The Decline of Book Making

About 1860, it was noted that printing quality was suffering in the throes of the Industrial Revolution.

Pennyroyal Caxton Bible

Henry Stevens, a Vermont-born rare-book seller in London and recognized proponent of fine printing wrote, “The disagreeable fact that our books are deteriorating in quality is assumed for the present and taken for granted. The fault exists and is daily becoming more and more manifest…”

“Our printing presses are teeming and steaming with books of all sorts (with some striking exeptions) not up to the mark of the high calling of book-making. It is no excuse to say that the rapidity of production has been largely increased. That amounts merely to confessing that we are now consuming two bad books in the place of one good one…”

“It is not the amiable public that is so hungry for cheap printing and cheap books, but the greedy provider of cheap and cheaper books with which the public is crammed like Strasburg geese, that are in fault. This downward tendency is not so much the fault of the consumers as the manufacturers. The manufacture of a beautiful and durable book costs little if anything more, it is believed, than it does to manufacture a coumsy and unsightly one.”

“Good taste, skill, and severe training are as requisitie and necessary in the proper production of books as in any other of the fine arts.”

Henry Stevens was engaged by the librarian of the British Museum, to collect historical books, documents and journals concerning North and South America; and he was purchasing agent for the Smithsonian Institution and for the Library of Congress, as well as for James Lenox, of New York, for whom he secured much of the valuable Americana in the Lenox library in that city, and for the John Carter Brown library, at Providence, Rhode Island. He became a member of the Society of Antiquaries in 1852, and in 1877 was a member of the committee which organized the Caxton Exhibition, for which he catalogued the collection of Bibles.

Image: Pennyroyal Caxton Bible

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