Explorations in Stone-Campbell Bibliography, #8: The Art of the Books

The first few Explorations installments were so verbose, I thought it appropriate to hold my comments to a minimum this time and let the pictures speak for themselves.

First, a quote:

With a binding like you’ve got, people are going to want to know what’s in the book. ~ Alan Jay Lerner, An American in Paris (screenplay)

I doubt the playwright had McQuiddy Printing in mind when he wrote that one, but I’ll go with it anyhow for starters….:)  In this post I want to begin exploring the art of the book in the Stone-Campbell movement.  Not all bibliophiles are readers, and not all readers are bibliophiles, and some researchers are neither but that is beside the point just here.  Whatever the case may be, there is an aesthetic dimension to publishing among the heirs of BW Stone and Thos. Campbell that has been ignored.  Too bad, really, because the books and periodicals…not too mention the ephemera…are worthy of exploration.   The books as objects make a fascinating study, as well shall see.  Also, it is an unfortunate irony that the tangible and aesthetic aspect of the movement’s literature has been both handled and at the very same time overlooked by every reader, researcher and bibliophile since the very beginning.  Here’s my attempt to attend to this.


In the earliest days of the movement, there were a few books but several periodicals.  Though some publishers (Alexander Campbell did) offered bound volumes of their periodicals at the end of the year, subscribers often had their own single issues bound themselves.  Most editors supplied a title page for the entire volume year in the last issue of that volume.  Then you took your papers to a binder and had them done up as simply or as nicely as your theology and pocket-book would allow.  The Harbinger below is typical of the style and size of the early periodicals.  The earlier ones were simpler, and as time passed (and for the lucky ones… increased revenue no doubt helped as well) the type improved and the covers grew more decorative.  By mid-19th century, especially after the Civil War, the periodicals to 11 x 17 or larger.

Here’s a single issue of the Millennial Harbinger (May 1851)

Millennial Harbinger May 1851

Here’s a bound volume of the Harbinger (1849) in 1/4 leather with marbled paper boards.

Millennial Harbinger 1849

Campbell’s Christian System (3rd ed., 1840). Admittedly, not the nicest condition copy you’d find, but comparable in style to most American publishers of the day.  Simple leather (sheep, calf or morocco if you are fancy) boards with plain spine labels are the standard attire for books prior to the Civil War.  Cloth and paper were cheaper options (see below).  I wonder if this one was bound in the same shop that printed the Harbinger (which still stands in Bethany village today).

Christian System

Moving up in time, here is Campbell’s Christian Baptism (1851) in a simple cloth binding.  I’ve seen it in varieties of leather as well.

Campbell on Baptism

The periodical output grew by leaps and bounds by mid-century and so did the book publishing.  By the 1870’s and 1880’s there are ‘brotherhood’ publishing houses…if you account for the differing degrees of official brotherhood (or if you prefer, denominational) status.  At the turn of the (last) century there was quite a back-and-forth between Christian Standard and Standard Publishing Company vs. Christian-Evangelist and the Christian Publishing Company concerning whether there is or ought to be an official brotherhood publishing house.  Anyhow, these houses put out the books.   Here we see the art of the book really come into its own (or remain plain as the theology and the pocket book dictated).  The latter part of the 19th century was the heyday for Stone-Campbell biblioaesthetics.

T. W. Brents, Gospel Plan of Salvation (Cincinnati: Bosworth, Chase and Hall, 1874) in plain cloth, blindstamped covers, gilt lettering to the spine:

Gospel Plan of Salvation

William Baxter, Life of Walter Scott (Cincinnati: Bosworth, Chase and Hall, 1874), cloth with decorative front cover:

Life of Walter Scott

A. S. Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve (Cincinnati: Chase and Hall, 1875)

History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve

Elizabeth Jameson Reid, Judge Richard Reid, A Biography (Cincinnati: standard Publishing Company, 1886), probably one of the best examples of Victorian style meets Campbellism:

Judge Richard Reid

J. W. McGarvey Evidences of Christianity [“Text and Canon”] (Cincinnati: Guide Printing and Publishing Company, 1886).  Claude Spencer notes in his Author Catalog of the Disciples of Christ that the companion volume to McG.’s Text and Canon, the Credibility and Inspiration of the New Testament was in its first printing defective.  The front cover is misspelled Creditability and Inspiration…I have yet to lay eyes on that one.

McGarvey Text and Canon

Isaac Errett, Evenings With the Bible 3 vols. (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Company, 1884, 1887, 1889).  BC Goodpasture reissued this set in the middle 1950’s.  Same content inside but with classic GA style on the outside.  (I prefer the true firsts on this set).  I’ve seen variations in the binding on this set, perhaps due to two or more printings???  I have yet to see a set bound in leather.

Evenings With The Bible

Z. T. Sweeney, Under Ten Flags (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Company, 1889) has blindstamped covers and a bold, striking spine:

Under Ten Flags

Not all Stone-Campbell books were published by “brotherhood” operations.  Two examples: Robert Richardson’s Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (1868) and J. W. McGarvey’s Lands of the Bible (1881) both of which were published by Lippincott.  Memoirs was also issued in a one-volume edition on thin paper.  I’ve seen Memoirs in cloth and in 1/4 morocco leather with marbled endpapers and boards.  Very nice!

Memoirs of Alexander Campbell

McGarvey Lands of the Bible

And James A. Harding’s debate with T. L. Wilkinson was published in Canada.  Debate on Baptism between J. A. Harding and T. L. Wilkinson (Toronto: William Briggs, 1886) has an understated design on the front board.

Harding-Wilkinson Debate

Gospel Advocate Publishing Company and McQuiddy Printing got into the game in the late 1880’s and 1890’s.  I’ll explore their items in another installment.


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