The title comes from a lecture by Sarah Wyman Whitman, the prolific Boston book cover designer. In 1894 she asserted that designers should accept the challenge posed by mass-produced cloth-covered books and transform them into objects of beauty. This draws on examples from France, Great Britain, and the U.S., showing how poets like Rossetti and Mallarme, artists like Whistler and Grasset, binders like T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, sought to craft book designs that were beautiful and eloquent expressions of individual artistry.
In the late 19th century, writers, artists, and bibliophiles expended great thought and energy on books as a category of objects that might be made to express, by their very physical appearance, aesthetic ideals and personal visions. Books, like other artifacts produced in the then new industrial system, implicitly raised questions about their cultural status as objects and the role of aesthetics in designing them.
Aesthetic Tracts shows how new theories of design, including the introduction of Japanese artistic principles, new printing technology, the emergence of the consumer society, the transformation in the publishing industry, and the influence of international expositions, worked to change the idea of the book at the fin de siecle. With 16 color plates, 50 black-and-white illustrations, bibliography, and index.