Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Happy Birthday Amelia!


Amelia Edith Huddleston was born 185 years ago today, March 29, 1831, in Ulverston, Lancashire, England, the daughter of a Methodist minister. At the age of 19 she married Robert Barr, a successful Glasgow merchant in the wool trade. 

He went bankrupt shortly after their marriage, and they emigrated to America when she was 23. They had nine children, six of whom died, the last three boys along with her husband in the yellow fever epidemic in Galveston in 1867. Finding herself a single mother with three girls, one of whom was mentally challenged, she moved east, settled in New York and became a writer. Her first commercially successful novel, Jan Vedder's Wife, was published by Dodd, Mead in 1885.  

Amelia Barr wrote primarily for women, and most of her novels are thoroughly researched historical romance. An admirer of William James, religion remained integral to her life, but she believed in the spirit world and the heresy of reincarnation, including it in her writing. After 1885 she wrote about two books a year and died just shy of her 88th birthday in 1919 with 70 published books.

Amelia E. Barr was one of only five women identified on the dust jacket of Lyle Wright's American Fiction 1876-1900 as "Popular women writers . . . in demand by an eager reading public."  Now widely forgotten, she has been reincarnated due to the extraordinary covers issued on her books, designed by some of the best trade binding designers of the period. She wrote primarily for women, and was an influential supporter of women's rights who died the year before women in America won the right to vote.  

In December I posted images of her early books in Eastlake designs, and last July posted covers by Thomas Watson Ball and Charles Buckles Falls.  The exhibition includes a complete original manuscript of a novel, illustrated magazine serialization, and book editions. The exhibition also includes newspaper serialization, uniform edition reprints, "pocket" format editions, and more. It was extended through this week for Women's History Month. A catalog of the exhibition, a limited edition of 50 copies, has been produced, and delivered to 38 pre-publication subscribers. 

Below is the cover designed for Dodd, Mead & Co. by Alice Cordelia Morse for the first edition (1891) of A Rose of a hundred leaves:

Over the next decade or two several reprints in "pocket" size were issued with variants on this design:

 The 1897 Japonisme cover created by William Snelling Hadaway for The Century Company edition of Prisoners of Conscience was adapted for the catalog cover:

 Blanche McManus Mansfield had an abstract path in her design for The King's Highway (Dodd, Mead, 1897):

Alice C. Morse used a path in 1898 for the Dodd, Mead cover of I, Thou, and the Other One:

Happy Birthday Amelia E. Barr!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Lecture in Minneapolis January 23

I will be presenting a talk at the Minneapolis Institute of Art at 11:00 am on Saturday, January 23 on The Art of American Book Covers.
                                        [click that for details]

Minneapolis Institute of Art
2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404 


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Eastlake Designs on Books by Amelia E. Barr

The current exhibition of American Publishers' Bindings on the books of Amelia E. Barr 1882-1919 includes covers from Eastlake style through Japonism, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Poster style, and Text as Art. 

Charles Eastlake’s popular book Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details was published in England in 1868, and in the USA in 1872. During the last quarter of the 19th century many book covers were produced that capitalized on the popularity of  “Eastlake style.” Although it was considered “modern” at the time, some of it looks more like a vestige of the Victorian era than a precursor to Modernism, while other elements are timeless. Here are some examples of Eastlake book covers on Amelia Barr’s early books.

Cluny MacPherson
by Amelia E. Barr
American Tract Society, n.d., ©1883

This was a uniform cover style, not specific to this title. Princeton's copy of this book can be read online via HathiTrust, and is in the same design on green cloth. That year ATS also issued a collection of her short stories:

Scottish Sketches
by Amelia E. Barr 
New York: American Tract Society, n.d., ©1883

The Hallam Succession
by Amelia E. Barr
New York & Cincinnati: Phillips & Hunt, and Cranston & Stowe, 1885

The Hallam Succession
by Amelia E. Barr
Toronto: William Briggs, 1887

The Lost Silver of Briffault
by Amelia E. Barr
 New York & Cincinnati: Hunt & Eaton, 1892, ©1885 Phillips & Hunt.

It's hard to photograph the amazing effect of the gold on this book, which changes depending on the angle you view it from, or light it from, or move it through. Here is a detail from a different angle.  The effect is achieved by engraving the stamping die at different angles to control the reflections.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

This Weekend in Brooklyn

Saturday and Sunday, September 19-20, I will be presenting an exhibition of American publishers' bindings at the Brooklyn Books, Art, Photos & Design Expo. At 2:00 pm each day I will be giving a talk.  I also will be signing my book, The Art of American Book Covers 1875-1930, and will have my limited and deluxe editions on this subject, which document more than 1,200 designs.

click here for a "friends of Minsky" complimentary VIP pass!


