Leighton (1822-1912) was the most productive designer of bookbindings
of the nineteenth century, his work spanning the years 1845-1902.
His father and uncle were in business together as J. and J.
Leighton, bookbinders, but John studied first as an artist,
writing and illustrating a number of works under the pseudonym
Luke Limner. The Great Exhibition of 1851 provided the opportunity
for a wider range of work, and during the 1850s and 1860s
he produced an astonishing number of binding designs while
continuing to publish as an author and illustrator. In his
later years he became interested in local government, and
his last recorded work is a pamphlet of 1902, proposing improvements
to the London underground system.
had a powerful imagination, which was applied time and again
to designing vignettes for covers and spines, with deft touches
of humour often in keeping with a book's subject. He was capable
of working on a large and small scale. His designs for Blackie's
Literary and Commercial Almanack, made between 1853
and 1872, were for a publication not more than 5.5 cm. high
and 8.5 cm. wide; by contrast, his design for The Life
of Man is on a book measuring 23 cm. wide and 28.5 cm.
is ample evidence of Leighton's graphic skill. He had a strong
eye for detailing groups of objects within a small space,
especially for spine designs, and demonstrated his considerable
calligraphic gifts in his novel lettering designs. An interest
in heraldry, possibly inspired by his Scottish ancestry, is
shown in the coats of arms which feature on many of his covers.
Most important, his links with the family bookbinding firm
provided him with vital experience in maximising design elements
within the technical constraints of working on cloth at this
examples are chosen from over 400 known Leighton designs.
He signed his work with his initials, either crossed in the
form of a monogram or separately.
M. B. King