Transitional binding

Sun Jun 16 10:40:59 EDT 2002

The ML introduced balloon cloth bindings in January 1929.  
All titles published through 1928 were in imitation leather 
bindings.  All titles published from January 1929 through 
spring 1939 were in balloon cloth.

The "transitional" balloon cloth binding, used January-March 
1929, retained the binding design of the ML, Inc.'s 
imitation leather binding (Henry's binding 4), including the 
Bernhard torchbearer on the front panel.  Rockwell Kent's 
balloon cloth binding (Henry's binding 5) was introduced in 

I wrote about the "transitional" binding in my first article 
on the ML, "The Modern Library Series: Format and Design, 
1917-1977," in PRINTING HISTORY, vol. 1, no. 1 (1978), pp. 
26-37.  PRINTING HISTORY is the journal of the American 
Printing History Association, and the article is well 
illustrated. To summarize:

Cerf and Klopfer began to think seriously about abandoning 
the imitation leather binding in 1928.  They experimented 
with various binding cloths, then settled on a natural 
finish balloon cloth manufactured by the Siegbert Book-Cloth 
Corporation.  They prepared samples of the new binding, with 
semi-flexible covers, and showed them to several leading 
booksellers and department store buyers.  The response was 
enthusiastic and they decided to go ahead.

The old spine and cover design remained in use for the first 
three months, but this was a temporary expedient.  In 
December 1928, shortly after they decided to substitute 
balloon cloth for imitation leather, Cerf asked Rockwell 
Kent, who had already created the Random House device, to 
make a "simple but … characteristic Kentian design for the 
back-strip."  Kent not only drew striking new spine for ML 
books, but redesigned the torchbearer and created new 
endpapers as well.

First printings of six 1929 titles appeared in the 
transitional binding:

Aiken, ed., AMERICAN POETRY, 1671-1928 (Jan.)
Flaubert, SALAMMBO (Jan.)
Dostoyevsky, BROTHERS KARAMAZOV (Feb.)
Merejkowski, DEATH OF THE GODS (Mar.)

Kent's binding design (Henry's binding 5) had a grape vine 
on the spine and a new torchbearer on the front panel.  It 
was introduced in April 1929 with Thornton Wilder's THE 
CABALA.  His endpaper made its first appearance in the next 
title added to the series, Petronius' SATRYICON (not THE 
CABALA as I state in the PRINTING HISTORY article).

I've always thought that the Kent and Blumenthal bindings 
were the handsomest the ML ever used.  Unfortunately Kent's 
design was overly ambitious for books that retailed for 95 
cents a copy.  The extra gold required for his design 
increased the binding cost by half a cent per copy.  That 
half a cent doomed the design, and it was used in its full 
form for only fourteen months.  The last title published in 
the full form of Kent's binding was ORIENTAL ROMANCES in May 
1930.  Beginning with Cervantes' DON QUIXOTE (summer 1930) 
the torchbearer on the front cover was blind stamped 
(impressed into the cloth without gold).  Henry's binding 6, 
with the grape vine omitted from the spine and the 
torchbearer on the front panel reduced in size but again 
stamped in gold, was introduced in November 1930 with WORKS 
OF PLATO (jacket title: Philosophy of Plato).  In May 1931 
the spine was enhanced with a small decoration in gold 
(Henry's binding 7).

Occasionally a given printing, including the first, exists 
in more than one binding.  Boni & Liveright warehoused its 
ML stock as unbound sheets and bound them as needed.  It's 
common for given printings of Boni & Liveright titles to be 
found in multiple bindings.  Cerf and Klopfer don't appear 
to have done this as often, but first printings of some ML, 
Inc. titles exist in more than one binding.  One example is 
Dostoyevsky's BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, the first printing of 
which is found in both the transitional binding and the full 
form of Kent's binding.  The second printing (which retains 
a "First" statement) is found in the Kent binding with a 
blind-stamped torchbearer.

I'll have more to say about BROTHERS KARAMAZOV in my next 

Gordon B. Neavill
Associate Professor
Library and Information Science Program
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48202
aa3401 at 

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