Poetry in Ohioana’s Collection

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, we’re sharing some beautiful vintage books by Ohio poets Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice and Phoebe Cary.

We’ve already shared biographical information and the cover of Li’l’ Gal by Paul Laurence Dunbar here. Today we’re sharing more covers from this Dayton-born poet, novelist, lyricist, and playwright.

Cover of "When Malindy Sings" with brown background and red flowers climbing up a white trellis.When Malindy Sings is one of Dunbar’s most popular dialect poems, and was written as a tribute to his mother, Matilda, and her habit of singing while she worked. Interestingly, Malindy herself never appears in the poem.

 

 

 

 

 

Cover of "The Uncalled" by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dark blue background with gray Art Deco ornaments along left and right sides, gold metallic background behind title and author, and stylized author's monogram in black.The Uncalled was Dunbar’s first novel. Although it was not well received by critics, Dunbar went on to write three more novels while still producing multiple poetry and short story collections.

 

 

 

 

 

Cover image of "Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow" by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dark green background with metallic gold lettering and floral decorations.

Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow, published in 1905, was one of the last poetry collections Dunbar produced before his death in 1906 at age thirty-three.

 

 

 

 

 

Cover of "Alice Carey's Poems," with taupe background, gold floral border, and color image of a woman in a long yellow dress standing in a garden.Although Alice and Phoebe Cary are not as well known as Dunbar today, they were extremely popular during their lifetimes. Alice Cary was born near Cincinnati in 1820; her sister Phoebe was born four years later. Although the girls received little formal schooling, they were educated at home and developed an affinity for literature and poetry. Both sisters published their first poems in newspapers when they were still teenagers. Over the course of the next ten years their work gradually garnered the attention of literary notables including Edgar Allen Poe and John Greenleaf Whittier. Their first book, Poems of Alice and Phoebe Carey, was published in 1850.

Cover image of "The Poetical Works of Alice and Phoebe Cary," with dark green background, black and metallic gold decorative ornaments along top and bottom edges, and metallic gold lettering.After the publication of their book, Alice and Phoebe moved to New York City, where they both became regular contributors to the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and other periodicals. Alice wrote novels and short stories as well as poetry; Phoebe published two volumes of her own poetry and wrote numerous lyrics that appeared in church hymnals. Both sisters were keenly interested in social justice.

The Carys were famous for their hospitality, and their home became a gathering place for New York literati. Although Alice was the more prolific writer (possibly because Phoebe devoted much of her time to keeping house and, in later years, caring for Alice), Phoebe later received strong critical acclaim. Alice passed away after a long illness in February of 1871; Phoebe died in July of the same year.

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Decorative Publishers’ Bindings

During the 1800s publishers began looking for an economical way to produce books in large quantities. Cloth covers replaced leather, and case binding (where the text block and cover were produced separately and the cover was then attached with glue) became the norm. Although these bindings were economical, they were often ornately decorated with gold or silver stamping and illustrations that reflected not only the book’s subjectPubBindRemington matter, but also the artistic style of the day. Following are a few examples of decorative publisher’s bindings from Ohioana’s collection.

Alfred Henry Lewis was born in 1855 in Cleveland. After working as a prosecuting attorney he gave up law and became a journalist, working as a reporter for the Chicago Times and as editor of the Chicago Times-Herald. During his career Lewis published numerous magazine articles and short stories and a dozen novels. Wolfville was his first published book; this 1897 edition was published by the Frederick A. Stokes Company and contains illustrations by Frederic Remington.

PubBindDunbarPaul Laurence Dunbar was born in 1872 in Dayton, where he was a classmate of Orville Wright. He wrote for Dayton community newspapers, published an African-American newsletter, and worked as an elevator operator while writing poetry. His work gained notice among literary figures including Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley and Ohio-born novelist and Atlantic Monthly editor William Dean Howells. Dunbar eventually achieved international fame. Although he is best known for his poetry, he also wrote short stories, novels, plays, and songs. He died in Dayton in 1906.

This edition of Li’l’ Gal was published by Dodd, Mead and Co. in 1904. The cover and highly decorated interior pages were created by Margaret Armstrong; you can see her initials at the base of the bouquet. Armstrong was one of several prominent women designers working in publishing during the late 1800s and early 1900s. She specialized in nature-inspired themes and worked on several of Dunbar’s books.

PubBindHowells1Finally, we have two books by William Dean Howells. Howells was born in 1837 in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio. His father was a newspaperman, and Howells often helped with typesetting and printing as a boy. In 1858 Howells began to work at the Ohio State Journal, where he wrote poetry and short stories. As a reward for writing a campaign biography of Abraham Lincoln, Howells was appointed U.S. consul in Venice, Italy in 1861. After his return he became editor of the The Atlantic Monthly in Boston. In this position he helped introduce new European and American Realist authors to American readers, and supported such writers as Paul Laurence Dunbar, Stephen Crane, and Mark Twain (with whom he formed a lifelong friendship). However, some of Howell’s most critically acclaimed books were written after he left The Atlantic, including his best-known work, The Rise of Silas Lapham. Howells wrote more than 40 novels and short story collections before his death in 1920.

PubBindHowells2The edition of Tuscan Cities above right was published in Boston by Ticknor and Company in 1886. The Daughter of the Storage, a collection of short stories and poems, was published by Harper & Brothers Publishers in 1916.

To see more decorative publishers’ bindings, visit Publishers’ Bindings Online, a joint project of The University of Alabama, University Libraries and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries.