The Fidelity of Engravers

Sketch by Henry GastineauA customer apologized to me the other day for wanting actually to see and handle a very modestly priced item before buying it, rather than simply buying it online on the basis of a photograph – and it was a perfectly adequate photograph for most purposes, it must be said. “It’s just not quite the same”, she said.  And she was right.  It’s a question that has been hovering in my mind over the last couple of months as I’ve been re-photographing or re-scanning thousands of items of stock to provide larger and better images for my website.

It’s an ancient website built in the days when the erratic capacity and performance of dial-up modems (for those of you who can remember them) meant that the file-sizes of such images as there were had to be kept to an absolute minimum.  Although piecemeal improvements had been made over the years, it was time for a thorough overhaul.  A decent image for absolutely everything on the site.

But as the new images are added day-by-day, the thought recurs over and again that for all that these are better and larger images, they are still not showing me what I actually see when I look at the book, print or map.  “It’s just not quite the same”.  It’s one of the problems of digitisation generally.  However good the image, it really isn’t the same.

St. Martin’s Priory, near Dover. Kent. 1829. Engraved by Samuel Lacey.

St. Martin’s Priory, near Dover. Kent. 1829. Engraved by Samuel Lacey.

How much more of a problem then in the days before cameras (let alone scanners), when to circulate an image required the skills of an engraver to translate it (in reverse) on to a printing plate or block.  I’m not sure that we really appreciate how difficult this was – or how well those long-forgotten engravers succeeded.

Illustrated are two little sketches by the prolific landscape painter Henry Gastineau (1791-1876), who exhibited at the Society of Painters in Water Colours every year for a period of nearly sixty years, right up to the time of his death at the age of eighty-five – some 1,300 pictures in all.  He was also responsible for hundreds of these little sketches for the publishers of the view-books and series of views so popular from the 1820s to the 1840s – especially views of Wales, but also of most parts of England, with occasional forays to continental Europe.

The two present views – both of Dover and both dating from the late 1820s – were two of the original drawings made for publication in the part-work “England’s Topographer, or, A New and Complete History of the County of Kent : From the Earliest Records to the Present Time, including every Modern Improvement  : Embellished with a Series of Views from Original Drawings”, published by George Virtue between 1828 and 1831 and with text by William Henry Ireland (yes – that Ireland, the Shakespeare forger).

DetailOriginally trained as an engraver himself (his mother was Sarah Deeble, presumably of the engraving family – a detail not mentioned by ODNB), Gastineau with his customary skill and competence knew just what was required.  His sketches in ink, pencil and sepia wash are exactly the same size as the finished engravings were to be.  The first, of the ancient priory of St. Martin of Tours, chartered by Henry I in 1131 and now absorbed into Dover College, was handed over to Samuel Lacey (1786-1859) of Pentonville.  Lacey was the son of a London bookbinder, born in Fetter Lane at the heart of the printing trades, and baptised at St. Andrew Holborn on 31st December 1786.  Specialising in landscape and architectural work, Lacey became one of the top commercial engravers of his day, employed again and again on projects of this sort.

DetailHis task was to translate Gastineau’s free and flowing sketch into a finished engraving – using a technique of incising the image line by careful line (in reverse) on to a steel plate – a technique just about as far from free and flowing as it is possible to get.  Light and flimsy washes rendered by hundreds of closely laid and dovetailing lines (click on the images to enlarge).  And yet how well he does it.  The mood and tone perhaps different, these are totally different media – but what fidelity to the image itself.  As close as it is possible to get to what the artist originally recorded.

The second sketch, of Dover Castle, was given to Henry Adlard (1799-1893) to engrave. The son of a London printer and part of an extensive book-trade family, Adlard was just as prolific and as skilled as Gastineau and Lacey.  His engraving and copper-plate printing business was employing over thirty men by the 1860s and his eye and expertise were often called for in the rôle of an expert witness in deception and forgery trials.  In his work on this Gastineau sketch there is perhaps a little more use of standard formulaic work, especially in his handling of the greenery in the foreground, but we can also note how he has tidied up Gastineau’s depiction of the tiny yacht and the distant horse and wagon to the right of the image.  Again, we can only marvel at the skill and endless patience which must have been involved.

Sketch by Henry Gastineau

We perhaps don’t recognise these skills enough. These steel engravings and the books they are found in are routinely under-catalogued and largely undervalued. Are they as good a representation of Gastineau’s sketches as a colour photograph or a digital scan might have been?  Obviously not.  But which we would rather have is perhaps a rather different question. All the images are here, scanned at high resolution – but you are still not seeing their real texture and depth.  You are still not seeing quite what I am seeing.

Dover Castle, Kent. 1828. Engraved by Henry Adlard.

Dover Castle, Kent. 1828. Engraved by Henry Adlard.

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A. & C. Black’s Colour Books (2)

AddendaA further query and request for help from Mark Godburn

I am trying to find out what book or periodical the text sheets in these images are from. The sheets were used to make dust-jackets for an A. & C. Black book, “Switzerland” (1917). The sheets would most likely be from a book that was printed in the decade or so before 1917. The book probably was bound at the same bindery that bound the “Switzerland”. I don’t know who Black’s bindery was. I can’t get a match to these sheets on Google Books or anywhere else I’ve looked. Perhaps they are familiar to someone.

Thank you, Mark Godburn, North Canaan, CT, USA – email:


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Dove’s English Classics

Bloomfield The third in a series of vignettes of items found (and shops visited) on a recent book-hunting trip.

