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Quality Street

Classic Barrie
Beautiful Thomson
Bound by Birdsall of Northampton

[BIRDSALL of Northampton, Binders]. [THOMSON, Hugh, illustrator]. BARRIE, J.M. Quality Street. A Comedy in Four Acts. Illustrated by Hugh Thomson. London: n.d. [1913].

Limited to 1,000 copies signed by the artist. Large quarto (12 1/8 x 10 inches; 309 x 253 mm.). [2, limitation leaf], [4], vii, [1], 197, [2], [1, blank] pp. Frontispiece and twenty-one mounted color plates, with descriptive tissue guards. Black and white text illustrations..

Contemporary binding by Birdsall of Northampton (signed in gilt on the front turn-in) of brown goatskin, the covers with a gilt double fillet border, at the center of the front cover the figure of the Sergeant standing on a newspaper composed of onlaid pieces of various coloured goatskin with additional tooling, reproducing the figure as seen on the frontispiece, lettered with the title and author above and below. The spine is divided into five panels with gilt compartments, lettered in the second and fourth, the first and fifth tooled with a sprig, the long third panel with a flower issuing from a vase, the turn-ins and matching inside joints tooled with gilt fillets and rolls, brown moiré silk doublures and endleaves, top edge gilt, the others untrimmed. Original front cover vellum and spine preserved. Housed in a cloth chemise and slipcase. A superb copy.

Hugh Thomson's (1860-1920) "style seems to have emerged fully formed and to have corresponded perfectly with popular taste, and, while he refined his technical skills during his career, he rarely departed from it. A contemporary of the Brock brothers, he shared their feeling for line, detail, and period atmosphere but remained untouched by the aesthetic movement and the work of other contemporaries such as Arthur Rackham or Edmund Dulac. Reflecting successfully the nostalgia of the time, his fine line drawing of rural characters and gentle countrified society appealed to the imagination of the public; most of Thomson's best-known work is in this idiom. This style sat lightly on the page and reproduced well in smaller formats.

Sir James Matthew Barrie (1860â1937) is best known for his wildly successful, internationally renowned play and childrens' classic, Peter Pan (1904). Barrie's remarkable impact on the London stage in the 1900s began with this, his first play, the sentimental four-act comedy Quality Street (1901). The story is about two sisters who start a school "for genteel children." The play opened at the Knickerbocker Theatre in New York on November 11, 1901, starring the great Maude Adams, but ran for only a modestly successful 64 performances. It then opened at the Vaudeville Theatre in London on September 17,1902 and ran for a very successful 459 performances, making it one of the first American productions to score a bigger triumph in London than in New York. The piece then enjoyed numerous revivals and tours. The play was adapted twice for film; the first, in 1927 starred Marion Davies, and the second, in 1937, starred Katharine Hepburn.

"Mr. Barrie justifies the simple, natural life; he demonstrates the essential virtuousness of cakes and ale and even of ginger hot in the mouth. Quality Street is a case in point. Its theme, to speak generally, is the joy of living...More particularly the theme is the desire of women to love tenderly and to be honourably loved in return. That desire is never more charmingly exhibited than it is in young spinsters verging on an age when love seems in danger of passing them by. It is the theme of Jane Austen's Persuasion. If that classic instance comes automatically to the pen it is because Mr. Barrie's play chooses Jane Austen's period, and his characters speak the delightfully stilted language of Jane Austen's people...it is a genuine Barrie, and, being a genuine Barrie, has an irresistible charm. It shows us the sweetness of life as lived by old maids, and by young maids who are honestly determined not to be old maids if they can help it. It makes us, like St. Augustine in his youth, in love with love. It has laid us up in lavender" (Vaudeville, September, 1902).

The roots of Birdsall of Northampton "stretch back to the early eighteenth century but it was in 1792 that John Lacy's Northampton bindery was acquired by William Birdsall, continuing in his family until 1961...In Birdsall's heyday, Gerring (Notes on Bookbinding, 1899) reported a staff of 250 engaged in making ladies handbags, fancy boxes, and stationary; as well as all types of bookbinding. The firm seemed always ready to experiment and careful records and samples were kept by Richard Birdsall, great-great-nephew of the founder, until he died in 1909...The firm's collection of over 3,000 finishing tools passed to the University of Toronto" (Maggs, Bookbinding in the British Isles II, #262, and #321).

Price: $4,500

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