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Fine Printing: Illustrated and Miniature Books and Bindings
Finely illustrated hand-coloured books, make up a part of the outstanding Fine Printing Collection. The largest and most valuable are a set of J. J. Audubon's Birds of America (1827 38). This is in four volumes double elephant folio in size (approximately 3 feet by 2 feet unopened), and the edition was limited to between 175 and 200 copies. The birds were illustrated life-size in 435 hand-coloured aquatints. The set was originally purchased by the Birmingham Subscription Library after a visit from Audubon. He was promoting his paintings and looking for subscribers to his prints which came out in serial parts. In addition there is a set of John Gould's bird books illustrated by hand-coloured lithographs.
The natural history books in the collection are not limited to ornithology; there are also a number of famous botanical works, including a complete set of Curtiss Botanical Magazine, which began in 1787 and is still being published, and his Flora Londinensis (1777 98).
The Flora Graeca of John Sibthorp in 10 volumes (1845-56) was first published in 1806-1840 and swallowed up all his fortune. It was the definitive scholarly description of the Greek flora, and it was illustrated by Ferdinand Bauer, an acclaimed botanical artist, who accompanied Sibthorp on his first exploration to Greece.
The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya by the future Director of Kew, J. D. Hooker (18491), were discovered on a dangerous and eventful search in the Himalayas. The prolific artist Frith worked up Hooker's sketches and drawings to make lithographic prints.
The Library subscribed to Banks Florilegium meticulously printed in colour for the first time using an 18th century process. The original 18th century copperplates were bequeathed by Sir Joseph Banks to the British Museum. These 738 plates, published by Alecto Historical Editions in 34 portfolios, record the plants collected on Captain Cook first voyage round the world (1768-71).
There is a good collection of Rudolph Ackermann topographical books, such as The Microcosm of London (1808 1810) which was illustrated by aquatints from architectural drawings by Pugin and the caricatures of Rowlandson. The subjects, from prison to palace, from Christie's auction rooms to Vauxhall Pleasure Grounds, still attract inhabitants and visitors.
The Costume of Great Britain (1808) by W.H. Pyne (as pictured on the left) was especially popular, going into two editions of aquatint plates. There are the satirical illustrations of Thomas Rowlandson such as The English Dance of Death (1815)
One of the most admired aquatint books of the period, William Daniell Voyage round Great Britain (1814 25),can be seen in eight volumes, containing 308 hand-coloured plates of coastal scenery (as pictured on the right).
Colour printing by chromolithography enabled such firms as Day & Son to produce The Industrial arts of the XIXth century at the Great Exhibition (1851-3) and the Victoria Psalter (1861-2) illuminated by Owen Jones. He and Henry Noel Humphreys are well represented in this collection, both inspired by medieval art and illuminated manuscripts, as was Henry Shaw whose Dresses and decoration of the Middle Ages (1843) is hand-coloured throughout in the Library's copy.
Some of the finest examples of colour printing in the nineteenth century can be seen in the illustrated books of the Victorian age. The Pictorial Album of 1837 displays the process which George Baxter patented in 1834, the only collection of his prints to be published in book form
In the latter part of the nineteenth century there are the illustrations of Gustave Dor of which London (1872) is an example, and of Aubrey Beardsley, including a complete run of The Yellow Book (1894-7).
Although the books published by Edmund Evans are mostly to be found in the Parker Collection of Early Children Books, there is a fine example of his coloured illustrations printed from woodblocks in Poems of Oliver Goldsmith (1860). The collection includes examples of the work of famous British book illustrators such as Thomas Bewick, the originator of wood engraving, notably in early editions of his British Birds (1797 1804) and Quadrapeds (1791)
There is a small collection of French and Japanese illustrated books, mostly of the nineteenth century, and of German illustrated books of the early twentieth century.
The twentieth century is represented by books illustrated by Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, Jessie King, Eric Gill, Stephen Gooden, Anthony Gross and others. The Birmingham School of Artists, the Gaskins, Bernard Sleigh, Edmund New and C M Gere are represented by some of their best work.
Modern examples of facsimile colour printing include the many books of reproductions made by the Trianon Press in Paris for the William Blake Trust, which reproduce the original colouring and textures of Blakes work using the collotype and hand-stencil process. A recent acquisition was a calligraphic manuscript by I.A.Ellis, the Wish Stone, with 19 original proofs of the woodcuts by Bernard Sleigh and I.A.Ellis.
In 2006 the collection acquired a new book by contemporary artist Brendon Deacy - A Life in relief (a novel without words) cut in 65 linoprints, in a limited edition of 50 copies. His previous work, added in 1998, was The State We're Out, the story of his father's exile to England from Ireland, shown in 53 linocut prints in a limited edition 250 copies.
A small group of early photographic books includes four volumes of photographs by Roger Fenton and an album of salt prints by James Robertson, all taken in the Crimea in 1855. Important in the history of photography was Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion (1887). In these eleven volumes, Muybridge revolutionised the representation of bodies in motion. He recorded the stages of animal and human movement which he had projected on screen in rapid sequence.
The binding collection has been assembled to show the development of European bookbinding styles from the fifteenth to the twentieth century. Their early history can be traced from several examples of blind-stamped leather bindings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, through a magnificent early example of gilt-tooled binding from sixteenth century Venice (Ptolemy's Geographia dated 1513) to the elaborately gilt-tooled bindings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A particularly fine example of fanfare binding from France of about 1595 on a Bible dated 1555 demonstrates the intricacy of all-over gilt designs. Although most books are bound in leather there is an attractively embroidered binding for a Holy Bible produced in 1654 (pictured), and later bindings in the collection have also been made of unusual materials such as wood, silver and papier-mache.
There is a varied collection of gilt-embossed Victorian publishers bindings, as well as craft bindings by James Hayday, Robert Rivie and Son, Sir Edward Sullivan and others. Twentieth century bindings include those commissioned in recent years from craft bookbinders Elizabeth Greenhill, Arthur Johnson, Denise Lubett and Faith Shannon. Examples have also been bought of the work of Sydney Cockerell, Bryan Maggs, Edgar Mansfield, Ivor Robinson, Sally Lou Smith, Philip Smith and James Brockman.
There is a small collection of these tiny examples of the art of the book, which includes a miniature Bible printed for R Wilkin in 1728. This is an early issue of the first appearance in print of the famous Newbery miniature Bible.
Pictured is one of the two volumes of Curiosities in the Tower of London, printed in 1741.
One of the more recently published miniature books is the reproduction of two speeches by Queen Elizabeth II during the celebrations for her Silver Jubilee, printed by the Stanbrook Abbey Press in 1977.
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Early Printing Collection: Books
Early Printing Collection: Atlases and Parish Libraries
Early and Fine Printing