Cathy East Dubowski
The design reproduced on this cover centres around a sensitive plant surrounded by other richly hued flowers, foliage and butterflies. The binding was used for The Sensitive Plant and Early Poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley and is a celebration of the creative spirit.
Many of our cover designs are reproductions of book bindings that come from long-ago eras, when books were treasured as precious objects. One might have the expectation that with the arrival of the modern age and mass production, the art of book binding would have become obsolete. However our Poetry in Bloom design, a reproduction of a 1910 book binding, is a reminder of the kind of artistry that could be produced only with these modern machines and techniques.
This design reproduces the cover of The Sensitive Plant and Early Poems, a collection of poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Written in the wake of his child’s death, Shelley’s title poem describes a flower garden going through seasonal changes. First the garden embodies the joy and bliss of spring and summer, and later it becomes consumed by the decay and lethargy of fall and winter. With this poem, Shelley invites the reader to contemplate how the only connection to reality that we have is through fleeting sensations.
Unlike most of our designs, which emulate the front part of a book cover, this Poetry in Bloom design is a recreation of the original’s front “doublure,” the inside face of the cover board. Protected from wear, this part provides bookbinders with additional room for unleashing their creative skills. Here, the binders of Riviere and Son, a London-based binding house, used leather and gilt to create a naturalistic representation of flowers, leaves and butterflies. The sensitive plant, named after its reflex to fold its leaves when touched or shaken, is the focal point of the design’s composition, just as it is in Shelley’s poem.
The book that inspired this Poetry in Bloom series came from the personal library of W.A. Spencer. A wealthy man with a passion for fine books, he bequeathed his massive collection to the New York Public Library after seeing its new, yet-unfinished magnificent central building. Following Spencer’s tragic death as one of the Titanic passengers, the Library received his book collection and a sizable donation for establishing the Spencer Collection. This institution is dedicated to preserving material history of illustrated word and book binding, an undertaking that we, of course, support wholeheartedly.