Title: La Belle Dame sans Merci (1819)
Author: John Keats
Publisher: The Eragny Press, The Brook, Hammersmith
(Lucien Pissarro and his wife Esther established the private press in 1894.)
Date of Publication: 1906
Measurements: 80 x 110mm
Limited edition: 200 copies on paper and 10 copies on vellum
I found this little treasure on one of my first explorations between the shelves. Due to its diminutive size, it seemed almost lost among the bigger volumes. Hence I thought I’d pay it some well-deserved attention and chose it to be the first curiosity to discuss in this blog. In addition, the fact that it is an edition that was published right at the beginning of the year 1906 makes it an appropriate object to be chosen for January 2017.
The book was bought for the collection in December 1920; it was part of the first purchase that architect Sidney Kyffin Greenslade (1866-1955), appointed Consulting Curator to the Art and Crafts Museum (as the SoA collections were called in the past), made using the income from the Davies Gift. The Davies Gift was presented by the sisters Gwendoline Margaret (1882-1951) and Margaret Sydney Davies (1884-1963), granddaughters of the Welsh entrepreneur David Davies of Llandinam (1818-1890). The sisters were great supporters of the arts in Wales and set up a private press at Gregynog in the 1920s. Greenslade acquired seven more books from the Eragny Press at the same time, including John Milton’s Areopagitica (1904) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Cristabel (1904) (see the invoice pictured below).
The book is bound in cardboard covered with a printed repeating pattern of flowers in green and yellow on a white background. Esther Pissarro (1870-1951, married Lucien, 1862-1944, in August 1892) might have designed this as she was a keen gardener, and their extensive garden at the Brook was very well kept. The pages are probably ‘Arches’ paper that Pissarro had especially imported from his home country. It has been manufactured in France since 1492 and is still in use today. Arches, the village where the paper mill was originally founded, is located near Epinal in the Vosges mountains. It is made from 100% cotton fibre, smooth and watermarked ‘Arches’. I say “probably made of Arches paper” as I can’t find that distinctive mark on the pages of this volume; however, all other Eragny Press books in the SoA collection are made with that brand, and because of its size, I assume that it might have been produced from trimmings of bigger books. The edges of the pages are deckled. This means that they have kept the natural edge that occurs when the paper is produced in the mould; they are uncut and have not been trimmed at the edges by a bookbinding plough or guillotine. Some of them are unopened as well so that any owner who had wanted to read them would have taken a paper knife to carefully separate them.
The decorative ex-libris (Latin: from the library of…) on one of the front pages shows a view of Eragny (see image), the village where Lucien Pissarro had lived with his family in the 1880s before moving to London in November 1890 and settling in the UK for good. The ornamental capitals and borders are printed in red ink; the rest of the text is printed in black ‘Brook’ typeface. Pissarro had created this font in 1902; before, he and his wife used the ‘Vale’ typeface designed by his friend Charles Ricketts (1866-1931), founder of the Vale Press that closed after a fire in 1903.
A small slip of paper is glued on one of the last pages:
Page 2, for mcxxxxvi, read mdccccvi”
I assume that it would have been far too laborious and costly to reproduce said page 2 in all the copies that had already been printed.
Eragny Press manufactured 32 titles in its 20 years of existence. With the outbreak of WWI, Lucien Pissarro and his wife had to close their business down. Their financial situation had always been precarious, especially ever since Camille Pissarro, who had supported them, had died in 1903 and the Vale Press had folded the same year. They could also neither import the necessary ‘Arches’ paper from France anymore, nor send the finished product to collectors on the continent or the United States (see advert of the New York Times below).
Urbanelli, Lora. The book art of Lucien Pissarro. London: Moyer Bell, 1997. Print.