What follows is only the briefest sort of presentation
of a very complex subject, put forth for the use of beginners
in the book trade, whether they be sellers or collectors. I make
no attempt here at completeness or absolute authority ( I may
err on some details... some, moreknowledgeable than i may snicker at omissions ... please feel free to make corrections).
These are just some thoughts of my own presented as a result of answering a question on another thread about the copy of Lucille shown below. I include my answer (and the OP's picture from that thread) as a jumping off point. I present this as a sort of preliminary and recommendation to all to continue further on their own in this subject.
It is a good idea, if one is setting out to collect or sell books, to familiarize oneself with the development of bindings, as they developed through the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It is really a most interesting subject to tackle and whatever one learns about the subject can only help in ones collecting and selling endeavors. There have been many queries posted to the book board questioning the age of books which people come across. One cannot expect a person who has not trained in the field nor gained knowledge through experience in that field to have this sort of knowledge, yet anyone who takes it upon themselves to sell or collect books would benefit by a study of this area. If you love books, then you may find it a pleasant activity.
Bindings have changed quite a bit through the course of two centuries, and a great many methods of binding have been used. Binding material has included paper, leather, boards (paper-covered, pressed boards), cloth, silk , wood, metal....all of these things, and more, have been used tomake the bindings of books.
Mass publishing changed the manner in which books were presented to the buying public. Each advance in printing and binding science produced changes in the manner in which publishers clothed their wares (early on publisher and printer were often one and the same).
I am not going to talk about leather bindings, nor small press bindings, nor am I going to address the earlier period when a book was printed and the prospective owner chose their own armorial binding for a book. I am only going to speak of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and then only about those bindings which were given to the books by the actual publishers. I am not necessarily going to stay in chronological sequence.
As you see below the first book up was published in the late nineteenth century.It is a solid cloth binding with machine-pressed title and decoration. It is an excellent example of what is known as a trade binding (or a publisher's trade binding). As ornate as the binding seems, there were thousands of this title issued in this very binding. It is machine tooled, or rather stamped. This specimen is exceptional in mainly one way...the colors have not faded at all (or very little). Although one can tell that it has seen use (dinged edges, slightly shaken signatures and a slight spine slant) it, nonetheless, still beckons brightly to the reader. These books were meant to be read, but they were also meant to be used as decorative touches in a room. The general Victorian populus, in large part (there were exceptions) , loved elaborate ornamentation, and with books and their bindings we frequently see some of the most elaborately embellished objects. Like Mother Nature, Victorian's seemed to abhor vacuums and thus filled up all the possible space on a binding. The binding below is not even, by a far stretch, the most elaborate, but it is a very nice example.
This copy is contemporary with the dated inscription on the front endpaper (FEP) [there is, on he other thread a view of the inscription]. Publisher's Trade Bindings such as this were common for the times, but despite the pretty surface, were often constructed of inferior materials and frequently had fragile joints, where a "frugality" in the use of thread and proper backing, due in part to the rapidity with which they were manufactured, unfortunately contributed to a rapid demise in the structural integrity of the book. This specimen has survived with its color and gold embellishment nicely preserved. Just think how colorful the book shelves would have been in a typical low income but bookish household.
Meself... I am partial to the products of that age.
This book has a nominal value, mostly depending on its condition, which here is, considering the materials involved and the subsequent unavoidable action of time, very good, at least for its exterior. (Has some scrapes and edge dings, slight erosion to spine extremities, and a decided spine lean to the front which would put it as the normal used copy in good plus ... but the brightness of the colors and gold offset this so that one looks with charity on the copy which elevates it to very good (some may disagree as this sort of grading is completely subjective).... this, of course, dependent on examination of the interior...hoping that the paper is not too brittle and that there are not too many of the smudges which seem to appear at the foot of the title-page. Signatures do not seem to be shaken badly... are the hinges cracked at the ends?...)
There are people who collect every extent variation of this title. It is, one might say an historical marker of sorts in book publishing ... or , I should say, a sort of yearly touchstone, as there were so many different editions of Lucille issued by various publishers through the years...some publishers had several different versions of the title issued all in the same year. Do a google search for "The Lucille Project".
I think that should bring up some interesting information, not just on Lucille, but on various publishers as well.
This is a good book to hone your descriptive abilities as goes condition and content. It is always a challenge to obtain a better price for Lucille. How far can you chat this copy up? Once it was of the most widely read books, now you will be lucky to find a handful of people who have read it (a real tragedy...love confused and lost and all forlorn ..Victorian bathos at its most unflinching.) Chances are whomever buys this is buying it for the binding...but I would like to think they would give the story a try.
Just another thought. It is my own predilection to consider previous owner's signatures and inscriptions not as defects but as provenance. So that in describing any faults to the endpapers, such would be noted. But the inscription would be a separate notation, as an indicator of age &c. and not a fault. Maybe as we move further into the world of modern collecting , such things become less desirable. Again, this is a subjective sort of preference.
The American News Company was a huge conglomerate and notorious for not dating their books. This was common practice and so one is thrown back on an analysis of the binding, the presence of inscriptions (even if not dated, the nature of the ink and the style of the hand will often tell), and the presence of publisher's lists in the front or rear of the book , if they exist .... Always a handy thing to have in mind or nearby in reference is the date which various books appeared on the market...so that if you see an ad for book ABC in a copy of book XYZ and you know ABC was not published until after XYZ had already been out ... well... such things are good indicators.
As a matter of fact, in another thread, Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott is being discussed, and one of the points for the first edition of that book is the presence or not and location of a particular publisher's ad.... so these sorts of details in a book, often overlooked, are good indicators for determining the date and or precedence of a printing.