Monday, 5 September 2011
Last Wednesday I went to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge to check the proofs of vellum leaves from a psalter by William de Brailes. I was accompanied by Lorenzo, the amiable Italian printer, who will be seeing the job through the press. This will be the first ever manuscript facsimile actually printed onto vellum, and places unusual demands on the repro process. We had already checked three stages of digital proofs, and now we were seeing the images printed on vellum for the first time. I am glad to say that the match was remarkably good, and I think the effect will be totally convincing once we have added the gold and the blind tooling. Here is one of the leaves (gold still to be added) showing the Tree of Jesse, and an arty photo of the splendid Founder's Library, in which we were working. Our Letterpress edition of Shakespeare has now been in production for five years, and we have decided to reward the loyal members who have bought all the volumes in the series by sending them a facsimile of the only page of Shakespeare’s work that survives in his own handwriting. This forms part of the play Sir Thomas More, to which Shakespeare contributed a charged encounter between More and the rioting citizens of London. The fragile manuscript resides in the strongroom of the British Library, and it was there that we checked our first proofs. Seeing Shakespeare’s own writing, evidently written at speed (Sir Thomas More’s name is given as moore, moor and even moo) gives a great sense of closeness to the man himself. Meanwhile, we have commissioned Professor John Jowett, who edited the definitive Arden Shakespeare text of Sir Thomas More, to write a brief account of the genesis of the play, and create a version of his transcript to accompany our facsimile leaf. Ironically the refusal by the Master of the Revels to license the play was indirectly responsible for its survival, since the play was never printed. When plays were printed, the original manuscripts were thrown away, but this one lay forgotten on a shelf somewhere before its importance was recognised as late as the 1870s. Last week we received the dummies of one of next year’s Limited Editions – Japan: described and illustrated by the Japanese, a deluxe publication from the 1890’s, containing over 500 hand-tinted original photographs. Our binding has been designed by Neil Gower based on one of the original editions. Some months ago, we bought a set of these scarce volumes to reproduce from, but some of the images were badly faded. The John Rylands Library in Manchester possesses another copy, in which many of the photographs are much better than ours, so we have been comparing one against the other, found that not only does the condition of the photographs vary enormously from copy to copy, but so does the hand-colouring (a red sash in one copy is green in another); sometimes even different negatives were used. So we have selected the best from both copies.