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; Carita 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.