Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Equus in Whitechapel

Go to the Old Stile Press blog for pictures and reportage of the London Art Book Fair and the first public outing of their new edition of Equus.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bridge of Sighs

Only in Venice...

If there's one thing I've learnt about the Venetians in my now three or four visits to their beautiful city, it's that they have an unerring ability to cover alsmot anything that visitors might want to see in advertising. I don't think I have ever seen the Rialto Bridge unadorned by a banner of some kind or another. On my first visit I remember being alarmed by the appearance of Big Ben in St Mark's Square - which was of course simply an illustration on the covering being used to hide the work being done on the clock tower in the Square. And the above is how the Bridge of Sighs currently looks: rather space-age actually.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Drop Backed Boxes

Also from the London Art Book Fair, on the stall of the Society of Bookbinders I picked up a very handly little pamphlet on how to make drop-back boxes to hold books or papers. I was so fired up by it that by 2a.m. on Saturday morning, I'd manged to create this box to contain my triple signed copy of the Maggs Brothers' Catalogue, Baron Corvo from the Collection of Donald Weeks. It's almost there: there's an extra millimetre in the hinges which means it doesn't quite close as well as I'd like but I'm pretty happy about it as a first try.

The Society's website is well worth a visit, most especially the Gallery section which illustrates some of the most beautiful modern bindings I've seen for a long time.

Vintage Swimwear

Thank you to one of my faithful readers for their enquiry about the vintage swim photos (you know who you are) and, as promised, herewith another set of photos from my digital collection.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

London Art Book Fair

The private view for the the London Art Book Fair at the Whitechapel Gallery was on Friday afternoon, a beautiful day to be swaning around the east end of London. We were there, for the most part, to wave the Old Stile Press edition of Equus into public view for the first time, to meet the artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins (remarkably after an email friendship of some years this was the first time we had met), to shake Simon Callow's hand, and as it turned out, to be given a copy of the beast, the book, which was simply delightful and is now the treasured highlight of our Old Stile Press collection.

There were many other highlights at the exhibition and this was one of my purchases. And how could I be expected to resist any book with such a quote emblazoned across the cover in thick black type. An amazingly fresh edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I say fresh because although there are a million editions of this novella, this is printed on huge sheets of floppy newsprint and is illustrated with 1970s tobacco adverts. The size and typography make you feel that you are flicking through the pages of some large magazine that came with a Sunday paper. This is not fine printing, not even a limited edition, but it is book design that is deceptively intelligent, imaginative and new. The publishers are Four Corners Books and this is number one in a series of previously published (classic) texts that they are putting out, each interpreted in a different way through book design and illustration. They are extremely affordable as well which is always a bonus.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ah, the romance of Venice

This is the view from the spot we found, about four hundred yards from the Rialto bridge, with all its hustling and commerce and restaurants and bright lights, where we could sit right at the edge of the Grand Canal and dangle sore feet in the cool water. It's a Gondola mooring and it was here we spent an hour or so on the last night of our honeymoon watching a rather handsome Venetian boy packing away the velvet and chrome of the Gondolas' interiors and wrapping each one carefully in its blue tarpaulin for the night. It really is the most romantic city in the world.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Raven 9 Flies the Nest

One of the things that made the period before the wedding a little hectic was the desire to get Raven 9 published. I just made it. All the orders which came in immediately after the announcement have now been sent out. The blurb follows:
Raven Nine: A Genius for Inaccuracy
by Robert Scoble

When in the early months of 1903 Frederick Rolfe decided to seek financial help from the Royal Literary Fund, he was unaware that the most influential of the Fund's committee members was determined to thwart him.

Edmund Gosse was one of England's foremost men of letters, despite his reputation for literary criticism which was distinctly careless with the facts. At times his mistakes were so egregious that Henry James was moved to lament Gosse's 'genius for inaccuracy'.

When Rolfe's case came before the committee, Gosse urged its rejection, embroidering his remarks with gratuitous exaggerations. He was a man used to getting his own way, and having come to the view that Rolfe was undeserving, he took his 'genius for inaccuracy' to the Committee table and ensured that Rolfe's long struggle against dire poverty would continue.

