Scholars have increasingly focused on material aspects of the Victorian book, exploring in a wide range of publications the importance of paratextuality and its impact on meaning. The following list includes some of the most distinguished contributors to this expanding field who have examined aspects of binding, illustration, and other aspects of the material book, such as endpapers and binders’ tickets. If you have others who belong in this list, please contact the webmaster.


Douglas Ball was a librarian at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. His main contribution was the pioneering Victorian Publishers’ Bindings (London: The Library Association, 1985). Focusing on the mid-Victorian period, the study covers developments in cloth casings, binders’ signatures, binding technology, and (most of importantly of all), a bibliography of the principal designers of the middle of the century.

Malcolm Haslam is the author of Arts and Crafts Book Covers (Shepton Beauchamp: Richard Dennis, 2012). This is a detailed catalogue for an exhibition and contains wide-ranging information on cover designers of the 1880s and '90s.

Edmund (Ed) King, former librarian of the newspaper section of The British Library, has annotated Victorian trade bindings in more detail than in any previous study. His bibliographical descriptions are the essential foundation on which further research is based. In the following sections he explains his work in detail and explains its relationship to earlier commentaries.

The 1992 gift to the British Museum of the Robin de Beaumont Collection to the Department of Prints & Drawings brought into the public domain nearly four hundred books, together with individual prints and wood blocks. Goldman listed the collection in his Victorian Illustrated Books 1850-1870. The heyday of wood-engraving. The Robin de Beaumont Collection - Checklist of the de Beaumont Collection (1994). Robin de Beaumont, primarily a collector of the illustrations within books and magazines, paid very little attention to the cloth used for the bindings, the graining of the cloth, or the artwork blocked onto the books’ covers. Fortunately, the books were (and remain) in very good condition, and this impelled my own research to identify a specific copy of these publishers’ cover designs, which were mass produced. It is difficult for us today to imagine what impact the brightly coloured cloth dyes would have made upon people – red, blue, purple, green, orange, brown, black. When combined with glittering gold blockwork, and other colouring, the effects are striking to the eye. It is also a reality that, as mass produced bindings, the materials and techniques used were not intended to last, and this resulted in a product whose condition quite rapidly worsened – the dye colour faded, the attachment of boards to text block and the sewing of the text would gave way quite quickly upon repeated use. The need to record these books was obvious, if only to raise awareness of their interest and potential value.

My research focused on identifying and describing books in the British Library and, where possible, in other UK libraries. A method for description was worked out, and included in a Notes field for each book. The order of description of each design was: endpapers, binder’s details, dye colour, type of cloth grain, lower cover decoration, upper cover decoration, spine decoration (from head to tail). Designs are described in some detail, with the general rule of capturing as much detail of the blockwork design as possible, so as to avoid the need to re-view the book at a later time. Before the era of high quality scanning which now prevails, the intention was for others to be able to identify their own copy from these descriptions.

My brief survey of UK designs Victorian Books with Decorated Cloth Covers was published in Bookbinder Vol. 10, 1996) and my essay on the book bindings of John Leighton appears on the Victorian Web as are my articles on designs by William Harry Rogers and the relationship between the bookbinding company of Burns and their binding work for Macmillan.

I made a limited foray into American edition cloth bindings of the 1830s in the form of an published in the Book Collector (Summer 1998). In 2003, the British Library published my bibliography of the books and designs, Victorian Decorated Trade Bindings, 1830-1880. There are seven hundred and fifty two entries in this book, of copies primarily held at the British Library. The scope included designs blocked on cloth, and on paper, from the 1830s to the 1880s. Between 2012 and 2014, the uploading was done of these descriptions, together with scans of all the book covers, into the British Library’s online database of book bindings, so that these are available to a wider audience. In addition, some two hundred and fifty more 19th century books have been identified, described and added into the British Library database. Use of the work by Haslam: Arts and Crafts Book Covers (2012) enabled the identification of designs of Arts and Craft artists, and these were added to the database.

Since the British Library bindings database is a relational one, users can search and start to explore relationships between the publisher, cover designer, the printer, the book binder and the illustrator. Cataloguing the nearly four hundred books and magazines in the de Beaumont collection took place between 2013 and 2018. Each catalogue entry cites artists and engravers who provided illustrations for a book or magazine, and the designs on the covers are also fully described. Scans of selected illustrations and of the book covers are available online.

John David Ruari McLean (1917–2006), known as Ruari, was a British typographical and graphic designer. In addition to a vast body of professional work for books and magazines, McLean wrote two influential books on nineteenth-century bindings and printing. Victorian Book Design and Colour Printing (London: Faber & Faber, 1963, rev. 1972) is a rich study, outlining the main developments from the early Victorian period to the end of the sixties. It examines the role of the key figures and considers a variety of binding styles, from yellowbacks to gift books and the covers of Dante Rossetti. McLean’s Victorian Publishers’ Bindings in Cloth and Leather (London: Gordon Fraser, 1974), a picture-book identifying many of the key bindings, is another invaluable resource.

Sybille Oltea Yvonne Pantazzi (1914–83), was the librarian of Art Gallery of Ontario. Pantazzi pioneered the study of Victorian binding designers. Her most influential article is ‘Four Designers of English Publishers’ Bindings, 1850-1880’. Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 55 (1961): 88–99. She also wrote ‘John Leighton, 1822 –1912. A Versatile Victorian Designer: his Designs for Book Covers’. The Connoisseur CLIII (April 1963): 262–73.