I found this at High Street Books – Geoff Tyson’s genial and enticing bookshop at Honiton.  Another one of those shops which no neighbourhood should be without (see previous post) – and how blessedly lucky is Honiton in having another one (Graham York Rare Books) just up the road.

A pocket edition of Robert Bloomfield’s “Farmer’s Boy”, together with his “Rural Tales”, bringing together the peasant poet’s best-known and most successful works, originally published in 1800 and 1802 respectively, and both best-sellers in their time. This edition also contains a ten-page memoir of the author, who died in 1823. Evidently published within a few years of that, the volume is bound in an absolutely contemporary full black calf – a sweet and very pleasing little binding.  And it cost considerably less than I spent on last night’s supper.  It is something that never ceases to amaze – how many genuinely interesting books can still be bought for so very little. This is a little fragment of the past, a perfect example of what it is, nigh on 200 years old, and quite beautiful in itself.

bloomfield titleIt forms part of a series known as “Dove’s English Classics”, published by John Fowler Dove (1787-1866) of St John’s Square in Clerkenwell, each book in the series decorated with a frontispiece and an additional vignette title-page, engraved by good engravers from designs by good artists – in this case Henry Corbould (1787-1844).  I don’t have a complete listing of all the titles (does anyone?), but have managed to identify seventy or so.  There must have been rather more, because as early as 1826 Dove was advertising that around eighty were already available and he was to continue producing them for a number of years after that.

dovedeviceThe earliest titles in the series, dating from about 1825 onwards, bear the imprint “Printed for the Proprietors of the English Classics by J. F. Dove” and the series itself was perhaps a revival or a continuation of an earlier series known as “Walker’s British Classics” [see the comment from Simon Alderson below].   Within a couple of years, the imprint becomes a simpler “Printed & Published by J. F. Dove” – his “dove” device prominent on the title-pages.  Dove himself was born in the same part of Suffolk as Robert Bloomfield and it would no doubt have given him particular pleasure to add this title to the collection.

High Street Books, Honiton

High Street Books, Honiton

It is a series which offers a fairly elastic definition both of “English” and of “Classic” – the only real feature uniting a disparate range of titles is that these were all popular and famous books, many of the publications in the series including more than one individual work.  No particular surprise to find Francis Bacon, Bunyan, Edmund Burke, Samuel Butler, Lord Byron, Lord Chesterfield, William Cowper, Day’s “Sandford and Merton”, Gay, Goldsmith, Gray’s “Elegy”, Samuel Johnson, Milton, Bishop Paley, Pope, Shakespeare, Walpole, Isaac Walton, Isaac Watts, Henry Kirke White, and Edward Young all included in the list.  Contemporary usage may just have allowed the Scottish and Irish authors Rabbie Burns, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Adam Smith, Tobias Smollett, Jonathan Swift and James Thomson to be included in this general category of “English”, but probably not the American Benjamin Franklin – still less Homer, Horace, Ovid and Virgil – unless translations by Pope and Dryden make them so.  Elsewhere in the series, we also find the not obviously “English” Sophie Ristaud Cottin, François Fénelon, Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian, Alain-René Lesage, Jean Louis de Lolme (albeit on the “English Constitution”), Jean-François Marmontel, François de la Rochefoucauld and Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser – Saturday 18th November 1826.

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser – Saturday 18th November 1826.

Women are well represented, which may come as a surprise to some.  As well as Madame Cottin, there were Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Fanny Burney – both “Cecilia” and “Evelina”, the “little spitfire” Hester Chapone, the American Susan Huntington, Ellis Cornelia Knight, Hannah More, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the “queen of gothic” Ann Radcliffe, Clara Reeve, Lady Rachel Russell, and Sarah Trimmer. I’ve also seen reference to Elizabeth Inchbald, Harriet Newell and Hester Thrale appearing in the series, although I have not been able to verify that.  Interestingly, a copy of Dove’s edition of Laetitia Barbauld’s “Evenings at Home” featured in a much-reported court case in 1827. The “beautiful and elegantly dressed” Elizabeth Watts, a young woman of twenty-two, was revealed as a kleptomaniac who had “a kind of large pocket at the back of her silk cloak” filled with articles of plunder. When she was arrested the secret pocket was found to contain, alongside the book, three ounces of tea, a fowl, a piece of pickled pork, a pair of gloves, and two of three pairs of stockings.  Her reticule was additionally found to conceal a coral necklace, a pearl brooch, a gold chain, etc. Her defence was that “she knew not what she was doing at the time”.

© Foster’s Bookshop

© Foster’s Bookshop

By the standards of the period, these “Dove’s English Classics” were cheap.  Although admittedly nowhere near as cheap as such things became later in the nineteenth century, they provided a relatively affordable way of acquiring rather an impressive and interesting collection of standard texts.  A memoir of the self-educated bookseller and writer on antiquities, William Grainge of Harrogate, records that “Our author spent the first twenty-seven years of his life working on his father’s farm, and all the while educating himself, for he left the village school … when about twelve years of age.  All his leisure was spent in reading, or in some other way of gathering knowledge.  At this early age Dove’s ‘English Classics’ were his especial favourites.  Being small pocket volumes, they were well adapted for his purpose, and were constant companions when at work—for he shared in all the labours of his father’s farm, and at noon, or other times, when those about him rested or slept, he read” (Shipley Times, 5th April 1907).

