Monday, 5th June 2017

The Folio Society does not often hold launch parties, and there was a good reason to make an exception for the Bayeux Tapestry. If ever a publication needs to be seen to be understood, this is it. We held the event at House of Illustration, and it was attended by press, friends and Folio customers. Alas my speech is not recorded for posterity, but as soon as I’d finished speaking I was hauled off to a quiet room by the charming Dr Janina Ramirez (‘the Art Detective’) to record an impromptu podcast which you can listen to here.

The most enjoyable aspect of the evening was seeing so many people gazing absorbed by the tapestry as they turned the handles and watched its action unfold before their eyes.

We have just received early copies of our latest limited edition, Robert Hooke’s Micrographia – I believe this is the first edition since the 18th century to include all the plates at full size. Here’s a photo, showing the famous enlargement of the fly’s eye – it has an extraordinary impact even today, so how it appeared to its first readership in 1665 one can scarcely imagine. It’s a big book, so I left my reading glasses on the page to give an idea of scale. I knew that it was one of David Attenborough’s favourite books, so I took him a copy and he was delighted.

Hooke's Micrographia, a limited edition from The Folio Society

STOP PRESS: Just after writing this, I went to the ABA fair in Olympia, and saw a first edition of Micrographia for sale, see below. This photo perfectly illustrates the problem we had in photographing the plates when the image disappears into the gutter. And NB the stonking price tag!

A first edition of Hooke's Micrographia on display in Olympia

Another forthcoming publication is a set of three facsimiles of fine press works from the 1920s, and their dummy volumes were delivered last week. The books are as close as we can make them to the original volumes, but the solander boxes are entirely new, and rather jolly, I think!

Three solander boxes for upcoming Folio limited edition

Yesterday we had a visit from Neil Bousfield, a brilliant engraver who is taking up the challenge of illustrating Wilfred Owen, the third in our letterpress War Poets series. Neil works in the demanding medium of reduction engraving (which I have heard referred to as the ‘suicidal technique’ since no mistake can ever be rectified), printing layers of colour, each darker than the last, from the same block, which is further engraved between each printing. Here is an example of Neil’s work, entitled The cold, cold sea:

The cold, cold sea, an engraving by Neil Bousfield

Another very talented young artist who called in recently, and for whom I’d love to find a suitable Folio book, is Claudia Hahn. She is a Natural History illustrator, and her technique is also very demanding, with eye-popping detail. Here is a print I particularly admired, clearly oriental in inspiration, and enhanced by the liberal application of gold leaf.

Print by Claudia Hahn, a natural history illustrator

Tom Phillips has found time between sessions of judging the Booker prize (which involves reading 180 new novels) to celebrate his 80th birthday with an exhibition at Flowers East, Connected Works. The variety of works on show is remarkable, though they all share themes which have run through Tom’s entire career. Here is Wittgenstein’s Cage (2009), which exemplifies Wittgenstein’s proposition ‘The limits of my language are the limits of my world’: the text can be read on all six planes of the cube simultaneously in layered, mirrored and condensed form, thus demonstrating Wittgenstein’s ‘trap of language’. A serious point made in a thoroughly accessible and witty form.

Wittgenstein’s Cage, by Tom Phillips

And finally, when visiting Naples recently, I can across a tiny printing shop (Officina Carmine Cervone) in a back street: the owner welcomed me in, and we had a good ‘bonding’ chat about the merits of letterpress, fine paper etc. I imagine that 50 years ago there were little artisanal printing ‘offices’ like this scattered through towns and cities all over the world; now they are rare, but a delight to come across.

Printer in Naples

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Comments from others

  • Graham MacAree says:

    If you’re hoping to deploy Ms. Hahn on a worthwhile project (and ignoring the perhaps-too-obvious choice of Darwin) I might suggest Stephen Jay Gould. Gould was a master of natural science and of writing, and sadly neglected by modern fine presses. He managed to make fundamental contributions to evolutionary biology while remaining thoroughly accessible, and I think he’s deserving of some attention from the Folio Society.

    • Joe Whitlock Blundell says:

      Thank you for the suggestion. I am woefully ignorant of Gould, and you have spurred me to rectify this!

    • Stephen Dunne says:

      Yes there are others who have worked in that line of research. I would throw a little caution upon Folio embarking upon an LE of Gould or or others of that field. Firstly I think the Folio Society in general is over weight in the Science genre of late. More importantly, the whole area of evolutionary biology of recent times has taken on a rather dogmatic and presumptuous air. Science has always asked questions and sought to provide evidence but cautiously so. We seem to be living in an age when Science writers are taken as seers and their hypothesising is accepted as truth: the evidence will eventually out! This cart before the horse approach is the main reason for my caution, especially with LEs.

  • elladan0891 says:

    I see you mentioned Wilfred Owen as the third volume of the series. I thought the series commemorated centenaries of deaths of War Poets, which should make Isaac Rosenberg the third of the series, presumably coming out in April 2018, only followed by Owen in November. Are you still planning to publish a Rosenberg volume? I surely hope so! This is my favorite LE series.

    • Joe Whitlock Blundell says:

      You are absolutely right – we did plan to commemorate Rosenberg as well, but have changed our minds and will now go straight to Owen. I am so glad you like the series!

      • Stephen says:

        HI Joe
        Congratulations on the successes of the latest Limited Editions, especially that of the Count of Monte Cristo. The spectacularly quick sales of Dumas, encourages me to think that Sir Walter Scott must be a consideration for a Limited Edition. Considering the relatively few Scott editions that Folio have published, I believe that he is ripe for the Limited Edition treatment. I would especially like to see Heart of Midlothian, Antiquary (his own favourite) or Ivanhoe.

  • Meredith Fujdala says:

    I am elated to see that you will be continuing the LE series of WWI poets with Wilfred Owen. Your example of Neil Bousfield work is stunning; another fantastic choice of illustrator. Also, anything by David Jones is more than welcome. Thank you so much for sharing this news with us.

  • David J Brown says:

    I’m very sorry to learn that Isaac Rosenberg will not now be included in the WW1 poets series. That would have been a guaranteed purchase for me.

  • Alexandros Damigos says:

    A proposal for limited editions: Hamlet, Cranach press, 1930 with the 80 striking woodcuts designed and carved by Edward Gordon Craig . The most bold and ambitious example of 20th-century book art. The meticulous design process was overseen by Count Harry Kressler (1868–1937), director of the famous Cranach-Presse in interwar Weimar Germany. As well as Gordon Craig’s woodcuts, Kressler used a typeface designed by Edward Johnston and a title page cut by Eric Gill. The book was first printed in German in 1928 and in English in 1930.

  • F. Markestein says:

    Another suggestion for Claudia Hahn: Burnett’s The Secret Garden, a beautiful classic children’s book.