By Jessica Pigza
Photographs by Hamish Robertson
As numerous books and blogs showcase classic or beautiful book covers, Issue One’s featured study focuses on the much overlooked art of the book spine.
Jessica Pigza, rare book librarian at the New York Public Library, selects and captions ten interesting spines from the library’s permanent collection.
1. A Specimen Book of Pattern Papers Designed for and in use at the Curwen Press is wrapped in one of this private press’s own designs. The quiet tonal greys of the design of of this 1928 volume are a tease in a way, because when you pull this book from the shelf and open it up you are treated to page after page of bold color and pattern within.
2. The spine of this 1952 edition of Beowulf, published by the Limited Editions Club, uses simple navy cloth and metallic stamping to evoke night skies, battles, and archteypal myths. The spear, stretching the full height of the spine, is an elegant and effective illustration by Lynd Ward that provides a visual refrain within the book as well.
3. Lois Lenski’s illustrations grace both the exterior and interior of 1938’s Edgar the 7:58 by Phil Stong. This book’s spine undoubtedly lured train-loving, book-browsing young readers when it was first published, and it still grabs attention on crowded children’s bookshelves today.
4. The Colophon was a quarterly publication for bibliophiles, and each issue of its first series (numbers 1-20) from the 1930s sported a unique design. Although each spine in the series is unique in its choice of type, layout, color, and ornamentation, they present an elegant whole when seen together. Pictured here is number 19.
5. Dos-a-dos bindings have not one but two spines—one faces out from the shelf, while the other faces the opposite way, making it seem at first glance that a book has been shelved in reverse. This 1633 Bible’s dos-a-dos binding from England is a particular favorite because of the elaborate hand embroidered embellishments and its gauffered edges.
6. Each of the volumes of this 1936 edition of Gargantua and Pantagruel from the Limited Editions Club is bound in plain teal cloth. It’s the illustrated paper label, with its cool tones by W. A. Dwiggins stretching across all five volumes’ spines, that makes this design stand out on the shelf.