Scope and Content
Organization and Arrangement
Title: Collection of Materials by and Relating to the Decorative Designers Firm,
Date (inclusive): 1895-1973
Collection number: 1182
25 boxes (12.5 linear ft.)
University of California, Los Angeles. Library.
Department of Special Collections.
Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
Abstract: Emma Redington (Lee) Thayer (ca. 1874-ca. 1973) was the co-founder of Decorative Designers, a New York City based firm that
produced binding designs, dust jackets, book illustrations, and advertising material. She specialized in conventionalized
decorations and designed most of the bindings, did some lettering, and was successful at dust jacket illustrations. She also
published over sixty mystery novels as well as children's books. The collection consists of material related to the work of
Lee Thayer and the Decorative Designers (DD) including correspondence, taped interviews, articles and newsclippings related
to the life and career of Thayer, dust jackets and novels by Thayer, and photocopied bookplate designs, binding designs, and
dust jackets by DD.
Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library, Department
of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
Restrictions on Access
COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Advance notice required for access.
Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
Property rights to the physical object belong to the UCLA Library,
Department of Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright,
are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of
the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the
copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC
Regents do not hold the copyright.
[Identification of item], Collection of Materials by and Relating to the Decorative Designers Firm (Collection 1182). Department
of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.
Provenance/Source of Acquisition
Gift of John J. Espey and Charles B. Gullans, 1975, 1981.
Decorative Designers (DD) was founded by Henry W. Thayer and Emma Redington Lee, 1895; the New York City based firm produced
binding designs, dust jackets, book illustrations, and advertising material; employed a number of talented people including
Jay Chambers (1902-16) and used innovative operation methods such as dividing labor according to individual talents and presenting
publishers with design models printed on cloth; moved to Chatham, New Jersey (1921); after World War I, they shifted production
to dust jackets and advertisements; the company was dissolved in 1932.
Emma Redington (Lee) Thayer was born ca. 1874; co-founder of Decorative Designers, she specialized in conventionalized decorations
and designed most of the bindings, did some lettering, and was successful at dust jacket illustrations; she wrote a detective
novel (1919) and went on to publish over sixty mystery novels as well as children's books; designed dust jackets for her own
books and for books by other authors and also created bookplates; she invented a method for printing gradations of color on
book bindings by means of a split-ink roller; died ca. 1973.
During the heyday of decorated publishers' bindings no other American designer produced as many book covers as The Decorative
Designers. Founded by Henry W. Thayer, a Brooklyn architect, and Emma Redington Lee, a young mural artist, in 1895, the firm
turned out binding designs, dust jackets, book illustrations and advertising material until 1932 when the company and the
marriage of Thayer and Miss Lee dissolved. Other graphic designers as talented and prolific as the Thayers worked for the
company at various times, the most important being Jay Chambers, who was with The Decorative Designers from 1902 through 1916.
The firm produced thousands of book covers at a rapid rate. The number of artists in the organization partly accounted for
this. Another factor in the success of the “DD's” was its efficient and innovative method of operation. Labor was divided
according to individual talents: Henry Thayer did lettering and handled business affairs, Lee Thayer (as his wife became known)
specialized in conventionalized decorations, Jay Chambers excelled at figure design, and so on. The separation of design and
sales functions increased output, as did the unique practice of presenting publishers with design models printed on cloth
in order to give a clear idea of the appearance of the completed book. Until 1921, when the Thayers moved the business to
Chatham, New Jersey, The Decorative Designers operated in New York City very near the publishing houses that constituted their
When decorated bindings went out of style after World War I, owing to increases in the costs of material and labor and to
the growing popularity of dust jackets, the firm adapted to the new situation by shifting to the production of dust jackets
and advertisements. The pace of production did not slow down until the demise of the company.
Emma Redington (Lee) Thayer (1874-1973) was the artistic workhorse of The Decorative Designers. She designed most of the bindings,
did some of the lettering, and turned easily to dust jacket illustrations when that time came. In 1919 she took up another
career as a sideline. Using the pen name “Lee Thayer,” she wrote a detective novel the main character of which was a sleuth
named Peter Clancy. Lee Thayer published over sixty more mystery novels during the next forty-five years, as well as a handful
of books for children. She designed the dust jackets for her own books and continued to produce them for books by other authors.
She also created bookplates that reveal the same dedication to the style of Art Nouveau as do her bindings and early dust
jackets. Her creative ability had a technical side as well, since she was the inventor of a method for printing gradations
of color on book bindings by means of a split-ink roller.
This collection emphasizes the life and work of Lee Thayer rather heavily. This is due primarily to the fact that she was
still alive when an exhibition of bindings produced by The Decorative Designers was set up in the College Library at UCLA.
The collection, assembled by Professors Charles B. Gullans and John J. Espey of the UCLA Department of English, includes a
great deal of material relating specifically to Mrs. Thayer, much of it dating from the years following her Decorative Designers
period. Some of the items were provided by Mrs. Thayer herself.
Much of the history of The Decorative Designers has had to be constructed from Lee Thayer's memory. In the absence of company
records she has recalled production methods and conditions. She has identified the work of particular employees of the firm
and noted the individual characteristics of each. It is largely owing to her recollections that we know anything in detail
of the studio which produced more American book covers than any other and whose artistic and technical standards remained
always among the very highest.
Scope and Content
Collection consists of material related to the work of Lee Thayer and the Decorative Designers (DD). Includes correspondence
related to Thayer, Charles Gullans and DD, taped interviews with Thayer and Gullans (1970), articles and newsclippings related
to the life and career of Thayer, and dust jackets and novels by Thayer. Also includes photocopied bookplate designs, binding
designs, and dust jackets by DD.
Organization and Arrangement
Arranged in the following series:
- Correspondence (Box 1).
- Oral history (Box 1).
- Articles and newclippings (Box 2).
- Ephemera (Box 2).
- Association material (Box 2).
- Bookplate designs (photocopies of bookplates) (Box 2).
- Binding designs (photocopies of bindings and mock-ups) (Box 2).
- Dust jacket designs (photocopies of dust jackets with one actual dust jacket without book) (Box 2).
- Trade bindings (Boxes 3-17).
- Dust jackets (with books) (Boxes 18-19).
- Novels by Lee Thayer (Boxes 20-23).
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the repository's online public access catalog.
Thayer, Lee, b. 1874--Archives.
Women bookbinders--United States--Archival resources.
Genres and Forms of Material