Index John Leighton
Aspects of the Victorian Book
  Production   Publishing
  The binding designs of John Leighton
John Leighton  

John 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.

Leighton 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. wide.

There 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 period.

The following 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.

Edmund M. B. King

production Introduction Printng technology Illustration Lithography 1860s wood engraving Photographically illustrated books Binding John Leighton bindings Publishing Introduction The Novel Yellowbacks Penny dreadfuls Children's books Magazines