John Windle Antiquarian Bookseller has issued Occasional List Four: Fine and Unusual Bindings. For those who believe the old adage you can't judge a book by its cover, these are the exceptions. Some of these books really shouldn't be judged by any other criteria. They are meant to be works of art, appreciated for the visual rather than textual appeal. The text may be interesting, but that is hardly the point. They were not meant to be reading copies, not even in the beginning. For those who collect surface beauty, here are 35 books that will catch your eye.
Here is a binding that is both fine and unusual, wrapped around a book that is also unusual. Item 3 is the Arion Press 1980 edition of Flatland. A Romance of Many Directions, by Edwin Abbott, first published in 1886. This edition includes an introduction by science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who has also signed the book, as has Arion publisher Andrew Hoyem. It is one of a limited edition of 275 copies. The book itself is an odd story about different dimensional worlds. Flatland is a two dimensional world (hence its being flat). Males in Flatland are polygons, while women are limited to being straight lines. This can be dangerous, as when a woman approaches a male, she comes straight on as a point, and can impale and kill the male. Hence, they must enter their homes through separate doors. Some of these two-dimensional creatures come to meet up with inhabitants of a one-dimensional world, and then a three-dimensional one such as ours. They cannot cope with the differences and so speaking of these other worlds becomes a crime. Abbott uses the book to speculate about worlds with more than three dimensions, which some see as something of a precursor to Einstein. He also uses the book for social satire about relationships. This Arion edition plays up the flat world by presenting the book as 56 accordion-style folded panels, which when opened lay out flat, 33 feet long. It is bound in an aluminum cover with an aluminum frame, hinged and clasped. Priced at $3,000.
This was already a notable edition even before being bound in white vellum stamped in gilt with silk ties. It is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the 1915 edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham. It is one of only two Dickens books Rackham illustrated. It contains 11 color and 20 black and white illustrations. This is the Deluxe limited edition (500 copies) signed by Rackham. “Surely the best of all illustrated versions,” notes Windle. Item 11. $6,500.
There is something unusual, or perhaps ironic about the fine bindings on this 1940 Limited Editions Club book. It is half green morocco with decorated boards and a gilt backstrip with floral decorations using red morocco inlays. The book features lithographs by the artist Thomas Hart Benton. What is perhaps ironic is the title chosen for this treatment – John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. It is the story of dirt poor Oklahoma farmers driven to California during the height of the Dust Bowl and Depression, barely making enough money to survive, an odd choice for such a rich presentation. Item 31. $795.
For those who would like to do a lot of reading, or to have a lot of attractive books on the shelf, item 33 is a set of the complete Delphin Varirum Classics. These are works from antiquity edited and put in a set of 166 volumes by A.J. Volpy, published from 1819-1830. Each volume is in matching vellum bindings with gilt borders and backstrips. You will unquestionably impress your friends with a set like this on your shelves, especially if you can quote from them. $17,500.
From 166 books we turn to the other extreme. Item 24 is a single book, and a miniature at that. It is the London Almanack for the year of Christ 1790. Published in 1789, it contains 24 pages, and measures a demure 2.25” x 1.25”. It features full red morocco covers with blue and white morocco inlays with wavy gilt lines. And, it all fits on the cover. Item 24. $1,750.
We conclude with one odder piece for a fine binding. Item 1 is a bound edition of the full run of Horseshit. The Offensive Review. It was published from 1965-1970, but four issues comprises the entire run. It was an anti-war, anti-establishment sort of publication as one might expect from this era, with a touch of what was, at least at the time, considered pornography. It is an odd choice for a fine binding, but obviously the owner of these masterpieces published by brothers Bob and Tom Dunker had a sense of humor (along with money). They had it bound by Arthur Johnson, who would have enjoyed the task, having a sense of humor himself. The binding has an American flag motif, an erotic image with wavy red and pale stripes and white stars on a blue background. The binding is signed “AJ” in 1973. Item 1. $7,500.
John Windle Antiquarian Bookseller may be reached at 415-986-5826. The website is www.johnwindle.com