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Beautiful Books: The Designs of Margaret Armstrong

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 31st, 2014

Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944) made books beautiful.  Armstrong was a young woman when she began her career as a book binding designer.  As one of the first women to enter this new field, she would soon make a name for herself that would be recognized by publishers and the book buying public alike for her beautiful and intricate designs.  Years of innovation and technological advancements developed during the industrial era made the manufacturing of her designs possible.

Portrait photo of Margaret Armstrong

One of Armstrong’s most recognized works is this stunning series of titles designed for the popular author Henry Van Dyke.  Bound in a deep blue cloth, these designs pay tribute to Armstrong’s father, Maitland Armstrong, an artist well known for his work in stained glass.  Margaret’s interpretation of her father’s art utilized the blue cloth for the window, creating a background framework for her designs, and gold for the leading outlining each leaf and flower.

Cover Designs for "Days Off" and "Blue Flower" by Henry Van Dyke

Charles Scribner’s Sons, Van Dyke’s publisher, commissioned Armstrong to create this series.   Her attractive cover designs made it possible for the publisher to repackage and sell a backlog of his works which, in some cases, had been published thirty years previously, proving that beautiful covers really could sell books!

Covers of "Companionable Books" and "Camp-Fires and Guide-Posts" by Henry Van Dyke

These books, and others designed by Margaret Armstrong, will be on display in the lobby of the Downtown Library.  These and others in this collection can be found in the rare book room in the West Virginia and Regional History Center.

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

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