Thursday, January 31, 2013

Judging a Book by its Cover

Today's natural history books are generally wonderful, covering a wide choice of organisms and illustrated with excellent photographs and illustrations. But there is one aspect of natural history publishing that Victorian and Edwardian publishers excelled in and that has now almost disappeared: embossed covers. It's also something that downloaded digital books can never have - there is no way you can run your fingers over an embossed cover on your Kindle. Here are a few attractive examples from old natural history books.

Three Great Naturalists by John Upton, published in the early years of the 20th. century.

Wildlife at Home: How to Study and Photograph it, by Richard and Cherry Kearton, published in 1907

Morris's British Birds by the Rev. F.O. Morris. 1891 edition, published in 6 volumes.

Morris's British Butterflies by the Rev. F.O. Morris. 1870

A Popular History of British Mosses by Robert M. Stark, 1860

A Treatise on the Esculent Funguses of England by Charles David Badham, 1863

Bees, Wasps and Allied Insects of the British Isles by Edward Step, 1932

Rambles Among the Flowers: Fruiting Time by T. Carreras, early 1920s.

Ferns of Great Britain and their Allies by Anne Pratt, 

Wayside and Woodland Ferns by Edward Step

Shell Life by Edward Step, early 20th. century

Toadstools and Mushrooms of the Countryside by Edward Step


  1. You can't beat the smell and feel of a book. Something a Kindle will never achieve.

  2. That was a delightful post :-) I can almost feel the books in my hands (and smell them - love the smell of old books). Thanks Phil

  3. Aren't they beautiful? They remind me of the books I'd be given as a child.

  4. Maybe, now there are ebooks, embossed covers for print books might be revived. That would be nice.

    Thanks for the fly suggestion on

    Will add it into the post - along with link to here.

  5. Totally agree Keith..... and I'm always wary of books that only work with a battery....

  6. Me too Mel - I love exploring second-hand book shops...

  7. Hi Toffeeapple, I've still got the first natural history book I was ever given - a Ladybird book called What to look for in Winter, given to me by my grandmother for my eight birthday.

  8. I think you might be right Lucy - mainstream publishing might well go back to higher standards of book production, now that ebooks are capturing the mass market...

  9. I think this is publishing as a work of art, Caroline...

  10. I totally agree with all the comments above Phil, but I'm glad I've got my IPad - to access wonderfully sensitive and informative blogs like yours!
    From a llong time reader..

  11. Thanks for the kind sentiments Nicola - much appreciated. I have to admit that I'm an iPad enthusiast too ....... definitely superior to books for anything that involves photography...


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