Books in Movies: Binding for Little Women

Courtesy Devon Eastland

Book "props" made by Devon Eastland and used during the recent filming of Little Women.

OK, bibliophiles, you’re probably chomping at the bit to see Greta Gerwig’s interpretation of Little Women when it premieres on Christmas Day. Keep your eyes peeled for the scenes involving books and printing, represented here with uncanny authenticity.

Massachusetts-based bookbinder Devon Eastland was tasked with creating period-appropriate book props, and she spoke with us recently about her involvement with the project.

Little Women, it turns out, is not Eastland’s first film credit: “I’ve had a relationship with a property master that goes back to The Crucible in 1995, when I made books for that movie.” Eastland got the call about Little Women in August 2018. “They were going to need plenty of period books and custom-made books. I also made reproductions of two of Louisa May Alcott’s journals based on the originals which I viewed at the Houghton Library.” Paper, pencils, school books from the 1800s, and books mentioned in the story were also on Eastland’s punch list.

For nearly six months, Eastland kept up a blistering pace, creating sketchbooks and portfolios for May, two account books for Meg, and eight journals for Jo. No detail was too minute: “I printed a galley version of Little Women and made a custom case for the galley sheets. I also made a full-scale reproduction of the first edition Little Women itself. I printed out the whole book with an added title page created by the movie’s art department, I sewed it and bound it. I even had a special tool made that is identical to the embossed title on the binding of the first edition, but altered to list Jo March as the author.”

Sourcing nineteenth-century type cases and other printing accessories sent Eastland to Portland, Maine, letterpress printer David Wolfe, who came to the set laden with tools of the trade. 

Printing and bookbinding scenes were shot on a sound stage in Franklin, MA, as well as in Harvard, Lancaster, Concord, and downtown Boston. Eastland and Wolfe even have cameos in the film as a bookbinder and printer, respectively: “I brought period-appropriate tools and prepped four or five examples of the book at every stage of the process.” And though Eastland thought she would appear on film as a woman, you won’t actually see her in a dress; for her scenes, Eastland was styled as a man.

The book trade is well represented in Little Women, and Eastland is pleased with the results. “I think we captured something that I hope will be a very beautiful tribute to the book arts and that will make Alcott fans proud!”