The "Bab" Ballads; Much Sound and Little Sense is the first complete collection of the short poems written and illustrated by W. S. Gilbert before he partnered with Arthur Sullivan to write the comic operettas that the pair is famous for. This book is a merging of the first two volumes of the ballads, printed in 1884. It has about 215 illustrations by Gilbert paired with 79 of his poems.

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Most cover illustration like this during this period was done in similar ways to embossing, though it cannot be entirely determined what was the most common in this period. Most likely the illustration was copied and etched onto a lead or wood die cut and made into one whole piece to be able to stamp the cover on all copies of the book, and to make each illustration stand out. 

This illustration would have probably been stamped in black as an outline and some then stamped in burgundy. Then the binder would have painted with gold in the spaces that were meant to be gilded so that the cover would pop and be interesting to look at, but also so that the gilded spaces would not interfere with the stamped areas. You can see that the gold has been painted based on the texture and spread of it on the largest gilded piece on the bottom right. Examine it closely and you can tell where the brush has been applied.

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The title for this cover was done by combination embossing, which means that a sheet black leaf have been placed between the cover and the letters in the embossing or stamping  machine, or possibly on the binder's tool. The black was most likely done first as an outline, and gold and burgundy painted on by the binder, described in cover illustration above. All decoration would have been done before the cover was on the textblock

The title that appears here would have most likely been die cut in conjunction with the illustration that appears here, based on its interweaving and interaction with what is on the cover. The stamping or embossing would have been done first so that the binder or painter would know where to paint in gold.

To learn more about the process of embossing, click on the button below. 

That's all for the cover!

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