The inside story of this cruel reverse is here told for the first time, using holograph letters newly discovered in several great libraries and in the archives of the Royal Literary Fund itself.

The Raven Series has been planned as a set of scholarly essays which will add substantially to our knowledge of the life and work of Frederick Rolfe. Each essay is being published in a strictly limited edition, and there is little doubt that complete sets will be sought after by collectors in the years to come.

Of a full edition of 70, the first 12 copies of A Genius for Inaccuracy constitute the special state, case bound in coffee-coloured paper-covered boards with gilt titles, and signed by the author. Numbers 13-70 form the ordinary state of the edition, and are sewn into coffee-coloured card covers with a paper label and acetate wrappers.

Marble Patterns

On my previous visits to Venice I've been disctinctly underwhelmed by St Mark's basilica and been unable to understand what all the fuss was about. I now realise why: in the past I've visited as the evening was drawing in so as to avoid the crowds. This means that the beautiful golden mosaics were almost invisible since they are not lit up except under one small dome and so I trudged around an almost completely darkened church being very disinclined to pay money for any of the subsidiary attractions in the building - in fact, on previous occasions have been quite glad to get out.

This time was different. The sun was blazing outside and illuminating the roof which simply comes alive and R and I had already decided that on honeymoon you don't begrudge the extra little expenses so, hardly expecting much at all we paid our coin to troop around the back of the altar to look at the Pala d'Oro (the golden screen). Which was breath-taking. It's the first thing in a long while to give me a real 'wow' moment: a golden alter screen of real gold maybe 10ft long and 4ft high decorated with the most intricate enamels depicting an army of saints. It was made more or less entirely of loot from the fourth crusade and contains 157 enamels, 300 sapphires, 400 garnets, 15 rubies, 1300 pearls and a couple of hundred other stones. No picture can do it justice. To enounter it at the back of the church, lit to make it luminous, just steps away from the tomb containing the body of St Mark was an unexpectedly touching moment.

Then, we payed a few more coins to climb the long, steep stairway to the heavens. The gallery which runs around the top of the church, right up amongst the mosaics and which allows access to the balcony on the outside of the church on a level with the four horses. We sat for some long time in the shady warmth of the balcony in front of the external mosaic of St Nicholas, watching the crowds in St Mark's Square. That would have been worth the entrance fee alone but there's a whole museum up there, a long, winding museum of sculpture, art, mosaic, fabrics and some beautiful illuminated manuscript books.

And among the highlights, not up in the roof but on the floor. The geometric and other designs on the floor of the basillica (above) are quite beautiful. Dan Brown would have a field day in here mining sigificance from beauty.

Wedding & Honeymoon

We are back... On our first full day in Venice we decided to ignore the city and got on the boat to Murano. It was an overcast day but warm, slightly muggy perhaps. We trawled the main shopping canal full to glittering with Murano glassware of course - a few things beautiful, a few things bold, most repulsive, over-the-top and gloriously kitsch. And then, walking further, we stepped inside the church of St Donato, one of the oldest churches in the Veneto, where we were standing in front of the bones of the dragon that Donato slew with just his spit as the sky outside turned black and the heavens opened and a thunderstorm of epic proportions rolled like a non-stop freight train over the lagoon. Believe me it doesn't get much more atmospheric than that!

Remarkably, from the wedding ceremony to the meal afterwards, to the flights and travelling, to the honeymoon week and the return journey, the whole affair has been remarkably stress free. No real hassles at any point. We've come back from Venice feeling a little tired but very happy and refreshed.

You can expect a fair few posts in the next few days relating to time in Venice one way or another. This post is by way of fair warning. Thank you again to all who sent good wishes and messages of support they were all very much appreciated and we'll try and be in touch with all of you individually where we can.