Philip Allingham, Contributing Editor on the Victorian Web, has written a large number of articles in learned journals on illustrations for Dickens, Hardy, and other Victorian illustrators. His monograph, Hardy's Illustrated Fiction: A Study of the Illustrations that Accompanied the Original Periodical Fiction of Thomas Hardy, 1870-1903 (Saarbruken: LAP Lambert Academic), was published in 2011.

Simon Cooke, Editor for Book Illustration and Design on the Victorian Web, has published numerous articles exploring the work of mid nineteenth century illustrators and on mid and late Victorian binding designers. His Illustrated Periodicals of the 1860s (London: the British Library, 2010), examines the working relationships involved in the visual embellishment of mid-Victorian magazines; and his co-edited books (with Paul Goldman), Reading Victorian Illustration (Burlington: Ashgate, 2012) and George Du Maurier (Burlington: Ashgate, 2016), present a range of essays by well-known experts in the field.

Catherine Golden has written widely on illustration, examining artists as diverse as George Cruikshank and Beatrix Potter. She is the editor of Book Illustrated: Text, Image, and Culture 1770 –1930 (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll, 2000) and the author of Serials to Graphic Novels: the Evolution of the Victorian Illustrated Book (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2017). This book is an important evaluation of the developing traditions of Victorian caricature.

Paul Goldman, a pioneer in re-establishing interest in mid-Victorian illustration, is the author of two ground-breaking studies of the 1860s: Victorian Illustrated Books 1850–70: the Heyday of Wood Engraving (London: The British Museum, 1994) and Victorian Illustration: The Pre-Raphaelites, The Idyllic School and the High Victorians (London: Lund Humphries, revised ed., 2004). Goldman has also published an extensive range of articles, chapters, catalogues of work by J.E. Millais and other artists and books on illustration and its technologies. He has championed the work of Forrest Reid, whose early researches (1928) built on the work of Gleeson White (1897), and co-edited two books of essays with Simon Cooke.

Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, the author of numerous articles and several books on Victorian illustration, explores the concept of intermediality. The Artist as Critic: Bitextuality in Fin-de-Siécle Illustrated Books (Aldershot: Scolar, 1995) analyzes the interactions of artist, illustrator, and text, a project continued in Christina Rossetti and Illustration: a Publishing History (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002) and Poetry, Pictures, and Popular Publishing: the Illustrated Gift Book and Victorian Visual Culture (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011).

Mary Elizabeth Leighton and Lisa Surridge have co-authored a number of influential articles focusing on the placement of illustration and their effects on the readers. Their book, The Plot Thickens – Illustrated Victorian Serial Fiction from Dickens to Du Maurier (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2019) crystallizes these arguments. The scope of their work is suggested by their summary:

The Victorians witnessed a revolution in print media, with the mechanization of every process of print production from steam presses to railway distribution. In the early 1800s, books were largely unillustrated, perhaps containing a frontispiece (often a stock decorative illustration with little connection to content). Walter Scott and Jane Austen built their careers upon unillustrated fiction. However, by the 1830s and 1840s, technological innovations—wood engraving (developed by Thomas Bewick in the 1790s) and steel engraving (developed in the 1820s)—made it possible to integrate images and letterpress with cheapness and efficiency. A new type of fiction was born, one melding text and image as partners in meaning-making.

The Plot Thickens focuses on one particular product of this revolution: the illustrated serial novel. The 1830s saw the quick rise and huge popularity of the novel in part instalments, typically published at monthly intervals and including a wrapper, tipped-in illustrations preceding the narrative, and, of course, the letterpress itself. An alternative and equally popular form during the Victorian period was the illustrated periodical, which integrated serial fiction into its miscellaneous contents. While modern readers who encounter Victorian novels in fat modern paperback editions may view illustrations as secondary or supplementary to the verbal text, contemporary accounts indicate that Victorians read serials as inherently pictorial.

Our book addresses a central question: How did illustrations affect the way that readers consumed serial fiction? It explores what happens to our received view of Victorian novels when we consider the impact on novel readers of both images and serial form. Our study spans the period from the late 1830s through the period of the great family magazines and the golden age of book illustration; to the fin de siècle, when the illustrated serial novel waned in favour of new forms such as the novella and the linked series of short stories. As we show, consideration of text-image relationships reveals the great complexity and richness of Victorian illustrated serials. They impel reflective and complex reading strategies. They interpolate critical readers. And they push us to reconsider what we think we know about Victorian novels. Far from constituting a mere prelude to the volume edition, the illustrated serial emerges as considerably less linear, far more intertextual and self-reflexive than later volume editions of the same text. Taking account of serial illustration thus demands rethinking the very forms of Victorian fiction.

Julia Thomas has written a range of books and articles that engage with different aspects of Victorian visual and material culture, including Nineteenth-Century Illustration and the Digital (London: Palgrave, 2017) and Pictorial Victorians: The Inscription of Values in Word and Image (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004). Focusing on the relationship between illustration and modern technologies, Thomas has pioneered digital presentations of Victorian illustration in the form of the AHRC-funded Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration (2007, 2011) and The Illustration Archive (2015).

Reading and Materiality

Leah Price has written extensively on the materiality of books, notably in How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012). Price is primarily interested in the ways in which the publications’ physical properties extend the range of encounters between text and reader. As Price explains, ‘the physicality of print’ involves many non-textual events: ‘Bought, sold, exchanged, transported, displayed, defaced, stored, ignored, collected, neglected, dispersed, discarded—the transactions that enlist books stretch far beyond the literary or even the linguistic.’ Price’s insights are especially important in the consideration of the Victorian illustrated book, which involves non-textual events such as removing and framing prints and (in the case of elaborate bindings), using the books as objects or presents rather than literature to be read.

Last modified 1 November 2019