The Earliest Chemical Industry

_DSC8617 (Large)

This book was commissioned from the Society by Peter Spence and Sons to commenorate the centenary of founding of that firm. It was published in a limited edition of 1,100, with one hundred of these bound in full red morocco. The remainder were bound in buckram. The book was written by Charles Singer, one of the leading scientific writers of the time. This book is given the  item number 12.5 in Folio 50 and Folio 60, and was the last book published in 1948.

The Book

An absolute sumptuous production. It is large and heavy. Monotype Baskerville type. Printed on Arnold mould-made paper at The Chiswick Press. The colour plates werer printed by Alinari of Florence. The costs of preparation and  production of the book were met by Peter Spence & Sons. My copy is bound in buckram, but there were a hundred copies bound in red morocco by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, and signed by Charles Singer and Derek Spence.

My copy is 907 of 1100.

The Text

A couple of images from the opening pages



Alum is a chemical which, among other properties, allows fabrics to take up dyes more avidly, and paper take up print. It has been known about since ancient times. This book was commissioned by Peter Spence & Sons to celebrate the foundation of the firm 100 years before. It is a remarkeable book which explores the use of and trade in alum from antiquity to modern times. Although alum is the core topic of the book, it is a fascinating book which covers many fields – linguistics, history, commerce, traditional skills, politics, science, geology,  inventions, and the development of an industry. There are over 150 illustrations and 350 notes.

Unlike most other Folio Society books it had never been published in any previous version.

The Author

Charles Singer was trained as a medical practitioner.  His natural curiosity led him into a study of the history of diseases and medicine. From this there was a natural step  into the broader history of science and technology. To the greater audience, his best known work is “The History Of Technology”.

Here is a fine summary of his life and contribution to the history of science.

The Illustrations

The book is amply illustrated with historical pictures, maps, diagrams and magnificent colour plates. A brief selection is posted.


A unique and wonderful book. An amalgam of techology, history, commerce and art.

This is the last of the 1948 books. There were 9 books published in 1949, one of which, Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities has already been posted. Sheridan’s The School for Scandal is the first, and I’m also looking forward to reading  Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey and Walton’s The Compleat Angler. I am halfway through the recently published The Golem so that is likely to be the subject of the next post.


Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

IMGOf the early FS books this is one of my favorites. The juxtaposition between good and evil is captured in the minimalist illustrations.

The Book

Published in 1948, this was the 12th book. It was designed by Charles Ede and printed by Mackay. The black/gold theme which starts on the dustjacket continues throughout. The front board has the DJ image reversed in a striking impressed version.



IMG_0014The  Story

There is the premise that we each have good and evil within ourselves, Dr Jekyll undertakes a series of experiments which separates these qualities into different physical entities.

The story is well known, and is summarised here

The Illustrator

This is the first book that Mervyn Peake illustrated for the Folio Society. Droll Stories, published in 1961 was the only other book he illustrated for the Society. He was perhaps best known as the writer of The Gormenghast Trilogy, which the Society published in 1992.

The Illustrations






IMG_0005 IMG_0006 IMG_0007 IMG_0008 IMG_0009 IMG_0010 IMG_0011 IMG_0012




































The illustrations were printed in black and yellow from relief blocks.

Forthcoming books will include The Golem, a recent publication and also The Earliest Chemical Industry which is the last of the 1948 books. There were 9 books published in 1949 so that will be my 2012 project.

Cover Her Face

IMGThis is the first of the Adam Dalgliesh crime novels written by PD James. It was originally published in 1962 by Faber and Faber.

The Book

Set in Bembo, printed on Abbey Wove paper at Vicenza, Italy. Bound in cloth with a design by the illustrator. 224 pages with 7 colour illustrations.

The Story

This is a murder mystery set in the 1950s in a rural village outside London. I will be going through the entire plot so read no further if you intend to read the book and be kept in suspense!

Sally, an unmarried mother, is given a position as a live in domestic servant at Martingale, the home of the  Maxie family. The head of the family is Simon Maxie who is bedridden and be nursed by his wife Eleanor and Martha, the housekeeper. Simon and Eleanor’s widowed daughter Deborah also lives there, and their son, Stephen a trainee surgeon visits often from London. A family friend, Catherine Bowers, is a frequent visitor, and imagines herself as becoming married to Stephen.

The annual church fete brings Stephen, Catherine and Felix, a friend of Deborah, together at the family home for the weekend.

