Illustrated with wood engravings by Paul Nash, David Jones and Eric Gill. At least 500 sets are available with matching numbers from the limitations of 750 and with an advantageous postage rate.
The Fine Press Tradition
Between the First and Second World Wars, a new generation of publishers drew on developments in art and technology to build on, and in some ways to challenge, the Arts and Crafts tradition of fine printing from the pre-war years. At the forefront of this movement – the so-called ‘heroic age’ of the private press – were the pioneering Nonesuch and Golden Cockerel presses.
The Folio Society now presents facsimiles of three highly sought-after masterpieces from these two publishers, all classics of illustrated book production, originally published between 1924 and 1926, and sure to become collectable in their own right. Each volume is a perfect marriage of an Old Testament text with wood-engraved illustrations: Paul Nash’s abstractions evoking the mysteries of Creation recounted in Genesis, David Jones’s Christ-like figure embodying the Book of Jonah’s reluctant prophet, and Eric Gill’s eroticism enriching the sensual Song of Songs.
The Golden Cockerel Press was founded in 1920 as an idealistic rural co-operative, hand-printing books ‘without recourse to paid and irresponsible labour’. After the inevitable financial failure of this venture, the Press was taken over by Robert Gibbings, a driving force behind the newly established Society of Wood Engravers. Strictly limited editions continued to be hand-set initially in Caslon – the most popular typeface of the private press movement – and later in a bespoke typeface, specially commissioned from Eric Gill; then hand-printed on handmade papers and even vellum. Under Gibbings, the more business-like Golden Cockerel led a renaissance in wood-engraved illustration, setting the highest standards of book production while retaining its original craft-orientated spirit.
The Nonesuch Press, founded in London by Francis Meynell in 1923, was a very different venture. Meynell deliberately avoided a house style (preferring instead that people noticed a striking book and only later recognised it as a Nonesuch volume), and used an extremely eclectic range of typefaces, creating books that ranged from the historically inspired to the strikingly modern. While Nonesuch books were often designed and proofed on a handpress, they were then commercially printed by organisations including the Curwen Press and the Oxford and Cambridge University Presses. Meynell’s self-declared mission was to show that ‘mechanical means could be made to serve fine ends’, describing himself as an architect of books rather than a builder, combining the aesthetic ideals of the traditional private press with twentieth century industrial production, ‘for those among collectors who also use books for reading’.
Each volume has been reproduced from a copy of the first edition and printed on Corolla Book Laid Ivory paper. The format is 10¼" × 7½". The editions are limited to 750 numbered copies.
Accompanying each volume is a four-page essay by Sebastian Carter, formerly of the Rampant Lions Press, now editor of Parenthesis, the Journal of the Fine Press Book Association. These essays, specially commissioned for our facsimile editions, give essential background to each of the original publications. The solander boxes were designed for our facsimiles. They are bound in coloured papers and are inset with an engraving from the book. The front and spine of each solander is blocked in gold foil.
28 pages, set in Rudolf Koch’s Neuland type, with 12 wood engravings by Paul Nash, and printed in black ink throughout. Bound in black cloth blocked in gold with a burnt orange printed paper dust wrapper. Because of the heavy black illustrations and text, the pages are doubled over as ‘French folds’ to eliminate show-through, exactly as the first edition.
20 pages, set in Caslon type, with 14 wood engravings by David Jones, and printed in black ink throughout. Bound in oatmeal cloth blocked in gold with a taupe printed paper dust wrapper.
44 pages, set in Caslon type, with 19 wood engravings by Eric Gill; printed in black ink with the title page illustration and some initial letters picked out in red. Bound in oatmeal cloth blocked in gold with a taupe printed paper dust wrapper.
Wood engravings by Paul Nash
Genesis was printed at the legendary Curwen Press and published by Nonesuch in 1924 in a limited edition of only 375 copies. Produced during a period when Nash regarded himself as ‘a war artist without a war’, it is now recognised as a high point in his artistic output and one of the most significant illustrated books of the twentieth century.
To accompany the Creation story described in the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis, Nash cut a series of twelve wood engravings of astonishing power. Starting with a solid black evocation of The Void, his stark images gradually emerge from primordial darkness into divine light, dynamic semi-abstract forms evoking the mystery of the appearance of the universe at God’s command. Facing these brooding wood engravings is the King James version of the text, stripped of punctuation, and printed in Rudolf Koch’s monumental Neuland typeface – used here for the first time in England – the rough-hewn characters deliberately chosen to match the force of Nash’s dark engravings, image and text uniting to create a modernist ‘Block book’.