© George Bayntun

© George Bayntun

The books appear generally to have been issued in printed boards – here’s a nice example from the George Bayntun website – although I gather that some of the later titles at least could be had in cloth with paper labels, or even full cloth gilt.  But as Dove’s advertisement makes clear, copies of all the titles were always kept in stock “in elegant bindings, for presents, &c”, and I imagine that this is how this Bloomfield volume, once the property of a Mrs J. Englefield, started out in life. This may well also be true of the pictured examples from Bow Windows and Foster’s bookshops.

As for Dove himself, he was born 20th October 1787 and baptised on the 18th November of that year at the local church of St. Gregory at Sudbury, in Suffolk – the son of Humphry Dove and his wife Ruth Yardley.  He was apprenticed into the Stationers’ Company in 1803 and was active as a printer in Clerkenwell in his own right from at least as early as 1813, probably earlier.  There he remained for the next twenty years, although he briefly had additional premises on Piccadilly either side of 1830.

© Bow Windows Bookshop

© Bow Windows Bookshop

He worked extensively for John Murray and other publishers and is known especially for the classical texts he printed for Richard Priestley. That he was in quite a large way of business is attested in the reports of trial in 1826 of one of his former employees for stealing 130lbs of type from the Clerkenwell premises, probably with the help of accomplices.  It says much for his humanity that on hearing that the culprit’s wife had no money for food he went round in person to give her financial assistance.

In or about 1833, while still in his forties, he retired to Suffolk with his wife, Elizabeth Debenham (1787-1876), whom he had married in 1812.  Whether it was a matter of family money or that he had made a handsome fortune from the “English Classics”, he plainly had no need to work again.  His only further appearance in public life appears to have been the occasion on which he held an oak sapling for Queen Victoria to plant at Burghley in 1844 (Prince Albert planted a lime).  Dove was apparently staying at Burghley at the time. The Queen was charmed and asked for his address so that she could write to him.

For the remainder of his life, he lived at a house or cottage called Hopleys at Horningsheath, with his wife, a cook, and a housemaid.  On the 1851 census return he was recorded as having “no profession, but occupier of a park of fifty acres”. He died on the 17th October 1866 and there is a memorial to him in St. Leonard’s churchyard at Horringer.

After his retirement from the book trade, “Dove’s English Classics” were taken over by his successors, “Scott & Webster” (“Scott, Webster & Geary” from 1836) and some further titles were added.  In sum, I can’t think of any valid reason at all why anyone would not want to collect this series.  Modestly priced, full of interest and challenge, hours of the very best of old reading, highly attractive and demanding very little room – Away you go!

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The End of the World

WorldsEnd3World’s End – well – not quite the end of the world, but at least as far as James II was prepared to ride out on his constitutionals down the King’s Road.  WorldsEnd2A district of London at the western end of Chelsea which gives its name to the World’s End Bookshop – a shop I’ve known under various owners over the years. The last incumbent, Steve Dickson, actually used to work for me in the long ago when the world was young, but for the last few years it has belonged to Giles Lyon, an active and energetic bookseller always out and about buying books.


Kaitlyn Mellini

I was deeply flattered when he called me a while back to ask if he could send his new assistant over to me one morning a week to be given some tuition in cataloguing. I was happy to oblige and Kaitlyn Mellini from Portland, Oregon, proved an apt, affable and willing pupil – a quick study as we used to say.  Having discovered for herself my weakness for certain types of recondite and largely unsaleable fiction, she offered me a book the other day – and I have to say that she had researched it and catalogued it so nicely that I couldn’t say no.  Not only that, but she made me want to read it too – which is the ultimate accolade in cataloguing.  I went over to the shop to pick it up and to see how she was getting on.  Giles was out (probably buying yet more books) and Kaitlyn was presiding over the shop – all neat and tidy, customers popping in and out, the books carefully arranged, pride of place given to a handsome newly acquired book-case for the more expensive material.

World's End BookshopIt’s the sort of shop that every neighbourhood should have and probably once did – catering for book-buyers of all kinds.  Genuinely serving the local community.  Quite a large stock crammed into a smallish space, but everything accessible.  Books at all prices.  Books of all kinds from the genuinely antiquarian to the cheap and cheerful second-hand.  A customer wanted a copy of “Brave New World” and was given a choice of anything from a paperback to a first edition. Whatever the question was, there was something to fit the bill, and Kaitlyn knew where to find it. I paid for my book and bought a couple of others as well – one to read, one to sell. A thoroughly pleasant and somewhat nostalgic afternoon, because I can remember a time when such shops as this were reasonably plentiful. They are no longer – use them or lose them.

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William Fletcher Wodson

Vignettes of items found (and shops visited) on a recent book-hunting trip.

Jonathan Potter Antique MapsA map this week – found and purchased on a visit to Jonathan Potter in Bath a couple of weeks ago.  Jonathan has been a friend and colleague for over forty years – he’s been mentioned on the blog before – but this was my first visit to his new premises in Margarets Buildings, tucked away between the Circus and the Royal Crescent. You can’t miss it – it’s bright orange. The stock as immaculate and as interesting as ever.  Jonathan has been a thorough student of maps since his teens and now has a lifetime’s expertise.  No-one better to advise you or to know a rare map.  Good to see him, as always – and an additional pleasure to find Helen Kershaw, a friend of more recent vintage, known from Rare Books School, acting as his Friday assistant.