While the family is having the the evening meal after the fete, Sally announces that Stephen has asked her to marry him. Eleanor, Catherine and Deborah are aghast.

The next morning Martha cannot get any response from Sally, late for domestic duties, when she knocks on her locked door. Eventually Stephen and Felix get into the room by fetching and climbing a ladder.  Sally is discovered dead in bed with evidence that she has been strangled.

Naturally the police are called and Adam Dalgleish comes from London to lead the investigation. The remainder of the book takes us through statements of the various characters, Sally’s background, and puts us on a few false trails.

It turns out that Sally was an orphan and was brought up by her uncle and aunt. Sally was intelligent but also a manipulative schemeer. She had secretly married prior to coming to Martingale. Her husband was working in Venezuela and they corresponded using Derek Pullen,one of the young men of the village, as an intermediary. She had asked her estranged uncle for money and he had come to meet her on the day of the fete. He agreed to bring her the money that night. Late that night he entered  the house. He went into her room and found her dead in bed. Hearing footsteps in the corridor outside he bolted the door, and made his exit through the window, but injuried himself climbing down a drainpipe. He made his way home, but altered the clocks so his wife thought that he had returned around midnight rather than two hours later.

Martha had been secretly lacing Sally’s evening hot drink with sedatives to cause her to be late to arise in the morning, hoping that this would get her dismissed for tardiness. When she learnt that Sally had been found dead she feared that she had killed her and hid the bottle of sedatives which the Police later found.

During the final meeting with Dalgleish it becomes apparent that each of the characters has suspected each other in some sense, but as the meeting goes on, each are eliminated as the murderer. That is until Eleanor states that she is the one who strangled Sally. She did this in a fit of rage when she went to talk to Sally in her room the night of the murder. Sally had taunted her and told her that she was expecting Stephen’s baby. She had decided to not admit her guilt until her husband had died as she had promised him that she would look after him until that time. His death released her from that bond.

Here’s another plot summary. It’s always a little bit interesting to compare them.

This is PD James first novel, and introduces Adam Dalgleish to her readers. Although it is about the crime and its solution, it’s also about trust and suspicion between close friends and family.

The Author

PD James  (born 1920) is a prolific writer, best known for the Dalgleish crime novels. She has had a long writing career, and remains active. This is a recent interview which I found interesting.

The Illustrator and Illustrations

Jonathan Buton illustrated this book and the Douglas Adams’ books for the Folio Society. This is his website and here are the illustrations for the text and a blog about the background to the illustrations.

I do like the illustrations. Burton has read and understood the text and picked out some key moments. There is the sly impertinent look from Sally to Alice Liddel at the dinner with which the novel begins, the scene at the church fete where Sally wears an identical dress to Deborah, the overhead view of the body and the investigators (a wonderful perspective), then a couple of illustrations linking the gloved hand to Sally’s uncle, Mr Proctor..a visual clue that adds to the text, an illustration with Sally and the cup of cocoa and then the final image where Dalgliesh revels the process of his investigation.

When thinking through the plot I would have liked to see an illustration of the moment when Sally tells the guests at the dinner table that Stephen has asked her to marry him, and maybe one at the graveside as Sally is buried with Mrs Proctor in the backgound and the group dynamics of the principal characters gathered together.

Future Posts

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde will definitely be next, and then The Earliest Chemical Industry will finish off the 1948 books. Cover Her Face was published in 1962, and by the end of that year, since inception, the Folio Society had published around 175 books. By now there are well over 1600 books. It would be an impossible task to cover them all. I will be lucky to realise my aim, which was to obtain and read the first 100.




The Odyssey

IMG_0001One of the foundation stones of literature, The Odyssey was published in 1948, and is the 11th publication from The Society.

It is a selection from the epic. Over the years the society has published this work in other editions and translations. This particular edition is in series with The Iliad (item 26)  which was published in 1950.

The Book

Printed by Waterlow and Sons with engravings reproduced in  collotype by Van Leer of Amsterdam. The illustrated pages are thicker than the textual pages, which has also been noted in other books where Van Leer were involved, for instance the 1949 edition of Jorrocks Jaunts and Jollities.

The Poet

Homer is traditionally regarded as the creator of the The Iliad and The Odyssey. When and whether he existed is another matter.

The Translator

F.L. Lucas was a Cambridge academic. He was also a teacher, writer, critic, and essayist and led a most interesting life.

