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Judging Books by Their Fanciful Covers

Through April 30, 2021

As the years go by, illustrated book covers are becoming a thing of the past. Carefully painted and drawn, illustrated covers and bindings are no longer needed as books are becoming less of a treasured item and more of a disposable object. During the Victorian Era, having books was seen as a status symbol and as a sign of one’s wealth. Not everyone could have books, but more importantly, not everyone could have books that were meant to be read for pleasure. Novels that were fiction were becoming more and more popular and the authors needed to make sure that their book would stand out among the masses. One way to make a book stand out—have a richly illustrated cover or binding that would be eye-catching. These books could be read for enjoyment and then used as decorative objects or conversation starters.

Judging Books by Their Fanciful Covers is curated by Farm House Museum Intern Kylea Mosley, senior in History at Iowa State University. The exhibition features a selection of books from the Farm House Museum’s permanent collection and 2 cover photographs from the Rare Book Collection of Parks Library/Special Collections that highlight rich and fanciful covers. A selection of 4 books feature covers design by the noted Victorian-era female cover designer Margaret Neilson Armstrong.

Visit the Farm House Museum

Hours: Monday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. (closed weekends, holidays and university breaks)
* Due to COVID restrictions, only the first floor of the Farm House Museum is open to visitors.
Address: 601 Farm House Lane, Ames, Iowa 50011
Admission: The cost is free, however there is a suggested donation of $8
Parking: Available at the Memorial Union ramp for a nominal fee.

IMAGE: Little Rivers: A Book of Essays in Profitable Idleness by Henry Van Dyke (American, 1852-1933). Decorative trade binding by Margaret N. Armstrong (American, 1867–1944), with her initials incorporated in the design. This specially bound edition appeared several years after the title was originally published. Published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903.Gift of Alan Gibb. In the Farm House Museum Collection, Farm House Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 87.11.10


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