16 November 2009
The Twelve Stars of Our Republic
It's been rather a gloomy and wet weekend, so what better way to start the week than a rather brilliant example of mid-nineteenth century U.S. bookbinding: The Twelve Stars of the Republic. Out Nation's Gift to Her Young Citizens, published by E. Walker of 114 Fulton Street, New York. It is also served with a colourful side of chromolithographs by James Ackerman (part of the reason why I called this title up from the stacks).
The book gives a suitably glowing account of the first twelve presidents of the republic, offers a series of coloured prints of historical scenes and national monuments, such as the Capitol, a chronology and a copy of the Declaration of Independence. It is a great example of a 'gift book', ornately designed, illustrated and meant to look expensive: as the contemporary New York Sunday Times put it, 'The binding glitters with elegant designs, in harmony with the contents and objects of the volume, and as a gift-book, we have as yet seen nothing that pleases us so well as the Twelve Stars of the Republic.'
(On Gift Books, see Frederick W. Faxon, Literary Annuals and Gift Books: A Bibliography 1823-1903, reprinted with supplementary essays, 1973. For more on book bindings, visit the British Library's database of bindings)