What makes this limited edition so special
Ten years ago, one of our editors visited an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge that featured a selection of their most remarkable 18th-century Japanese woodblock prints and publications. At its centre was Kitagawa Utamaro’s Studies from Nature. The flawless illustrations, elegant bindings and exquisite calligraphy were instantly appealing and further enquiries followed. Though these five books were perfect candidates for a limited edition, it was obvious that creating faithful reproductions would be challenging.
Our production director gathered a team of paper makers, craft printers and specialist binders and the work began. After months of trials Smith Settle, a Yorkshire-based printer and hand-bindery, perfected the use of subtle embossing to reproduce the texture and intricate details of the shell ridges and bird feathers in the original books. Pureprint, a reprographics house based in East Sussex, then found a means of representing the mica sheen used to suggest iridescent insect wings and the natural sheen of wet shells. To replicate the first editions as closely as possible, all Utamaro’s illustrations have been printed on Papermilk paper which has the softness of that used originally as well as long milk fibres which give it exceptional strength.
The binding styles, both Japanese and concertina, have been faithfully reproduced by Smith Settle. The cover paper, Twist, was chosen for its texture and though the designs on the original books were somewhat faded and worn, award-winning artist Neil Gower has recreated them with great sensitivity. Each of the titles, as well as the set as a whole, features a printed paper label designed by Japanese calligrapher Kashuu. Various styles of Japanese script are used in the original books but, after carefully examining all the different characters, Kashuu adopted the Kai-sho style to unify the elements. The hand-numbered limitation certificate is wrapped in the softest Watermark Unryu White Japanese paper and this, with all six volumes, is presented in a single cloth-covered folding box, secured with grosgrain ribbon, and made by hand by G. Ryder & Co Ltd in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire. The design printed on the paper lining of the box refers to the cover of The Book of Crawling Creatures but is in dark blue and gold to complement the set.
Both the original books and the facsimiles are works of art and The Folio Society is delighted that the result of a long and complex collaboration is truly faithful replicas of such beautiful treasures.