Five bindings, one illustrious text. Which do you prefer?

The following five bindings of Arion Press' 1979 Barry-Moser-illustrated edition of Moby Dick are from the James L. Thielman collection from the Lilly Library at Indiana. What a bindings collector he was! Just check out this incomplete list.

Philip Smith

Wow. What a binding. Puckered white alum-tawed leather over shaped boards. The White Whale! Gold doubloon for you sir! And modest overlays reminding us of our guy in this mess, Ishmael, and that this is his story. Nice evenly-impressed and evenly-colored tooling subtly located near the head of the book, along the whale's side.

A fantastic effort and great effect. It's housed in a suede-lined walnut box and I love the wooden box too - evocative of a ship... or casket...  It's interesting to me to see such a stunning binding from Philip Smith because by and large, I'm actually not such a great fan of his designs. But credit is due, here, sin duda, and without reservation.

Don Glaister

Early Don Glaister. Personally I would characterize Glaister's later (and current) styles as over exuberant. But not here. This is a restrained pictorial effort to pretty good aesthetic effect. The gold and silver finishing is technically very very very good - take a closer look, especially as the tooling continues into the shoulder.

Roger Powell

Roger Powell gets respect from me. But unfortunately, I can't praise this one like I'd like. The design is strange to me. And just as bad, the tooling, when looked at closely, is not crisp. Gold creeps beyond the impressions and the tooling by the overlays is... i don't want to say sloppy... but not clean or consistent. 

I tend to enjoy Roger Powell's repetitions best when he emphasizes typography, with large swaths of gold tooled letters. But this binding doesn't have that. Sorry to say that even the execution of the typography isn't that consistent. Maybe this was very late in his career, maybe his eyesight wasn't what it was... I don't know... but well.... let's not get caught up in our names, but instead to judge bindings and designs on their merits! Powell (RIP), like all of us, was human!

James Brockman

Technically excellent. Just my opinion, but the design doesn't do much for me. What do you think? I personally don't believe bindings need to relate so much to their content if they have successful and fitting abstract designs. But I'm not sure if that fits the bill. White color here evocative of the whale?... black of death, or the sea, or the ship?... Gold and the inlays for the harpoons?... Why the color gradation from white to gray?... Why are the harpoons rainbow colored? N.B. you may notice the blind tooling is cropped weird... that is my fault, not the binder's.

Jeff Clements

Like the previous binding, we've got a largely abstract design. Is it successful? To me, it is probably the weakest of the bunch. Maybe I just don't get it. Are the black onlays trying to evoke a captain's hat? The red and blind circles, which are lumpy(!), evocative of the sun and moon? Why so much greens? The tooling of the straight lines are fine, but unfortunately the blind title lacks a consistent color.