The seventy Floridiana books and pamphlets on exhibit from the collections of Broward County Main Library’s Bienes Museum of the Modern Book, The Dianne and Michael Bienes Special Collections and Rare Book Library, chronicle the evolution of American book design and publishing from 1873 to 1999.
The exhibition begins by showcasing gracefully designed pre-dust jacket decorative cloth bindings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A few decades later in the 1920s, paper dust jackets begin to appear. For the next twenty years the dust jacket gains more marketing prominence while decorative cloth bindings become less noteworthy. By the 1950s-1960s the dust jacket has won the publishers’ visual battle for the reader’s eye and the illustrated publishers’ cloth and paper bindings practically disappear. The exhibition closes with predictably triumphant, wildly colorful and exuberant paper dust jackets from the 1970s-1990s.
Some of the well known authors in the exhibition who have written eloquently, and occasionally, ineloquently, about Florida are: Harriet Beecher Stowe; Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings; Stephen Foster; Munroe Kirk; Corita Doggett Corse; Dee Dunsing; Don Blanding; and Tim Dorsey; and among the subjects they have covered range from Florida fiction and literature to children’s books; satires and parodies; mystery and crime novels; travel and retirement guides; how-to and recreation books; poetry; and cookbooks.
In one way or another, all of the exhibited books are about the endlessly fascinating and complex State of Florida. Florida is defined in many ways: it is neither the North nor the South; it is a land of boundless opportunity; it is a land of perpetual boom and bust; it is a land of new beginnings; and it is a land of perpetual youth and beauty. From utopia seekers in the later part of the nineteenth century, to unbridled and unscrupulous capitalists of the first part of the twentieth century, and to the hordes of twenty-first century European and Latin American tourists, the state has been a magnet for those searching for new visions and new possibilities.
The earliest title in the exhibition, Palmetto Leaves, was authored by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) and was published in 1873. Stowe and her husband began to winter in northern Florida in the 1860s because of the climate, the unspoiled flora and fauna, and because they believed that the area would be less embroiled in the problems of slavery and the Civil War. The designer, and illustrator, of the dark red diagonal fine-ribbed cloth binding with gilt stamped title and image of palm fronds and black-stamped ornamental borders and beveled edges, remains unidentified. The elegant, graceful and understated binding reflects the book’s equally sophisticated yet homespun contents and its author's desire for a more equitable and just America.
The 1908 binding of Florida Enchantments, written by A.W. & Julian A. Dimock, features a dense Everglades landscape. It is stamped on heavy weave green cloth in dark brown, white and gold and it signals to the reader the textual wonders about to be discovered within. A.W. Dimock was a successful businessman, an author of books of fiction for boys and a writer of non-fiction articles about outdoor life and nature subjects such as Tarpon fishing in Florida.
Dee Dunsing, who resided in Sarasota, Florida, authored several novels that dealt with the early history of Florida. The Seminole Trail, published in 1956, is the story of a young scout and interpreter with the Army during the Seminole War. The dust jacket’s bold red, blue and gray images were designed by Larry Toschik (1922- ) and feature the protagonist fleeing from the Seminoles with a miniature portrait of a young girl hovering in the background.
The dust jacket for the 1970 title, Billion-Dollar Sandbar: a Biography of Miami Beach, written by Polly Redford, is by the well-known graphic designer, illustrator, and type designer, Seymour Chwast (1931- ), who was a co-founder in 1954 of The Push Pin Studios. The book jacket illustration is a biting social commentary on the excesses of South Florida’s “fun and sun” reputation. The front cover features a middle-aged couple. The balding husband, who is wearing an open shirt and sunglasses, is shorter than his wife who sports a bathing suit and garish jewelry and sunglasses. The jacket’s spine illustration is a buxom young woman wearing a bikini, and the back jacket cover portrays a gangster-like man dressed in a suit, vest, fedora and smoking a cigar along side a young, blond bare-chested male flexing his bicep muscles.
The latest book in the exhibition, Florida Roadkill, an over-the-top crime novel set in Florida with a post-modern spin, was authored by Tim Dorsey (1968- ) and was published in 1999. The dull gray paper binding is not illustrated. Its paper dust jacket designed by Bradford Foltz, however, is a riot of color that has a background of bright, bold orange. The jacket’s title is the word “Florida” spelled out using cheap, commercial 1950s postcard-like images. The rest of the front cover illustration is a dazzling blue bar drink that contains a blue palm tree, a pink flamingo drink stirrer, a green mermaid, and a silver corkscrew that morphs into a syringe that sucks up the blue liquid. The garish, hit-you-in-the-face jacket design aptly represents today’s approach to book design and marketing.
From sophisticated and subtle decorative cloth bindings to garish, brash and tawdry contemporary dust jackets, all with Florida themes and subjects, the sixty-five other titles in the exhibit lead the viewer on a visual journey through the history of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century American book design and publishing.
Click here to explore So This Is Florida: An Exhibition of Decorative Book Bindings and Book Jackets, 1873-1999.