Scribner’s Bindings

One of the major difficulties of studying modernist magazines is that so few libraries hold complete runs of older magazines.  Even when complete runs can be found, however, another serious problem obtains in many cases.  As Robert Scholes and Cliff Wulfman point out in Modernism in the Magazines,  those magazines that can be located frequently have been stripped of their ads and covers and bound in library boards.  These library bindings are a product of pragmatism–there’s only so much space in the stacks after all–but they also reflect a certain concept of textuality, one that privileges the linguistic (the right words in the right order) over the bibliographic (the material/sensual elements of the document).  In the wake of the work done by Jerome McGann and others, scholars have come to question that distinction.  While I remain agnostic about this debate when it comes to the book, I think the materialist account of textuality is very convincing in the periodical realm, in which striking materiality and visuality are much more common than in a novel.  To wit, it would be more of a loss to read a transcription of an issue of The Little Review or The Crisis as a Word document than it would be to do the same with The Voyage Out.

Library bindings represent a kind of double-loss.  Not only do they gut the ads and covers, but they also got rid of the original bindings that some publishers themselves provided.  As Scholes and Wulfman note, libraries did not invent the practice of binding magazines.  Some periodicals advertised binding services, which raises interesting questions about the way nineteenth and early (was it just early?) twentieth-century readers thought about their magazines.  We assume that people treat magazines as ephemeral objects, meant to be read on the train and tossed or left for someone else, but these binding services suggest that the at least some readers may have thought of the magazine as a provisional codex–a book waiting to happen (sort of what Anthologize does for blogs).

A more basic question–what did these bindings look like?  They’re part of magazine history too, but you won’t see them on Google Books, which uses those bizarre made-up covers of their own nowadays, or any other site I know of.  I managed to pick one up recently on the cheap and here are my fairly lousy photos of the binding.  It’s Volume 28 (July-December 1900) of Scribner’s Magazine Illustrated.  Sure enough, the ads and covers are gone, but the handsome binding, which resembles that for James’s New York Edition–also published by Scribner’s–suggests that the volumes were meant for display on bookshelves.

Front Cover of Scribner's Bound Volume


Spine of Scribner's Bound Volume

Scribner's Bound Volume Opened

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