I’ve been acquiring books that were produced by the Edinburgh publishers Oliphant,
Anderson & Ferrier between about 1880 and 1900. Specifically, I’ve been looking at
their floral covers, because something very interesting seems to have happened around
Until that decade, books with cloth covers were fairly plain. The cloth itself was
normally blocked (stamped) in black or gold and the only colour in evidence, other
than the cloth itself, might be a picture, printed on paper and pasted to the cover.
Then some change in technology occurred, and full colour printing on the cloth became
possible. How did Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier respond to this change? Well, they
produced a set of floral book covers because, I assume, how could you more obviously
show off a wide range of colours than by drawing from nature?
Some of these floral designs had previously been used on monochrome covers, simple
outline drawings blocked in black. Many of the designs were seen for the first time
in full colour.
I have decided to investigate several aspects of this colour revolution. I’d love to
know exactly how these covers were produced, i.e. are they painted wood blocks,
copper plates, lithography? I’d like to know who designed them, and how many designs there
were, too. If I can pin down exactly when they were first produced, I may even be able to discern
which equipment was being used, so a look at patents and catalogues of printing equipment
is on the cards.
Victorian book covers are not something I’ve ever looked at before, nor had I heard of
Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier before happening across these books, so along the way I
will be investigating the history of the company, their relationships to other firms
at the time (because they certainly weren’t the only ones producing floral covers), and
the printing and binding technology of the preceding decades.
Many of the books I am acquiring have covers that are faded and rubbed, which is not
surprising given their age, so the single tie-in that this has to my other computing
interests is that I will be re-drawing the covers with Inkscape in order to restore
them to perhaps how they looked when fresh off the presses, 130 years ago.