The Illustrator

John Buckland-Wright originally provided these copper engravings for another publisher (possibly the Golden Cockrel Press), but that book was never published and the Folio Society acquired them. Buckland-Wright was a prolific illustrator in a variety of media

A synopsis of his life and career and copies of many of his works is here . It’s well worth a read.


The Odyssey is over 2000 years old, and has been studied and analysed to death. I doubt that I can bring any new insights.

The Illustrations

















































































Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was the next book published, illustrated by Mervyn Peake. I’m looking forward to reading it and posting some of the illustrations. However it may not be the next book in the blog as I am reading Cover Your Face at present, and will probably make that the next post.

Rupert Brooke’s Poems

IMGThe Book

At this stage I do not have the 1948 1st edition, I have the 1955 edition (Item 86.5 in Folio 60). The 1948 edition is Item 9. The differences between the two editions seem to be related to the typeface and the dustjacket. Indeed the 1955 edition is labelled as 1948, but has an italic typeface in the text, whereas the original did not.

According to Folio 60 there was 2nd impression of the 1948 original in 1950, and several other impressions of the 1955 edition.

My copy is set in Bembo italic and printed and bound by Mackays at Chatham.

The Poems

Since starting on this project I’ve learnt that I cannot read poems one after another!

Of the early poems I’ve read much seems to be about the ecstacy and transience of love.

I did like one or two of the poems, and I’m sure there are others I’d appreciate, but there was a lot of dross there as well.

The Poet

Rupert Brooke was born in 1888 and died in 1915 during WW1 transport. It would seem that he would attract the attention of both men and women during his short life. We will never know how much the poetry would have matured had he lived longer.

The Illustrator

John Buckland-Wright was a New Zealand born illustrator. The illustrations in this book are produced by the scraper-board technique. Charles Ede said, in Folio 21, that the result was “one of the artist’s less happy efforts”.

I quite like the illustrations. What do you think?

JBW also did the illustrations for The Odyssey (book 11), which were copper engraved. That book is coming up soon.

Illustrations and some text

IMG_0001The frontispiece

I will let the other illustrations speak for themselves.

I think that these are quite inspired illustrations, particularly “The Fish”, “War” and “The Dance”

Next time

The Odyssey  is next on the list in the first 100 stream, but I’m also reading Cover Your Face, which is a more recent book.

The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard

IMG I know that Rupert Brooke’s Poems was supposed to be the next publication under consideration. I have started on it, and there is a chance that I may warm to it, but it’s on the backburner at present, so to speak.

The Brooke’s book that I have is actually the 2nd edition which was likely issued in 1955 (item 86.5 in Folio 60), so I can rationalise leaving it aside for the time being.

So the subject of this post is The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard. It was first published in French in 1881, and, published in 1948, is the tenth Folio Society book.

The Book

Printed by W. S. Cowell in 10/12 pt. Plantin. Illustrations printed by Cowell. Bound by Mackays of Chatham. There was an Introduction by the translator.

The Story

The book is divided into two separate stories. The first is called “The Log” and the second “The Daughter of Clementine”.  Bonnard is the central character in both books, but it takes a little while to understand the other connections between the stories. Bonnard is an academic bibliophile who lives in an apartment in Paris surrounded by his books. He has never married. His closest companions are his cat Hamilcar and his world wise, but joyless housekeeper Therese.

In “The Log”, Bonnard takes pity on a neighbouring young impoverishered couple and child and gives them wood to put on the fire for Christmas. This little act of kindness is repaid years later. The father dies and  the widow remarries a rich aristocrat. A book, which Bonnard has long coverted, is given to him by Madame Trepof, his former neighbour, as a gratitude.

The next section of the book is entitled “The Daughter of Clementine”. We learn more of Bonnard’s background. In his youth he had fallen in love with Clementine, the daughter of one of his father’s friends. The friendship between the father and friend broke down over a matter of politics, and Bonnard never saw Clementine again. She married a banker and they had a daughter Jeanne. Although once rich, Clementine and her husband die impoverished while Jeanne is still a child. By chance Bonnard meets Jeanne at the estate of the de Gabry’s where he is to catalogue the library. Bonnard becomes determined to take an interest in the child and arranges to make regular visits to the school where she boards.