Because of the heavy black illustrations and text, the pages were originally doubled over as ‘French folds’ to avoid distracting show-through. This unusual design feature has been recreated along with the book's stunning binding and its notoriously fragile orange dust wrapper. The result is a painstaking facsimile with the impact of the original of this extraordinary volume nearly 100 years after it was produced.
Paul Nash (1889–1946) was a visionary painter, photographer and printmaker. He is best known for the iconic images he produced as an official war artist during both the First and Second World Wars – the total devastation of ‘We Are Making a New World’ (1918) and the sea of mangled German aircraft depicted in ‘Totes Meer’ (1941) – and for his later mystical landscapes. Nash was also a pioneer of modernism in British art, a founder member of the influential avant-garde group Unit One, and one of the organisers of the groundbreaking International Surrealist Exhibition of June 1936.
Wood engravings by David Jones
The Book of Jonah was published in 1926 in an extremely restricted edition of only 175 copies, making it one of the rarest illustrated books produced by the Golden Cockerel Press. It remains one of the most important, capturing the moment when Jones emerged from the shadow of his ‘master’, Eric Gill, to create his own unconventional and highly imaginative style.
The Old Testament prophet Jonah is a complex figure, who tries to escape God's call to preach to the sinful people of Nineveh, then rages against Him for sparing them when they repent; who prays to God to rescue him from the belly of the whale, then begs to be allowed to die. Jones captured this conflict with characteristic intelligence, labouring for over six months to produce a densely-packed series of images that combine black-line and white-line engraving, the medieval and the modern, the static and the dynamic, moments of calm with scenes of high drama. His Nineveh is a city of towering skyscrapers occupied by Expressionist inhabitants, his Jonah a Christ-like figure surrounded by allusions to the Nativity, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Subtle visual relationships even pair many of the illustrations, creating a distinctive combination of linear progress and unifying symmetry.
Because of Jones's unusually shallow cutting of the wooden blocks and ambitious integration of text and image, The Book of Jonah was particularly difficult to print. But the result is an outstanding contribution to a medium that Jones worked in for just five years.
David Jones (1895–1974) was the pre-eminent painter-poet of the twentieth century. After studying at Camberwell Art School, Jones enlisted as a private in the Royal Welch Fusiliers at the outbreak of the First World War, and fought on the Western Front at the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele. In 1921, he converted to Roman Catholicism and joined Eric Gill’s Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic at Ditchling, where he learned the art of wood engraving. Alongside his artistic output Jones also created two poetic masterpieces: In Parenthesis, and The Anathemata, hailed by W. H. Auden as ‘one of the most important poems of our time’.
Wood engravings by Eric Gill
The Song of Songs is the most sensual book of the Bible, an often explicit dialogue between two devoted lovers. This 1925 edition was Gill’s first major work for the Golden Cockerel Press, his earliest attempt to illustrate a biblical narrative, and an ideal vehicle for his unique religious and erotic interests.
To pre-empt accusations that he was doing ‘something outside and apart from Catholic authority’, Gill insisted on using the Douai-Rheims translation of the text, favoured by the Catholic Church. The text was then recast as a play by Gill’s close friend, Father John O’Connor, who split it into four acts and gave it a strong moral message, praising the pure monogamy of the girl and her lover. In spite of these efforts, the blatant eroticism of Gill’s engravings provoked controversy, and led to accusations that The Song of Songs was an immoral, vulgar book. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the edition of 750 copies proved extremely successful, and The Song of Songs is now seen as a landmark in Gill’s evolution as a religious artist and in the development of his intense and fruitful relationship with the Golden Cockerel Press.
Eric Gill (1882–1940) was the greatest artist-craftsman of the twentieth century, a master of wood engraving, stone sculpture and letter design. He is also a divisive figure, whose work combined his religious and erotic preoccupations in ways that remain controversial today. Gill abandoned initial training as an architect to work as a letter cutter, monumental mason and sculptor. In 1913, Gill converted to Catholicism, becoming a lay member of the Dominican order and adopting the monastic habit, and went on to create a series of religious and artistic communities. Among his most famous works are the stone panels of the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral, the exterior carvings on BBC Broadcasting House, and the instantly recognisable typefaces Perpetua and Gill Sans.
Please sign in to your account to leave a review for Fine Press Classics: Genesis, The Book of Jonah and The Song of Songs.
Review by irodgers on 8th Nov 2017
"I really like this set of facsimiles. Particular favourites are the lively David Jones wood engravings for the Book of Jonah, and the stunning wood engravings produced by Paul Nash for Genesis which ..." [read more]
Review by davidjbrown10 on 7th Nov 2017
"These three works, so carefully and skilfully reproduced in these really not expensive facsimiles, are fascinatingly inventive and varied in their use of typography and illustration, and a great eye-o..." [read more]