In the early nineteenth century, the development of case binding, a technique conducive to mass production, made the manufacture of books with uniform edition bindings possible. Publishers eventually began using this convenience to their further advantage, decorating the covers and spines as a form of commercial enticement and an expression of house pride. This continued throughout the nineteenth century and into the early years of the 20th century.
The Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections holds thousands of examples of these publishers’ trade bindings from throughout the 19th and early 20th century, a selection of which are currently being displayed on the 3rd floor of Deering Library in the exhibit Decorative Cloth: Publishers' Trade Bindings in the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, 1820-1920. The exhibit is arranged chronologically by decade, and showcases some of the typical designs found during those years.
The exhibit runs now through March 25, 2013 on the third floor of Deering Library, with access through the Main Library entrance at 1970 Campus Drive. It's open to the public during the Library's regular public hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 8:30 a.m. to noon.
In addition, the Northwestern Library Art Collection contains many secondary sources that support further research into the history of book cover design, illustration and printing processes. Some of these titles are on display outside of the Eloise W. Martin Reading Room, just around the corner from the main exhibit.