Friday, 3 July 2015

RabbitAs 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…

Pearl Poet

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 Plants of AmericaFranz 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!

award-for-excellence-fsOn 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.)

BookshelfThe 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.)




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  • George Hardman says:

    I am looking forward to the edition of Pearl etc.
    You should be aware that the editions of the Icelandic Sagas first introduced me to the Folio Society
    Some time ago I believe you mentioned the prospect of an edition of The Kalevala. I hope that will come about in the not too distant future.

  • David Anderson says:

    Dear Joe,
    That is indeed a beautiful display of Folio limited editions on your shelf, but how much more beautiful it would be if the spines of the books were visible.
    The effect of the solander boxes is to create an unattractive blank wall which hides the treasures beneath and deters the booklover from taking them out and reading them.
    Surely all that is required for even the most expensive limited edtion is a sturdy slip case which leaves the spine visible. Two of my favourite limited editions are the Quentin Blake Candide and The Duke’s Children. Neither of these came in a solander box and as a result they absolutely shine on the shelf and, having read them, I frequently take them out just to enjoy them as physical objects.
    So, Joe, let’s get rid of solander boxes. Our bookshelves will be more beautiful and we might save some money.
    Kind regards,
    David Anderson

    • Having read your comments and those of James Keddie, below, I must confess I have sympathy with both points of view. Certainly the serried ranks of Shakespeare are rather severe. The solution might be to use solander boxes where possible (sometimes the cost is a constraint) but to ornament their spines in amore elaborate manner. I will explore this idea in some of our forthcoming editions.

  • Neil Shapiro says:

    When will the Alice be available to order? What will be the edition limitation? What type of binding? Solander or slip cased (I would go with either)? I am much looking forward to this one! Thanks.

  • Tim says:

    Joe, it is quite possible I will be purchasing at least two of the LEs you mention plus the Edda mentioned in the last list. I will speak to my boss and save us both time by having my pay cheque directed to 44 Eagle directly. In the meantime, can you give us some more details on this Alice? Paper, binding etc? Sandwyk is perfect for this work.

  • James Keddie says:

    Have to respectfully disagree re solander boxes. I was disappointed that the Trollope and Brooke editions lacked them. The climate where I live (Ontario)is so hard on books even in an air-conditioned and curtained bookroom that the Brooke in particular will have to remain in the closet to avoid the faded fate of one or two FS books from the 1950s

  • Faisel says:

    Dear Joe, what a wonderful picture of your bookshelf. Can you make it available in a higher resolution as I would love to be able to read some of the book titles I am curious about.