The sort of map you might find anywhere, although I suspect probably won’t.  A map of York by the well-regarded local surveyor Robert Cooper, marking out the enlarged new boundaries proposed by the Parliamentary Commissioners to be established under the Reform Bill.  A scribbled note from a former owner suggests that the map originally appeared in the 1829 third edition of “The Stranger’s Guide through the City of York”, published at Henry Bellerby’s New Circulating Library.  I’ve not as yet had a chance to verify this, but I’m a little doubtful.  It doesn’t look like a guide-book map at all – there is nothing like the kind of detail necessary to guide a stranger through York’s complex street pattern.  The date also seems a touch too early for a map relating to the Reform Bill.  It has a topicality and immediacy of purpose which suggests that it was almost certainly published for separate sale.  My guess would be that someone probably had it bound into the guide-book in an ad hoc manner.

If that be the case, it may just represent a fragment of a lost career. What particularly took my eye was the name of the lithographer – Wodson.  A name, I very much regret to say, not to be found in “British Map Engravers : A Dictionary of Engravers, Lithographers and their Principal Employers to 1850”.  Sorry about that – this will hopefully be redressed in our planned supplement – but it’s a name of sufficient obscurity for the lapse perhaps to be pardonable.

William Fletcher Wodson (1801-1860) was born at York on the 28th August 1801 and baptised there (at St. Crux) three days later.  He was the son of William Wodson, a cutler and surgeon’s instrument maker, and his wife Ann Fletcher, who had married in 1799.  His younger brother, Thomas Wodson (1803-1851), later became the publisher of “The Yorkshireman”.  Nothing is known to me of his early years, but by 1830 (probably earlier) William Fletcher Wodson was a bookseller and stationer on the Pavement in York. On the evidence of this map and a handful of prints in various collections, he was also a lithographer and printer. It was a short-lived business and the remainder of his career has little to do with maps, bookselling, or lithography (although his son later became a stationer).  It does however serve as a salutary reminder of how tough life can be for booksellers who forsake their trade – we’re really not fitted for life in the real world.  It’s also a story of endless nineteenth-century resilience.


Bell’s New Weekly Messenger – 15th September 1833

In 1833, it was reported in “Bell’s New Weekly Messenger” that Wodson had disappeared from York without leaving a forwarding address. His creditors eventually caught up with him in Cheltenham, where he had married Anne Elizabeth Milner in September 1831. The couple baptised sons there in 1833 and 1835, the younger dying at the age of eight months. At exactly this time, Wodson was imprisoned for debt, a new career as a furniture broker in Cheltenham having already ended in failure.  At a hearing in November, it became apparent that he had given power of attorney to a brother-in-law, William Henry Milner, with whom he was now in partnership as a confectioner and lozenge-maker. Milner had seemingly sold property and collected debts owing to Wodson to the tune of some £500, but then paid off all his own debts before handing the balance over to Wodson.

Eventually discharged in March 1836, Wodson returned to York and appears to have set up a school of some sort. He was at 21 High Ousegate in 1840, but this venture too ended in failure and he went to ground again in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1841. Financial misfortune still dogged him.  His share of the family estate, together with all his other assets (“if any”, the formal notice gratuitously added), was ordered to be sold by auction at York in 1843.  A dividend of 3s.9d (just under 19p) in the pound was eventually distributed to his creditors in 1847.

His wife had died at Newcastle in 1845, and Wodson once more re-emerged in York, listed on the 1851 census as a solicitor’s clerk.  Thereafter he went back to Newcastle, described somewhat nebulously in the 1850s as an agent – and there he died, after a short illness, on 11th January 1860.

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A Binding by Lucien Broca

Broca Binding The first in a sequence of vignettes of books found (and bookshops visited) from a recent book-hunting trip.

They say you can’t judge a book by looking at its cover, but we know that this is not always true.  Sometimes there is little else that it is needful to judge – as in the case of this superb binding of about 1900 by the London bookbinder Lucien Broca.

Yes, yes – I know it’s another Harrison Ainsworth novel and I’ve repeatedly promised never, ever, to buy another one (see the previous “Bound by Worsfold” post from earlier this year), but I wasn’t going to turn this down when I ran into it at Bayntun’s in Bath last week.  Magnificent shop, magnificent bindings – if you don’t know it, stop reading, drop what you are doing, and go there right now. It was the last stop on my latest book-hunting tour – as indeed it was the first stop on my first ever book-hunting safari over forty years ago. Still in thrall to the place.

All I can say in my own defence on the Harrison Ainsworth front, is that Bayntun’s had two of his novels bound by Broca and (a) this one was a title I’ve not come across before, and (b) I had the iron will and self-control not to buy them both.  As to Broca – he was, I suspect, comparatively little known until the revelation in Marianne Tidcombe’s “Women Bookbinders, 1880-1920” (1996), that the finest work of the well-known and much-lauded bookbinder Sarah Prideaux (1853-1933) – that from the years following 1894 – was in fact executed for her, following her designs and instructions, by an anonymous trade finisher, one Lucien Broca. There are pictures of Prideaux bindings all over the internet – attributions to Broca, not so much.

BrocaStampBroca’s own work, signed with his own stamp, is relatively uncommon. As far as I can make out, there are just four or five examples currently on the market. There is apparently no example in the British Library – at least not in its database of bookbindings – although the Folger has a superb Broca binding on a 1619 “Midsommer Nights Dreame”.

Information about Broca himself is even more scant. He was French, a handful of listings in London street directories between 1875 and 1901, a short partnership with Simon Kaufmann in 1876-1877, not much else – so I’ve done some digging.

