New Rochelle, New York: The Elston Press, 1901. Item #04421
Early Twentieth Century American Designer Bookbinding at its Very Best
Shakespeare's Sonnets Bound by Henry Blackwell of New York
[BLACKWELL, Henry, binder]. SHAKESPEARE, William. The Sonnets of Shakespeare now newly imprinted from the first edition of 1609, by Clarke Conwell at the Elston Press. New Rochelle, New York: The Elston Press, .
Large octavo (9 1/8 x 6 1/4 inches; 232 x 159 mm.). [iv, blank], iv], 1-126, [1,], 127-154 [1, limitation], [5, blank] pp.
"…The Sonnets of Shakespeare, newly imprinted by Clarke Conwell at The Elston Press from the first edition of 1609, with initial letters designed by H.M. O'Kane. Sold by Clarke Conwell at The Elston Press, Pelham Road, New Rochelle, New York. Two hundred and ten copies have been printed: Finished this twelfth day of December MDCCCI."
Superbly bound ca. 1901 by Henry Blackwell (stamp-signed in black "Bound by Blackwell" on verso of front end-paper). Full teal crushed levant morocco, covers with triple-ruled borders surrounding an inlaid border of maroon morocco, in turn surrounding a highly elaborate gilt and inlaid morocco design featuring 'Cobden-Sanderson' style gilt leaves and inlaid red morocco flowers. Each cover with four circles of inlaid maroon morocco. Spine with five raised bands, decoratively tooled and inlaid in the same style, lettered in gilt in the second compartment. Gilt ruled board edges and highly elaborate gilt decorated wide turn-ins. Doublures of orange morocco with a very intricate and pleasing geometric design. Lilac, purple and cream decorated silk end-papers, all edges gilt. A truly amazing example. Early twentieth century designer bookbinding at its very best.
Henry Blackwell (1851-1928), bookbinder and bookseller, bibliographer and biographer, was the son of bookbinder Richard Blackwell of Liverpool whose bindery appeared in the Liverpool & Birkenhead Trades Directory in 1870.
Henry emigrated to New York in 1877 where he supervised a large bindery. In 1892 he established his own shop in New York City. Blackwell played a prominent part in the Welsh-American life of his adopted country. He was a scholar of Welsh literature as well as binding, his 1899 essay, Notes on Bookbinding, was a memorable contribution. He had the largest Welsh Collection of books on this side of the Atlantic, and wrote articles, books and bibliographies about Welsh-American books. In 1893, he commissioned H.T. Sears to engrave a Welsh bookplate for his Welsh books.
He also wrote articles about bookplates. He was a member of ex libris societies in America, England, France and Germany. He wrote the Introduction and a chapter on the study and arrangement of bookplates for W.G, Bowdoin's book, The Rise Of The Book-Plate, New York, 1901. His Private Library was sold at The Collectors Club in November 1915.
"A New Book on Bookbinding… In the coming fall the Briggs Brothers, of Plymouth, Mass., will publish, under the title of "Twentieth Century Cover Designs." an elaborate volume devoted almost exclusively to the work of American binders and artists… Engravings of bindings by Toof & Co., Stikeman, Dudley & Hodge, F.J. Pfister, Henry Blackwell, Emily Preston, Schleuning & Adams, the Club Bindery and a few of the leading foreign binders will illustrate the text." (The American Bookbinder, Volume VI, No. 4, November, 1895, p.127).
"Among the binders who now have notable shops in New York City, Henry Blackwell is one." (The Outlook. Volume LXXI, May-August, 1902, p. 258).
"The most important of the New York private presses was in a suburb. The Elston Press began in Manhattan in 1900, but its owner, Clark Conwell, moved it to New Rochelle in 1901. Conwell, with the aid of his designer and wife, Helen Marguerite O'Kane, was one of the most brilliant of the Kelmscott disciples. His books exemplify the best in the private press spirit: with traditional models as a point of departure, they achieve freshness of their own. They were printed by handpress in limited editions on handmade paper and Japan vellum, bound in boards or cloth or vellum with ties." (Susan Otis Thompson. American Book Design and William Morris).
While Thompson compares the Elston Press books to those of the Kelmscott Press, many of the Elston books are closer in style to the books of the Vale Press of Charles Ricketts. Either way, the books of the Elston Press are some of the finest examples of printing and book design ever done in America.
Herbert H. Johnson. Notes on The Elston Press #7; Will Ransom. Private Presses and Their Books, p. 260, #6.