Thanks also to Anonymous for an interesting comment on my G F Sims's catalogue post. If you're a regular reader of this blog and see this, please do say hi in private if you'd like by clicking on the 'email me' link.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

G. F. Sims's Book Catalogues

It seems book catalogues are on my mind at the moment. This is a selection of the catalogues issued over many years by G(eorge) F. Sims, (1923-1999), who was perhaps the most important bookseller of the twentieth century for those people interested in the kind of books that interest me.

There is an excellent obituary to be read on the website of The Independent. As well as bookseller Sims was also a novelist, poet and memoir-ist and was unusually well-received as such for a member of the book trade who more normally fail badly when they enter the business of actually trying to write the things instead of just sell them.

For me though, the catalogues are the legacy. I know of only one person with a complete set of all 107 (plus some 'unpublished' odds and sods) but it's an idle dream that I might one day be able to put together a 'set' myself. If anyone reading this has any, particularly earlier ones, that they would like to move on then please do be in touch.

PS. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your kind responses to the last post about our upcoming civil partnership ceremony. We have been very touched by all the messages of support and good wishes received here, by email and in person: much more than we expected certainly. When we toast to 'absent friends' please be assured that you will all be in our minds.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


R and I are getting married. Or, in our case we are 'registering a civil partnership'. Nonetheless, a week from today we will be officially 'hitched' in a very small service at the Register Office and then with close friends and family out for a pub lunch. The day after that we fly off for five nights in Venice.

We had a choice between having a reading, or writing our own vows. In the end we opted for vows. I don't want to get too sentimental about the whole thing, its been a long time coming as we've been together now for close on 14 years, but I can honestly say that I will mean every syllable of these words:

I promise to love you and honour you always, in good times and in bad,
from this day until we are finally parted at the end of our lives.

When you are joyful I will rejoice with you, laugh with you and I will
delight in your happiness.

When troubles come I will strive to protect you and keep you from harm,
and where I cannot I will hold you through the pain.

With my love and friendship I will sweeten your victories and soften
your defeats.

I will travel with you wherever our road should lead and I will never
desert you nor allow you to stand alone in the world.

This I promise to you;

I promise to hold your love as my greatest treasure in this

Friday, September 04, 2009

Lehnert & Landrock

And again, at the same collectables fair mentioned below, a small handful of Lehnert & Landrock postcards. The most collectable ones are the exotic nudes of young male and female arabs but I've been a fan of Lehnert's topographical, orientalist photography for a long time, once having a large collection of several hundred postcards. Over time it became difficult to find their postcards because we had pretty much bought out the stock of all the dealers who came to the fairs we were visiting on a regular basis. That was when it stopped being fun and we sold the collection. But every now and again I'll see one and in Winchester on Monday there were eight - a little seam of gold in a dealers postcard box - these three among them, and I couldn't resist.
Elsewhere on Front Free Endpaper:

Holywell Postcard

This weekend gone was a public holiday weekend in the UK and R and I went to Winchester where there is always a collectables fair on the Bank Holiday Monday. It wasn't the most productive we've ever attended, although R came away with one or two pots. What I did find was this postcard of Holywell, postmarked on the verso 1911, showing the Shrine as it was then with the wrought-iron framed changing rooms on either side.

The photos from my most recent visit show how it looks now and I can't help thinking that perhaps the changing rooms with their little canopies actually make the pool slightly less exposed.

Eric Gill, Unemployment and a little heresy

I picked up this little number the other day. It's a curious little tract by Gill and published by Faber and Faber, but printed by Gill and his Son-in-Law at their jointly run press in High Wycombe in 1933 and apart from the brown mark on a couple of pages (sadly including the illustration) it's in pretty good nick.
I really do enjoy and admire Gill's art and much of his font design. It took me a while to work out why this booklet has such a 'religious' feel to it: certainly the text contains much about Gill's strongly professed religious conviction but there is something even in the way the thing looks. Eventually I realised that with the short paragraphs, the numbered lists and the use of paragraph signs and ampersands, the text on the page actually resembles that of a Bible, perhaps a King James.
But, and here's the little smidgen of heretical thought, there are some very noticeable inconsistencies in the type spacing; more, although the pages are pleasant to behold, they are actually quite difficult to read, the eye doesn't follow the text as well as it might.

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