During these visits it becomes apparent that Jeanne is treated more as a servant than a pupil. Eventually Bonnard’s vists are stopped after he rebuffs attempts by the Mme Prefere, the head of the school, to marry. He later learns that Jeanne is being treated badly and Bonnard rescues her from the school. However this is a crime because Jeanne is underage according to the laws of the time and he would be liable to be charged with abduction and corruption of a minor. Fortunately for Bonnard, Jeanne’s legal guardian has suddenly left France after defrauding his clients, and no charges are laid.

Bonnard becomes her legal guardian and she lives with him in Paris. There she becomes reaquainted with a young man whom Bonnard was mentoring. Their love grows and they become betrothed. To give Jeanne a dowry, Bonnard decides to sell all his books, barring those given to him as souvenirs, including the book given to him by Madame Trepof as a mark of gratitude for his kindness when she was a new mother. However, while the rest of the household is asleep, he adds another rare volume to his already sequestered keepsakes, thus committing another “crime” by reducing the value of the dowry.

The book ends with the death of his young godson but with Jeanne and her husband still much in love and old Bonnard’s wishes for God’s blessings blessing upon them and their children and their children’s children.

The Author

Like the central character, Bonnard, Anatole France (1844 – 1924) was a bibliophile. He worked in his father’s bookshop, and later as a librarian. As a writer The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard brought him fame. This and other works led to a Nobel Prize in 1921. The presentation speech is here

The Illustrator

Harold Hope Read (1881 – 1959) provided the illustrations. He lived a precarious Bohemian existance in a flat in Tunbridge Wells with Hilda, his housekeeper, mistress and model. This is the only book he illustrated for The Folio Society.

The Illustrations

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush

IMG One of the Folio Society’s 2011 publications, this is Eric Newby’s best known book. First published in 1958 it is an account of a journey to a remote mountainous region in the north of  Afghanistan by Newby and his companion Hugh Carless.

The Book

Printed on Abbey Wove Paper, bound in cloth blocked with an illustration of the peaks in the Hindu Kush. Within the book, the illustrations are photographs from Newby’s collection. There is an introduction by Richard Grant, and an afterword by Hugh Carless.

The Story

In 1957 Eric Newby and Hugh Carless arrange to go on an expedition to Nuristan, one of the remote areas of Afghanistan little visited by Europeans. Hugh is a young man in the British diplomatic service and Eric is a salesman in the family fashion business.

The focus of the expedition becomes an attempt to climb to the summit of Mir Samir, a previously unclimbed peak  19,880 feet tall. Hugh had made a previous attempt in 1952, but had to return 3000 feet below the peak. Prior to the journey neither Newby or Carless had much mountainering experience, but did a few days instruction in the Welsh mountains before departure.

The next part of the book chronicles the expedition, driving from Instanbul through Persia to Afghanistan, and then recruiting some locals for the trip to the Hindu Kush.

The bulk of the book follows, which is an account of the journey towards Mir Samir, the failed attempt to reach the summit, and the chance encounter the two have with Thesiger, a legendary explorer. The book concludes with Thesiger’s words as he sees Hugh and Eric blowing up a couple of airbeds “God, you must be a couple of pansies”

This is a most engaging book. Like so many great books, both fictional and nonfictional, it’s about the journey and not the destination.

During the journey in the Hindu Kush Hugh and Eric had three main local companions, Abdul Ghiyas, Shir Muhammad and Badar Khan. At times the relationships were fraught but without these intermediaries the two Englishmen would have had an impossible trip. Travelling to Nuristan meant negotiating with ethnic groups of different backgrounds and customs.

As the journey progresses there are wonderful descriptions of the country, the inhabitants, the weather, and the barriers (physical and psychological) to the goal. Some historical background is interwoven throughout. No doubt some of the descriptions of the inhabitants would be regarded as inappropriate these days, but they do anchor this book in a certain cultural context.

Throughout the book Newby portrays himself as a somewhat effete amateur. There is humour aplenty, but its of the self depreciating wry school. There is the notion of “innocents abroad” right throughout the book. This belies his real life which I’ll expand in the next section..

The Author

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush was Eric Newby’s second book. The first was The Last Grain Race. Eric Newby was born in 1919 and died in 2006. During WW2 he was a member of the SBS (Special Boat Section), an elite unit. He was captured, escaped and then recaptured again during that time. None of this deering-do is alluded to in this work, but that background demonstrates his metal.

Newby wrote several other travel books, but none matched the fame of this account

Next book

Probably Rupert Brooke’s Poems. I have been putting this off, but I need to get back to those older books to maintain my focus. After that The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard. I would like to get through all the 1948 books by the end of this year!