Friday, 3 July 2015
As everyone knows, this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland. Or is it? The first edition was indeed printed in 1865 but was rejected by John Tenniel on account of the poor reproduction of his illustrations, so the book was reprinted with 1866 on the title page – but it was actually issued in December 1865. A typically Carrollian ambiguity in fact, and a rather long-winded way of introducing the topic of our own Alice, about which I am constantly asked. The latest news is that the artist, Charles van Sandwyk, is very well advanced with the illustrations; the printing of the etchings has begun; and the book’s layout is complete. We hope to have some copies ready before Christmas (thus meeting the actual anniversary) with the rest in the New Year (thus meeting the title-page anniversary). But anything can happen in Wonderland, as Alice found to her bemusement, and the White Rabbit is perpetually late…
We have just received the hand bound dummy of our next limited edition – a facsimile of the ‘Pearl’ manuscript, the unique source of this and three other great Middle-English poems, including ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. Here is the book, resting in its recess, ornamented by the calligrapher Stephen Raw. It will be accompanied by a substantial volume containing a complete transcription of the original poems, a parallel modern translation and extensive scholarly commentary.
We are just starting work on another major project, a collection of botanical art by the great Franz Bauer. The book was published in Vienna in 1780–1 in an edition of only 18 copies, one of which resides at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It rejoices in the title Selectarum stirpium Americanarum historia : in qua ad Linnaeanum systema determinatae descriptaeque sistuntur plantae illae, quas in insulis Martinica, Jamaica, Domingo aliisque et in vicinae continentis parte, observavit rariores; adjectis iconibus ad autoris archetypa pictis but for convenience our working title is Plants of America. Here is just one of the 264 gorgeous plates – until now, I had no idea that cashew nuts grow like this!
On Monday I went to Stationers’ Hall in the City of London to be presented with a ‘Warrant of Excellence’ by the Worshipful Company of Stationers, for our Letterpress Shakespeare volumes. This was the first time such an award has been given, so we felt particularly honoured. Founded in 1403 and incorporated by Royal Charter in 1559, the Company maintained the Stationers’ Register, a crucial resource for scholars which contains many of the certain facts we possess on the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. For example the Register reveals that on 26 November 1607, the stationers John Busby and Nathaniel Butter claimed the right to print ‘A booke called Master William Shakespeare his historye of Kinge Lear, as yt was played before the Kinges maiestie at Whitehall vppon Sainct Stephens night at Christmas Last, by his maiesties servantes playinge vsually at the Globe on the Banksyde.’ (They paid sixpence.)
The Letterpress Shakespeare and all the other limited editions I have acquired over the years were presenting me with a rather severe storage problem, so I eventually decided to design a bespoke bookcase to house them all. It was made by William Garvey in Devon and is very solidly built – as it needs to be to carry such a weight of books – and does its job to perfection. (And if you were wondering about the animal skulls, they were carved in holly wood by the versatile sculptor Grant McIntyre.)