Lucien Broca (1839-1910) was born in the tiny French village of Sorbs in 1839.  He first appears in London in Frith Street, Soho, in 1875, remaining there until 1879 and working with Simon Kaufman (1856-1897) in the middle of that period – Kaufmann a native of Koblenz and generally described as a dealer in “plush leather and fancy goods”, rather than a bookbinder.

Broca then disappears from view, at least as far as the street directories are concerned, until 1890.  I assume he was working for other people during this period. In 1890, he re-appears in Shaftesbury Avenue, initially at Nos. 46-47 (1890-1891), then at No. 154 (1892-1896).  It was also in 1890 that he married Florence Mary Rummery (1872-1947), the London-born daughter of a grocer’s assistant – a girl of eighteen and more than thirty years his junior.  There was perhaps something covert about this, as on the 1891 census return she is still described as single and as living at home with her parents.  Her occupation is given as a bookbinder’s book-sewer, and I can only assume that she was Broca’s assistant. They had their one and only child, Lucien Jean (John) Broca (1895-1968) in the spring of 1895.

Broca then disappears from the directories again until 1901 – he was perhaps working more or less full-time for Sarah Prideaux at this period.  In 1901-1902 he was in Percy Street, by now described as an “art binder”, living over the workshop with his wife and son. His final appearance as a bookbinder in the directories seems to have been in 1904, by now in Gerrard Street, still in Soho.

From there I can only assume that this master craftsman, by now in his sixties, was struck by some failure of health, hand or eye, which prevented his continuing to work as a binder.  He ended his days, from at least 1907, selling confectionery on Chiswick High Road, the business continuing for a time under his widow. He died on 30th December 1910 at a nursing home in Merton and probate on his meagre effects of £233.17s.3d was granted to his widow the following October.


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A. & C. Black’s Colour Books

A couple of further questions from Mark Godburn.Inman Bibliography

Most of you will know and will have come across the A. & C. Black Colour Books published in the early years of the last century. The first of them, Mortimer Menpes’ “War Impressions” – the text by his daughter, Dorothy Menpes – was published in May 1901 and is generally regarded as the first British book to make use of the recently developed “three-colour” process to furnish the full-colour plates. Hundreds of further titles followed, all richly illustrated in the same manner.

Richard Bagot : The Italian Lakes. Pictures by Ella Du Cane.We know a great deal about these handsome productions from Colin Inman’s 1990 bibliography and collectors’ guide. We know about the authors, like Dorothy Whistler Menpes. We know about the illustrators, like her father, Whistler’s former studio assistant, Mortimer Menpes.  We know about Richard Bagot and Ella Du Cane who combined to produce “The Italian Lakes” in 1905.  We know about Albert Angus Turbayne and his colleagues at the Carlton Studio, who produced many of the distinctive and stylish cover designs. We know quite a bit about the printers and the print-runs. But what we do not appear to know is who actually manufactured the cloth binding cases.  The answer is most likely to be found in the A. & C. Black Archive at the University of Reading – but Mark lives in Connecticut – so his question is, “If anyone knows who was the bindery for the A&C Black Colour Books in the 1900-1920 period, please email me”.

Edwin Drood dust-Jacket“Also, a follow up to an earlier post about early jacketed books that are unlocated today, someone saw the Charles Dickens “Edwin Drood” (London, 1870) in jacket back in the 1980s in a display case, apparently in California. They thought it was at the Huntington Library, but the Huntington doesn’t have it. If this jogs anyone’s memory about where the book might actually be today, I’d like to hear from you”.


Many thanks, Mark Godburn

North Canaan, CT


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Real Books, Real People

A week of book-fairs and nowadays a whole series of related events – visits, talks and tours – all under a festival heading of “Rare Books London 2017”.  No sparing of effort, much time generously given – applause and a heartfelt thank-you to all concerned.

Maggs ExteriorHighlight for me was seeing most of the great and good of the rare book trade in Bedford Square the other evening to celebrate the return of the full Maggs Brothers operation to central London.  When Maggs left their grand old premises in Berkeley Square, some eighteen months ago now, we were all left feeling a little bereft – a flotilla without a flagship.  A toehold was kept with the little shop in Curzon Street and the intention to return in full strength was always made explicit, but the months dragged by.

MaggsWindowThe new premises are on the south side of Bedford Square – at No. 48, you will need to know this.  I may be imagining it, but they seem even grander than the old ones.  The building was actually acquired about a year ago, but fitting out a listed building for a new purpose in life is not done without much time, expense and anxiety.  Consents are needed to do this, that, or the other, to a listed building – and Ed Maggs and his colleagues were concerned above all to get everything right – that’s always been the Maggs ethos. Where changes have been made they have been minimal, sympathetic, and all intended to restore the building to what it would originally have been, not what it had become with the hotchpotch alterations of the passing years.  There were issues over floorboards and railings, delays and setbacks from suppliers – and that’s not to mention the sheer logistics of moving perhaps 100,000 books out of London into storage and then back again.


Maggs SignFor all the anxiety and tension this must have entailed, it’s all worked – and worked supremely well.  There are finishing touches still to be put – the sign outside (permission needed) is a temporary one until the real thing in real slate can be manufactured – but inside it already looks as if Maggs have been bookselling there for the last 100 years.  The displays are perhaps a little more consciously “curated” than in the past, but that’s the modern way.

