Victorian chintz publisher’s bindings are quite a rare find because they were (some may say – thankfully) a very short-lived fashion. One of the few examples, and possibly the most famous, written about in this interesting piece by the V&A here, is the deluxe version of Beatrix Potter’s The tale of Squirrel Nutkins for which she chose ‘a flowered lavender chintz’ to make it special enough to warrant the extra cost.
I came across this three volume set of Mrs Parr’s Adam and Eve (Richard Bentley and Son, 1880) in their original blue, green, and cerise chintz publisher bindings, still in a very bright condition. They were bound by Best & Co. with floral decorated endpapers, lettering stamped in gold at the foot of the spine, and paper title labels machine sewn onto the head of the spine.
The paper labels have ripped and cracked as one might expect. That, along with the floral cloth, means these bindings have a homely quality about them. This may be why Bentley published only two other works in chintz cloth, both of them by another female author, Rhoda Broughton, whose supposedly sensationalist novels may have been deemed appealing to women readers. Also, Parr’s Adam and Eve is not, as it may sound, a dry religious essay; it is a novel concerned with the story of a West Country smuggler called Adam and his London cousin, Eve. Other works of Mrs Parr, as well as those of Rhoda Broughton, tackle issues of female oppression.
According to the anonymous bookseller’s description that was tipped-in to Adam and Eve, Michael Sadleir conjectured that this sort of binding was abandoned after pressure from the circulating libraries and copies of these books were rejected for inclusion in their stock. However, it is possible that it was the content, especially that of Rhoda Broughton, that they objected to.
By Louise Anderson, @LibrarianLCA