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Victorian Bookbinding

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Wood Block and Wood-engraving

The following illustrations are printed from wood. This particular process entailed printing an engraved outline first, then adding colors with a suite of wood blocks, much like a Japanese print.

The Chatterbox

The Chatterbox. New York: Frank Leslie’s Publishing House, 1879-80.

Glazed paper printed from wood.


Wood engraving had been used as a cover illustration technique since the 1810s, when chapbooks for children appeared with engraved designs. George Cruikshank produced his popular Fairy Library in the 1850s at the same time that Dickens’s novels were being presented to the public one part at a time, each with wood-engraved covers.

Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. May 1864-November 1865. London: Chapman and Hall.

Many of Dickens’s novels were first published in 20 monthly parts. The cover is colored paper printed from wood.

Our Mutual Friend



Punch. London: New Library Series, 1885-1886.

Glazed paper printed from wood.




Wood-engraving, combined with the popularity of scandalous pictures in Victorian newspapers, brought about the “yellow back” railway novel and the “penny dreadful” or “dime novel” in the 1880s. The former were adventure books and historical novels with glazed paper covers (most often yellow, but also green, blue, or red) and a scene to attract the reader. The latter were the forerunner of comic books, with wild boy’s stories and lurid illustrations in a tabloid format.

Diamond Dick, Jr.

Lawson, W. B. Dashing Diamond Dick, Jr. in Danger, or a Queer Game at Maverick. New York: Street & Smith, 1900.

Example of a "penny dreadful."



Browning, Robert. The Pied Piper of Hamelin. London: Frederick Warne, ca. 1910. Illustrated by Kate Greenaway.

Glazed paper covers on boards.


The Pied Piper of Hamelin


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On exhibit through September 30, 2000, Rare Book Room, fourth floor, University of North Texas Libraries,
Weekdays 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

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Exhibit by Kenneth Lavender. Web design by Gwen Smith. 

This page was last modified on Thursday, July 08, 2004.

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