Rare Indulgences!

Andrea here
, I’ve been thinking about the last few months, and how stressful it’s been for all of us in so many ways. The need to shelter at home has cut us off from so many daily pleasures—meeting up with friends for drinks or dinner . . . visiting a museum . . . treating oneself to a little shopping. So I am deeming myself deserving of a splurge. And it should come as no surprise that books are involved!

DevonshireViking Cruise Line, a sponsor of PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, has been offering a video channel on culture and the arts for us to enjoy some virtual travels and lectures . . .and among the recent fun offerings was an interview with the Duke of Devonshire by his son-in-law, who owns Heywood Hill, one of Britain’s most famous rare book emporiums. (You can see it here)

Now, of course, I couldn’t resist taking a virtual visit to Heywood Hill. (Oh, how I miss real-life London!) And what do I find—a carefully curated list of 80 fun bibliographic treasures, specially chosen to lift the spirits during the pandemic! (You can see the full selection here.) So, I’ve opened my virtual checkbook—because money is no object when one is drooling (of course not literally) over such a fabulous array of goodies! However, I’ve exercised great restraint and haven’t gobbled up all them, but have chosen just a few that really tickle my fancy:

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A Touch of Magic!

JE press 1Andrea here, musing today about making things by hand, and the tactile and visual pleasures of connecting with three dimensions in this digital age. It seems that more and more institutions of learning, from school classrooms to museums of every discipline, are recognizing the importance of object-based learning. Engaging with an actual “concrete” (okay, not literally) entity brings a subject—be it history, art, technology, the natural sciences—magically alive in ways that transcends a computer screen image or photographic reproduction.

JE press 2I recently had a wonderful first-hand experience in watching this happen. In September, I teamed up to do a special project with a professor who teaches undergraduates at my alma mater how to print on an old-fashioned printing press. It involved creating a keepsake for an alumni gathering, and as it was my bright idea to print it by hand with real type and quality paper—even though 700 copies were needed—the two of us had a LOT time to chat in the press room as we cranked out the pieces one by one. (I fell in love with letterpress printing as a freshman, and did a lot of it, so it was great fun for me to get ink on my hands again after so many years.)

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A Bookshop Fit For A Duke

Old book-closeupCara/Andrea here, carrying on the library/books theme that Nicola began on Monday . . . If you’re like me, any bookstore sings a Siren song—I find it hard to pass one by without poking my head inside and exploring. Shops that carry old books are particularly intriguing, for one never knows what marvelous (to me, and not anyone else) treasure might be hiding on the shelves.

HHSo I was delighted to stumble across a wonderful article on a very special bookshop called Heywood Hill in the New York Times this past weekend, and can’t resist sharing its story. (Oh, that I could be in London to “stumble” across it in person! It’s first on my To-Visit list for the next time I’m traveling across the Pond.)  

Number 10Heywood Hill founded the small shop that bears his name (it occupies two floors of a Georgian townhouse, complete with a fireplace and chandeliers) in 1936. To say that it has an impressive pedigree is no exaggeration on many levels. Hill loved books and literature, and according to the shop’s website he liked “to sell not just the best books, old and new, but other beautiful objects and curiosities—a tradition that continues to this day.

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Top Ten Books I’d Like To Find Under The Tree

John-James-Audubon’s-Birds-Of-America-3Cara/Andrea here,
With holiday shopping in full swing, I’ve been busy perusing the stores for the perfect gifts for those on my list. It’s fun to try to find something unique and special to match the interests of family and friends. But I confess, as I’ve been searching around for others, I’ve also amused myself by compiling a wish list for myself—assuming Santa Claus is feeling VERY generous. (Hey, I’ve been VERY good this past year!) So, here is my Top Ten list of rare book treasures that I’d love to add to my library:

Birds of America
John James Audubon’s first edition of Birds of America (known as the double elephant folio because of its size) is considered the finest book of ornithological illustrations ever created. It was a very expensive project to print—Audubon had to do a lot of self-promo around Europe to sell subscriptions to fund it. The cost was $1,000, a very princely sum in the 1820s. But it turned out to be a wise investment (A copy sold last year at Christie’s for $7.9 million)

HypnerotomachiaHypnerotomachia Poliphili

Printed by the legendary Aldus Manutius in Venice at the end of 1499, HP is the first illustrated book printed with Gutenberg’s newly invented moveable type. It’s strange, dream-like text has puzzled scholars over the centuries, but collectors agreed that it’s the most beautiful of all incunabula (books printed before 1500.) The perfectly proportioned layout, the lovely woodcuts and the elegant typeface—a classic design that is still in use today—make it one of the most famous examples of book design in history.  (A copy recently sold at auction for $473,321.)

MoxonAlfred Tennyson’s Poems 

Known as the Moxon Tennyson, this edition was published by Edward Moxon in 1857. It’s famous for its 54 beautiful wood engravings designed by eight noted artists of the day, including Pre-Raphaelites William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. One critic called it a “pocket cathedral. (A copy is available from a rare book dealer for $2,500.)

The Kelmscott Chaucer

Published in 1896, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer—known today as The Kelmscott Chaucer—was a joint labor of love by William Morris, a luminary of the artistic and intellectual scene in late 19th century Britain, who designed the typeface and intricate borders, and his good friend Edward Burne-Jones, one of the leaders of the Kelmscott_chaucer-largerPre-Raphaelite movement, who did the illustrations. It’s considered by many to be the most beautiful book ever published. (A copy was recently sold at auction for $160,000.)

P&PPride and Prejudice

Published in 1813, Jane Austen’s classic was released in three small volumes—and of course when on to become one of the most popular novels in the English language. (A copy is available on ebay for $65,000.)

The History of the Royal Residences of Windsor Castle, St. James Palace, Carlton House, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, Buckingham House and Frogmore

Writer/artist William Henry Pyne often collaborated with Rudolph Ackermann on projects for Ackermann’s magazines, but he became fascinated with book publishing and was inspired to create this book on Royal residencesthe royal residences, published in 1809. It includes 100 lovely color illustrations. (A copy is for sale at Bauman Rare Books in NYC for $17,000.)

The Golden Cockerel Press edition of The Four Gospels
GillDesigned and illustrated by the legendary 20th century graphic designer Eric Gill, the Four Gospels was his homage to the Medieval art of the illuminated manuscript. It’s considered one of the highlights of modern book design. (A copy, one of only 12 that were printed on vellum, recently sold at auction for $132,00. A paper first edition sells for about $4,700.)

Le Chant des Morts

A collaboration between poet Pierre Reverdy and his friend Pablo Picasso, the book—which was published in 1948—features handwritten poems written during World War Two, with bold graphic illustrations Mortby the master artist. (A copy recently sold for $7,500.)

Don Juan 
Lord Byron’s epic satirical poem, which had an unfinished 17th canto at the time of his death, is considered by many critics to be his masterpiece. (A complete set in original boards of the 16 Cantos in seven volumes recently sold for $16,800.)

The Fabulous Flight 

Written and illustrated by the great Robert Lawson, it’s a children’s classic that was first published in 194
9. I vividly remember it from my childhood—it’s a marvelous story that held me captivated, and Fabulous Flightlooking back, I think it was one of the reads that taught me the power of storytelling. The illustrations are delightful too, which appealed to the art side of my brain. (A collector’s first edition is available on Amazon for $75.)

So what about you? If you could find any book treasure among the brightly wrapped holiday gifts, what would it be? Or perhaps there's some other special treasure on your ultimate Wish List—please share it with Santa's elves!