The Fisher Library's Victorian Natural History Collection brings together over a thousand books dedicated to the study of natural history in 19th century Great Britain. Covering topics ranging from conchology to mycology, the collection speaks to the devotion the Victorians had to the study of the world around them, referred to as a "national obsession" by Lynn L. Merrill, author of The Romance of Victorian Natural History. The works of Philip Henry Gosse, whose popular work attempted to reconcile natural history with the biblical story of creation, are especially well represented in this collection.
The spread of publisher's cloth bindings in the 19th century is tied to the popularity of natural history across classes during the same time period: with the increased availability of affordable books, the study of natural history became increasingly widespread and as the study of natural history proliferated the demand for books on the subject expanded even more. Although the timing was right, this symbiotic relationship was no doubt at least in part because of the suitability of the cloth binding as a medium for books about natural history - the whimsical nature of many of the publisher's cloth bindings with beautiful designs and decorations blocked in gold and other colours speaks to the playful, popularized version of science encouraged in the Victorian Natural History movement. Indeed, if it were not for the attention paid to the appearance of the publisher's bindings as an elegant keepsake, perhaps both natural history and publisher's cloth bindings would not have cultivated such a following.
This selection on Flickr will allow scholars, designers and book lovers to consult the Fisher's best examples of publishers' cloth bindings. Some examples can be seen below, while the rest of the set can be accessed here.