemporary. I wonder is people who saw it who lived when it was created were awestruck by it's colors. Again, my knowledge here is limited but I am thinking that human made objects of that era were rarely as colorfully bright.

    I will be sure to check out those websites that you linked to.

    Have a great weekend.

    1. Hey, Brian!

      Thanks for the compliment!! I am totally fascinated by the history of the process of designing and illustrating books, and believe me, I learned a lot, too!

      Oh, I LOVE these pictures!! That Latin Bible is a true masterpiece! I'm sure the colors were much brighter when it was created, although I really don't know how well parchment or vellum holds on to colors. Hmmm.....I think I might need to research that..... However, I'm sure these historically important books are in special places, perhaps away from the public entirely. I've seen such books handled with gloves in documentaries about them.

      I need to check the websites out myself, as I didn't take the time to read the articles all the way through. Otherwise, I never would have finished this post in time! Lol.

      Thanks for the great comment! Hope you're having a fab weekend!! : )


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