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

American Publishers' Bindings on the Books of Amelia E. Barr 1882-1918

Today hardly anybody knows the name Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr, yet a hundred years ago she was among the most prolific and popular women writing in America. If it were not for the decorated bindings on her books I would not have known she existed. Some of the best cover artists were assigned to her works, including Thomas Watson Ball, Alice Cordelia Morse, Evelyn W. Clark, Blanche McManus Mansfield, Amy Richards, William Snelling Hadaway, Harry B. Matthews, Theodore Brown Hapgood and the Decorative Designers.

After seeing her name on so many books, it struck me that searching for her titles might turn up some designs I had not seen before, and it was true! There are about a hundred items in the exhibition, including the complete original manuscript for one of the books, half typewritten and half handwritten.  Perhaps her typewriter broke halfway through?

Here is an unsigned design that I attribute to T. W. Ball, very much in his style of lettering and panelization, from the time he was doing a lot of work for Dodd:

 Thomas Watson Ball
Souls of Passage
by Amelia E. Barr
with illustrations by Emlen McConnell
New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1901

Amelia Barr was born in  England in 1831, she and her husband emigrated to America in 1853, had nine children, six of whom died, the last three of yellow fever in Galveston, along with her husband, in 1867. She and three daughters moved to New York, and she supported the family writing articles, stories and poems for magazines. The first book of hers I've located was published in 1882, an unattributed early post-Victorian design with Eastlake influence in the lettering:

The Young People of Shakespeare's Dramas
by Amelia E. Barr
New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1882

The exhibition includes only editions published during her lifetime.  She died in 1919 two weeks shy of her 88th birthday, having written about 70 books. This covers the period of greatest change in cover art.

Charles Buckles Falls
The Bell of Bowling Green by Amelia E. Barr
Illustrated by Walter H. Everett
New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1908

The unsigned design below on a small format reprint must have been on a large edition, because nice copies of it are plentiful:

 A Border Shepherdess
by Amelia E. Barr
Dodd, Mead and Company, n.d. ©1887
[likely 1895-1900}

Installation photos of this exhibition are now online. You also can subscribe to the catalog, where you also can read more about her and see additional cover images.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Photos of the exhibition at Brown University

For those who missed the exhibition of One Hundred Great Covers from the Brown UniversityLibrary, 1875-1930 in the John Hay Library (April 15—May 14), I've posted some snapshots on facebook.  Click here or on the photo below.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

At Brown University April 22

I'll be presenting an exhibition and talk on April 22 at the John Hay library at Brown University titled

The Art of American Bookcovers 1875 – 1930 


Here's their announcement:

Richard Minsky--  photo by Richard Grosbard-4x4
On April 22, 2015 at 5:30 p.m. in the Lownes Room of the John Hay Library, Richard Minsky will give a talk, “The Art of American Bookcovers 1875 – 1930: One Hundred Great Covers from the Brown University Library.” Minsky will look at selections of books from the Library’s holdings that exemplify book cover styles and their changes during this time period. A Q&A, book sale and signing, and reception will follow the talk. This event is free and open to the public.

A complementary exhibit of the same name will be available for viewing in the Lownes Room cases from April 15 – May 14, 2015 by appointment only. To make an appointment to view the exhibit, please contact the John Hay Library at hay@brown.edu.

In his presentation, Minsky will discuss how Modernism entered the American home on book covers. Proto-Constructivism and Futurism came in 1880, Art Nouveau in 1881. Surrealism and Abstraction in 1904. This period  saw the transition from covers designed by die-engravers to those created by visual artists, many of whom were women. The presentation will include stunning examples from Eastlake style, Arts and Crafts, Aesthetic movement, Poster style and Social Realism.

Richard Minsky is an internationally known book artist, author, historian, curator, and bibliographer. Minsky is the author of American Decorated Publishers’ Bindings 1872-1929, The Art of American Book Covers 1875-1930, The Art of the American Book, The Golden Age of American Book Design, The Book Cover Art of Thomas Watson Ball, and American Trade Bindings with Native American Themes, 1875-1933. In 1974 he founded the Center for Book Arts in New York City, the first organization of its kind.


The hardcover edition of The Art of American Book Covers 1875-1930 sold out two printings and won the Worldwide Books Award for Publications from the Art Libraries Society of North America in 2011.

Date: Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: Lownes Room, John Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, Providence