MaggsModernBook-fairs are all very well and certainly have their uses – I could barely carry home my purchases at Olympia yesterday and today’s bags from the PBFA fair were even heavier – but fairs can never be the bedrock on which a flourishing rare book trade is built.  They are the icing.  They don’t create collectors.  I was forcibly reminded of this only the other day when putting the finishing touches to an insurance valuation of the book collection of a good customer and friend of mine who died, some years ago now, but far too young.  He would never have started collecting as seriously as he eventually did unless he had got to know me gradually over the years by dropping into my old shop when he was passing.  I could never have helped him put together such a valuable collection through chance encounters at book fairs.  To do these things needs friendship, trust, collaboration and a fixed abode.

MaggsOldBooksOnly good bookshops can initiate and build these things – as Robert Harding noted the other night in his welcoming speech (Ed Maggs’ voice had apparently given way) – it’s all about real books and real people.  That’s the Maggs way and, in my time and in my view at least – Maggs has not only been a good bookshop, but the best – the very best.

They are back in town.  Welcome home.  Bloomsbury now, rather than Mayfair – we can hear the geographical axis of the trade shifting accordingly.

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Gertie Wentworth-James

girldownstairsI picked this up at a book-fair the other day – a little tatty and unprepossessing, I know.  “The Girl Downstairs” by Gertie de S. Wentworth-James – the story of Rosabel Sayer – educated, comely, resolute, plucky, and an altogether rather superior parlourmaid, who comes to the aid of a somewhat dysfunctional family living in the London suburb of Hambledon at the end of the District Line – a lightly disguised Wimbledon, where the author herself once lived. It’s all rather enjoyable until the author remembers that she is supposed to be writing a romance and Rosabel herself is swept off her feet by a grocer’s deliveryman (who of course is no more what he seems than she is).

Plausible – it’s not.  Virginia Woolf – it’s not – it really isn’t.  But I will say that if we wanted a take on the reality of women in the workplace a century ago, or the routine experience of being hit on by employers past, present and prospective, then Gertie Wentworth-James might well be a more reliable guide than Virginia Woolf, or even Dorothy Richardson.

artistThis edition is undated, but was published, or strictly speaking distributed, by T. A. & E. Pemberton Ltd. – the Manchester brothers, remainder-dealers turned publishers, Thomas Abel Pemberton (1888-1965) and Edwin Pemberton (1891-1965) – from their pre-1947 Blossom Street address.  It perhaps dates from about 1939 or 1940.  I don’t recognise and can’t make out the signature of the cover artist – Douglas Long-something? – suggestions very welcome. [PS – It’s Douglas Constable. My thanks to Andrew Parry for deciphering it. Born in South Africa, Douglas La Coste Constable (1881-1930) died at Hampstead in December 1930, which suggests that the Pembertons may have retained the artwork from the original 1926 edition]

marsbarNo particular reason for buying it – and the Mars Bar advertisement on the rear wrapper is singularly unappetising – except that Pemberton material tends to be pretty scarce and this seemed to be distinctly earlier than anything else I’d seen from them.  As it turns out, it appears to be unrecorded.  The only other copy of the book I can trace is the British Library’s 1926  edition, published by the Federation Press of Arthur Gray and Frederick Matthew Mowl (a.k.a. “Gramol”), about whom I’ve written before.  There are appear to be no copies at all of this Pemberton edition in the BL or elsewhere – none in any major library worldwide and none on the internet – which raises some interesting questions about the meaning and value of rarity in the rare book trade.  Is this book rare? – Certainly.  Is it valuable? – Certainly not, although I shall hope to improve a little on the couple of pounds I paid for it.

I suppose what intrigued me was the conjunction of the author’s high-flown name – G. de S. Wentworth-James – with this kind of ‘popular’, not to say ‘pulp’ fiction.  I’d not come across Gertie Wentworth-James before and thought at first that I was tracking down a completely forgotten author.  Actually there is already a fair amount of information about her out there and most of passably accurate.  According to “The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction”, she was the author “of about fifty-five smartly witty novels, self-consciously progressive especially about sex, published between 1908 and 1929”, which is true enough, although the number of titles may be a little inflated by the number of her books which were reissued under changed names.

As to the “self-consciously progressive” content, her books were certainly thought a little risqué at the time and a number were banned from public libraries.  A writer for “The Sketch” (2nd April 1919) noted that “Miss Wentworth James is a woman with very decided individual views, and she is not afraid of expressing them. ‘I don’t write what is called ‘the healthy novel’’, she told me once. ‘Indeed, I don’t like ‘healthy’ novels. Those I have read always deal with murder, robbery, blackmail, and abductions. It’s wonderful what a lot of crime it takes to make a really ‘healthy’ work of fiction”.

Gertrude de Soilleux Wentworth-James (1874-1933) was her full name, although the “de” and the hyphen seem to have been optional and the spelling of “Soilleux” tends to be variable.  She was born at Kensington in West London on 29th March 1874 and baptised as Gertrude Soilleux Webster at fashionable St. Mary the Boltons on 4th May 1875 – her parents given as John William Webster and his wife Emilie.  I have not been able to trace anything at all of the earlier history of her parents and things may not have been quite as they seem.  Her father is described in the parish register as having “no occupation” – a man of private means perhaps, although he is conspicuously not described as a “gentleman”, which would normally have been the case if that were so.  Whoever he may have been, he died or disappeared shortly thereafter and mother and daughter were left to make their own way in the world.

