[London]: Longman & Co., 1849. Item #04790
Owen Jones' Illuminated Song of Songs
Beautifully Bound by the Harcourt Bindery
HARCOURT BINDERY. Owen Jones, Illuminator. The Song of Songs which is Solomons. [London]: Longman & Co., 1849.
First printing with the Owen Jones illuminations.
Small quarto (7 11/16 x 5 5/8 inches; 196 x 143 mm). Thirty-two unnumbered chromolithographed pages all mounted on guards and decorated throughout with numerous large illuminated initials in gold within borders of colored floral stems and acanthus leaves among gold leaves on hairline stems.
Bound ca. 1910 by the Harcourt Bindery of Boston (stamp-signed in gilt on front turn-in) in full burgundy crushed morocco with elaborate gilt-rolled and tooled borders, spine with five raised bands decoratively tooled and lettered in gilt in compartments. Gilt-dotted board edges, extravagantly gilt decorated morocco doublures, embroidered silk endpapers, Japanese vellum endleaves. A beautiful and fine copy of a magnificently produced volume. Housed in the original fleece-lined, burgundy cloth slipcase.
"These were essentially album books, to be looked at rather than read; the emphasis is entirely on visual impact and Jones’s intention was to present them as ornaments rather than literary texts. His choice of styles and materials asserts the notion of preciousness, of value through association, and his publications were carefully calculated to cater for and express the social aspirations of the upper-end of a wealthy bourgeois market." (Simon Cooke. The Victorian Web).
Since 1900 The Harcourt Bindery of Boston has made fine cloth and leather art bindings by hand. The Harcourt Bindery remains the largest for-profit hand bookbindery in the U.S. When it was founded in 1900, Boston was home to over 47 book binderies and 1,452 craftsmen, according to the company’s website. Few large binderies exist today. Before the 1930s, there were about fifteen people working in the Harcourt Bindery; the number fell to five during the Depression, and the company changed hands three times between 1927 and 1931. When binder Sam Ellenport took over Harcourt in 1971, there were only four employees. In 2008, Ellenport sold the Harcourt Bindery to Acme Bookbinding of Boston.
The Song of Songs, also Song of Solomon or Canticles, is one of the megillot (scrolls) found in the last section of the Tanakh, known as the Ketuvim (or "Writings"), and a book of the Old Testament. The Song of Songs is unique within the Hebrew Bible: it shows no interest in Law or Covenant or the God of Israel, nor does it teach or explore wisdom like Proverbs or Ecclesiastes (although it does have some affinities to wisdom literature, as the ascription to Solomon indicates); instead, it celebrates sexual love, giving "the voices of two lovers, praising each other, yearning for each other, proffering invitations to enjoy". The two are in harmony, each desiring the other and rejoicing in sexual intimacy; the women of Jerusalem form a chorus to the lovers, functioning as an audience whose participation in the lovers' erotic encounters facilitates the participation of the reader. In modern Judaism the Song is read on the Sabbath during the Passover, which marks the beginning of the grain harvest as well as commemorating the Exodus from Egypt. Jewish tradition reads it as an allegory of the relationship between God and Israel, Christianity as an allegory of Christ and his "bride", the Church.
Owen Jones (1809–1874) was at the forefront of Victorian medievalist book design. In his first great work, Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra (1845), he helped to pioneer chromolithography. Subsequently, he produced illustrated and illuminated gift books such as The Song of Songs (1849), Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages (1850) and the Psalms of David (1860).