Tuesday, September 25, 2012

So Fine

A lot of fine press books are a bit too precious. A beloved poem or short story by a favorite author hand set and lovingly printed on hand-made paper in a simple, yet elegant binding. They are nice--wonderful to hold and to look at, you can run your finger over the text and feel the bite of the type--but you wonder if anyone read them and how the author might have felt about having his or her text treated with so fine a touch. But sometimes you hit one that is a perfect match.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The House of Life (Boston: Copeland and Day, 1894) is far from our best exemplar of fine printing.  Printed by John Wilson at the Harvard University Press for Copeland and Day, it restores the 1870 edition of the Rossetti's sonnets and does away with some unfortunate editorial changes in the 1881 edition. The poems were precious to Rossetti--when his wife died, he buried a manuscript copy with her.

Rossetti was part of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and friends with great printers like William Morris who printed an edition of his Hand and Soul at the Kelmscott Press. But what makes the Copeland and Day edition work so well is the attention it gives both to the poems and to the reader. It was made to sell and to be read. There is no edition statement declaring it one of x number of copies and the production standards were not so obsessively high that it was priced out of the range of the interested reader. Still, the original borders and initial letters were designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (architect of the University of Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel and the Nebraska State Capital). They accentuate the text in a fitting style. The paper is light and easy to handle, but with enough weight to show off hand-set type. We have two copies, one in its trade binding, the other hand-bound by the Doves Press (pictured here). It is a beautiful book, wonderful to hold in its Doves binding, but equally inviting to read.

To see it ask for Presses C79ro.

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