In 1881 they were living in Hackney, her mother recorded as a Londoner of thirty-six years of age, having a private income apparently sufficient for them to retain a single servant.  Ten years later they had moved to Willesden, the young Gertrude now a music student, while her mother is described as an authoress – if so, I have not traced anything written by her.  Presumably putting her musical training to good use, the 1901 census finds Gertrude, now twenty-six, employed as a “drawing room entertainer” at Smedley’s Hydropathic and Boarding Establishment at Matlock in Derbyshire.  What opportunities this may have given her to study life from an unusual and offbeat perspective we can only surmise, but she soon after began to publish short stories and articles as Gertie de S. Webster – for example, “Paula’s Piano” for “Pearson’s Magazine” in 1902, and “How the East End Amuses Itself”, which appeared in “Cassell’s” in  October 1904.

Gertie Wentworth-James. The Bystander, 27th May 1908.

Gertie Wentworth-James. The Bystander, 27th May 1908.

In the spring of 1904 she had married Herbert Wentworth-James (1876?-1934) at Wandsworth. His antecedents seem to be as obscure as those of her parents, but he was himself the author of a number of short stories for the magazines, born in London and most often described as a journalist.  Gertie continued to turn out stories under her married name, the titles becoming distinctly more adventurous – “The Man Mamma Recommended”, “The Man the Other Woman Wanted”, and “My First Affair” all appeared in “Smith’s Magazine” in 1907.  At about this time her husband was working as publicity manager for the Remington Typewriter Company and it may not be coincidental that her first novel, “The Wild Widow”, published by T. Werner Laurie in 1908, attracted a great deal of press coverage.  The reviews were mixed: the “Manchester Courier” (29th May 1908) summed up the plot – “A second-rate type of Bohemian lady, in order to raise money, claims that the body of a dead man is that of her husband.  With the insurance money thus secured, she goes to Monte Carlo, wins at the tables, invests wisely, and makes a fortune … A certain air of reality is found in the story, despite improbable incidents”.  A couple of days earlier, “The Bystander” (27th May 1908), had been far more positive, with a feature and a photograph of “A Promising New Author”– “The story is packed full of life and mirth and humour.  Chiefly feminine in characterisation, it presents a living picture of modern womanhood.  The central character, Mrs. Orlitson, is suspected from the first to be a monster … Miss James has succeeded in weaving an attractive novel based on a somewhat implausible coincidence, but she keeps her secret so darkly that one is bound, when, at the end of the book, it is disclosed, to forget its crudity in sheer amazement at its audacity … thoroughly up to date, and clever in a new-womanish sort of way.  Miss James must write some more, avoiding, if possible, crude coincidences and bombshell revelations. Her powers of sketching character are undeniable, and her dialogue is witty and suggestive”.

It became a success and was published in America, as were number of her early books, and there were French and Spanish versions too (“Une Étrange Veuve”, “Una Viuda Extraña”).  There followed a rapid series of colourful and successful novels and by 1911 she was living with her husband and her mother at The Turret, Wimbledon Park Road, with a resident parlourmaid and a cook, boldly proclaiming herself a novelist and brazenly admitting to be being thirty-two years of age (she had just turned thirty-seven).  She was already close to the peak of her fame – “Her vivacious style and fresh and unconventional plots have given her books a huge circulation”, reported the “Ballymena Observer” the following year (26th July 1912).


The Price. New York : Mitchell Kennerley, 1911. © Babylon Revisited Rare Books.

The books were colourful in quite a literal sense – a riot of colour, in fact – “Red  Love” (1908); “Pink Purity” (1909); “Scarlet Kiss” (1910); “White Wisdom” (1910) – “a commentary of various phases of society life, and a sidelight on some of the ways of the smart set … The story itself really concerns Louise Hedin, who is abandoned by her well-to-do parents and brought up in a London slum” (Dundee Courier, 28th September 1910); “Crimson Caresses” (1918) – originally published as “The Price” (1911);  “A Primrose Prude” (1919) – originally published as “The House of Chance” (1911); “Purple Passion” (1915), “Violet Virtue” (1916), “Golden Youth” (1916), and the rather more prosaic “Green Grapes” (1918), this last perhaps redeemed by its subtitle – “Green Grapes : Dealing with the Devilish Doings of a God” – one of a number of rather good subtitles, including “Scarlet Kiss : The Story of a Degenerate Woman who Drifted”; “The Lesson : A Story of Love, of Bohemia, and of Human Philosophy” (1910) – “unusual and decidedly clever” (Dundee Courier, 27th December 1910); “The Cage Unbarred : Being the Story of a Woman who was Dull” (1913) – “the usual dull story of a dull heroine who goes wrong because she is too dull to keep right.  She has a husband who takes her seriously.  Life with him is full of those commonplace nothings which inspire red-headed heroines to wander forth in search of excitement” (The Tatler, 12th February 1913), and “The Thing : Being the Story of a Girl who Thought about Things and Tried to Understand Them, and Who at Last Saw Life with Open Eyes” (1921) – “fewer melodramatic passages and a generous curtailment of the osculatory passages might make this novel worth reading, and it might possibly not” (Aberdeen Press, 22nd September 1921).

Secret Places. London : Stanley Paul, 1924.

Secret Places. London : Stanley Paul, 1924.

