In 2009, not long after I began working at the Delaware Art Museum, local book collector Mary G. Sawyer generously offered her collection of over 3,000 books with decorative publishers’ bindings to the Museum. At that time, I knew almost nothing about publishers’ bindings, so-called because of the elaborately embellished bindings that were manufactured in quantity for publishers in the mid-to-late-19th and early-20th centuries. These bindings not only provide excellent examples of major artistic movements in the United States, particularly Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau, but also represent the book as a cultural and artistic object in its own right and chronicle the evolution of American publishing, illustration, and book design.
Even after a decade of studying them I still learn something new every time I pull one from the shelf, and my enthusiasm for these books has not diminished. Thanks to the generosity of Mary, the Delaware Art Museum now holds one of the most significant collections of publishers’ bindings in the country.