Elsewhere there is a nod to her own origins with “Diana of West Kensington” (1909), and a stream of such catchy titles as “The Piccadilly Puritan” (1917), “Barter” (1912) – later republished as “Miss Mercenary” (1919); “The Devil’s Profession” (1914) – “The devil’s profession is the running of a bogus lunatic asylum in which sane people are confined” (Pall Mall Gazette, 22nd April 1914);  “Man-Made Morals” (1915) – “a mixture of ‘sloppy’ sentiment and up-to-date (up-to-date, that is, before the war) shocks” (Manchester Courier, 12th April 1915); “The Wife Who Found Out” (1915); “The Man Market”(1917) – “I had the supreme misfortune to be born a woman …”; “Maiden Madness” (1919); “A Very Bad Woman” (1920); “The Wife Who Wasn’t Wanted” (1923), and “A Mental Marriage” (1926).  There were a couple of translations into German and Swedish, and at least half a dozen of her novels appeared in Dutch versions.

The Soul That Came Back. London : T. Werner Laurie, [1922]. © L. W. Currey, Inc.

The Soul That Came Back. London : T. Werner Laurie, [1922]. © L. W. Currey, Inc.

Some of her later work has a certain following among admirers of science fiction and fantasy – E. F. Bleiler lists four titles, including the reincarnation novel “The Soul that Came Back” (1922), while the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction adds a fifth – “Girl Everlasting” (1927).  “The Television Girl” (1928) has attracted a certain amount of academic interest (see for example Professor David Trotter’s “Literature in the First Media Age” (2013) and his 17th October 2012  post on “The Literary Platform” blog).  It’s a clever predictive story of Skype, or something very similar, as imagined from the 1920s – a false connection to an unknown woman of mystery leads to romance, or, as it was advertised at the time, “a famous doctor falls in love with the face of a girl flashed on to the screen of his televisor”.

wifewho“The Scarlet Kiss” was turned into a British silent film in 1920, while “The Wife Who Wasn’t Wanted” became a Warner Brothers movie in 1925.  In the same year, her 1913 novel “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Work” was given the full Hollywood treatment – a film starring the great Lionel Barrymore alongside Marguerite De La Motte, a huge star in her day, best-known for her many roles opposite Douglas Fairbanks before her career crashed and burned with the coming of the talkies.  A showing of the film at the Pier Theatre Cinema in Chichester was written up by the local rag as “Gertie Wentworth-James’ enthralling romance of a shop girl, who longs for luxury and ease” – and I dare say (naming no names) we have all known shop girls of just such an inclination.  “How she obtains her wish and what happens when fate presents the bill are told in this gripping drama of love and suspense” (Chichester Observer, 25th August 1926).

lobbycardFor all of these seeming indications of success, her career and her sales were by now in reality in sharp decline.  There can be no other reason for her turning out a potboiler like “The Girl Downstairs” for the likes of Gray and Mowl – the worst-paying publishers in London – in 1926.  Ill health was also beginning to affect both her and her husband.  A final flurry of novels in the late 1920s was followed by little more than a curious account of her near death experience titled “Neither Unpleasant nor Painful : What it Feels Like to Die ”, which appeared in the “Edinburgh Evening News” (Tuesday 13 September 1932).  She never fully recovered and died on 22nd April 1933 at Hammersmith Hospital, her death causing barely a ripple in the press. The money too was gone, her estate was declared at a meagre £150 or so.


Health & Strength. 10th March 1934.
© Tilleys of Chesterfield.

Far more widely reported was the death of her husband exactly twelve months later.  By now general editor of the magazines called “Health and Strength” and the naturist “Health and Efficiency”, he had been completely unable to reconcile himself to the loss of Gertie.  He took advantage of his housekeeper being away on holiday to seal his flat airtight with some kind of webbing and then to turn on, but not light, the gas-fire. It was a death as lurid as that in any of her novels.  She was a woman who must have known what it was to be loved.

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Lost Books – Lost Jackets

A guest post and a request for help from Mark Godburn,  author of “Nineteenth-Century Dust-Jackets” (Private Libraries Association & Oak Knoll Press, 2016)

I am looking for the whereabouts of the following books, all of whichDrood have early dust-jackets. These books were reported decades ago and are on the Tanselle list, but no one seems to know where they are today. I would like to find the books to get modern images.

  1. Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (London, Chapman & Hall, 1870). First edition, green cloth, printed jacket. Reported in the 1930s and used as a frontispiece in John C. Eckel, The First Editions of the Writings of Charles Dickens (1932).
  2. Aubrey de Vere, Irish Odes and Other Poems (New York, Catholic Publication Society, 1869). This book has a sealed wrapping jacket.
  3. englandCharles MacFarlane and Thomas Thomson, The Comprehensive History of England (London, Blackie & Son, 1856-61). 4 volumes. Reported by John Carter in 1968. [See image of an unjacketed set.]
  4. Henry Beveridge, A Comprehensive History of India (London, Blackie & Sons, 1862). 3 volumes. Reported by John Carter in 1968.
  5. John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress (London, Longmans, 1860). Illustrated jacket. Reported by John Carter in 1931. This book was owned by Thomas Balston of Duckworth & Co., and was offered for sale in a Scribner’s Book Store catalog in 1936 for $35.
  6. Don Juan [John E. Wheelock], In Search of Gold: The Story of a Liberal Life (New York, H. W. Thompson, 1884). This book has a sealed wrapping jacket that was meant to be opened and used as a flap-style jacket.

The following book was not on the Tanselle list but was sold by the German auction house Zisska & Lacher in November 2014, auction 64, lot 1608, for 600 pounds.

  1. Johann Carl Osterhausen & Georg C. Wilder, Neues Taschenbuch von Nurnberg (1819 & 1822). 2 volumes. Original dust-jackets and red slipcases. I am trying to find out who bought the set to get images.

Please contact me at if you have any information. 

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