Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe (1957), Five Japanese Love Stories by Ihara Saikaku (1958) & The Golden Ass by Lucius Apulius (1960), from Folio Society

{Ed. Note: Another excellent article from Books and Vines contributor ‘dlphcoracl’.}

I admit it, I am Old School.  Those with a less kind, less generous disposition may say I am an Old Fool, but I don’t care.  You see, I am hopelessly in love with and addicted to the small vintage Folio Society books from the distant past.  I know, I know —- the Folio Society books nowadays are larger, easier to read, more polished productions with many having superb color illustrations commissioned from talented artists.  Additionally, the Folio Society has in recent years produced a series of deluxe folio-sized books (Dante’s Inferno, Goethe’s Faust, Milton’s  Paradise Lost, Thoreau’s Walden, to name a few) that are sumptuous productions worthy of a spot on most any collector’s bookshelf. That said, there is something quite unique and special about their earlier titles when the Folio Society was much smaller and was thought of by many in the States as a delightfully small, quirky British publisher of fine press books. Why do these smaller, less elaborate Folio books entice me?  Let me count the ways.

First, no two books ever looked the same.  Whereas today’s Folio books often have bindings and covers that are quite similar, e.g., the Fairy Tale books, the Kevin Crossley-Holland books, etc., this was rarely if ever the case with the earlier titles.  Additionally, many of these books had unique fabrics to cover the boards such as the woven hemp-like fabric for ‘Pather Panchali’ and the silk or silk-like cloth covers for Five Japanese Love Stories,  Cheri’s Colette, Machiavelli’s The Prince and The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. The illustrations were consistently exceptional — beautiful sketches, etchings, and drawings,  and several volumes had beautiful color illustrations that appeared as if they were hand-colored.  One had the feel that these books were individually crafted, that Santa’s little elves had stayed up late at night and worked overtime to produce these books just for me.  This reflects a bygone Folio Society era when the subscriber base was much smaller, selling primarily in Great Britain, with a few  Folio book collectors scattered about in the U.S., Australia/New Zealand, and the British Isles, almost as if we were part of a Secret Society.  Of course the Folio Society membership has increased manyfold since then and it is now truly international in scope.  Most of all, these small vintage books simply cry out:  “Grab me!  Hold me! Read me!” every time I walk by them on my bookshelf in a way that today’s Folio Society books simply do not.

In my mind I tend to divide the Folio Society books temporally into two halves, those printed (roughly speaking) during the first thirty to thirty-five years (from 1946 to 1980 or so) and those printed in the last 25 to 30 years. Over the next month or two I will introduce you to or, in some cases, re-introduce you) several of these titles.  Without further ado, here are a few of my favorite Folio things.

“So….mount your fiery horse(s) with the speed of light and with a cloud of dust……
Return with us now to those thrilling books of yesteryear.
From out of the past come these marvelous, small vintage titles.
Hi-Yo, Silver!!  A-W-A-A-A-A-A-Y-Y-Y !! ”

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe

  • Published 1957
  • Edited by Herbert van Thal
  • Monotypes (illustrations) by Michael Ayrton
  • (228 x 151 x 29 mm)
  • Type: Monotype Times New Roman (10-point)
  • Printed and bound by Richard Clay
  • Full black canvas binding decorated in silver. Dust jacket in black, white and pink.
  • There are ten full-page illustrations in the text, printed from relief blocks.
Tales of Mystery & Imagination, FS, Dustcover
Tales of Mystery & Imagination, FS, Binding, front board, with silver decoration
Tales of Mystery & Imagination, FS, Spine
Tales of Mystery & Imagination, FS, Title page with illustration of Edgar Allen Poe
Tales of Mystery & Imagination, FS, Contents
Tales of Mystery & Imagination, FS, Sample Text #1
Tales of Mystery & Imagination, FS, Sample Illustration #1
Tales of Mystery & Imagination, FS, Sample Illustration #2
Tales of Mystery & Imagination, FS, Sample Illustration #3

Five Japanese Love Stories by Ihara Saikaku

  • Published 1958
  • Translated into English by William Theodore de Bary
  • Wood engravings by Mark Severin
  • 207 x 146 x 18 mm
  • Type: Monotype Lutetia, 13-point
  • Printed in purple and black by R. and R. Clark. Bound by the Dorstel Press in full pale green artificial silk; grey end leaves with a design in purple by Severin
  • Dark purple-red slipcase
  • The illustratons consist of eight full-page wood-engravings, including the frontispiece
Five Japanese Love Stories, FS, Book and Slipcase
Five Japanese Love Stories, FS, Front cover in pale green artificial silk
Five Japanese Love Stories, FS, Spine
Five Japanese Love Stories, FS, Inner cover and frontispiece with design by Mark Severin
Five Japanese Love Stories, FS, Title Page with Illustration
Five Japanese Love Stories, FS, Sample Illustration #1
Five Japanese Love Stories, FS, Sample Text #1
Five Japanese Love Stories, FS, Sample Text #2
Five Japanese Love Stories, FS, Sample Illustration #2

The Golden Ass by Lucius Apulius

  • Published 1960
  • Translated by Robert Graves
  • Lithographs by Michael Ayrton
  • 254 x 158 x 22mm, 208 pages.
  • Type: Monotype Ehrhardt, 11-point with Columna for display
  • Printed by Western Printing Services, the lithographs by the Curwen Press
  • Bound by Kiteat (some copies by Evans of Croydon) in full cream vegetable parchment (‘Liinson’), with designs in brown and gold by Ayrton; end leaves with a design in black and brown by Ayrton
  • Bluish-grey slip-case
The Golden Ass, FS, Book and Slipcase
The Golden Ass, FS, Front cover of book in full cream vegetable parchment with designs by Michael Ayrton
The Golden Ass, FS, Spine
The Golden Ass, FS, Front end-leave and frontispiece
The Golden Ass, FS, Title Page & Illustration
The Golden Ass, FS, Sample Illustration #1
The Golden Ass, FS, Sample Illustration #2

4 thoughts on “Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe (1957), Five Japanese Love Stories by Ihara Saikaku (1958) & The Golden Ass by Lucius Apulius (1960), from Folio Society

  1. An enjoyable post! The older Folio Society illustrations are indeed more acclimated to my mind set than the newer ones. I have read two out of the three: Poe and The Golden Ass. If captions had been put on the illustrations indicating which story or section of the story the illustrations came from, it would have been better since I haven’t read either in a number of years.

    My LEC copy of The Golden Ass has survived quite well, bound in, what else, but full ass hide. The Poe did not fare as well. In fact, I doubt if there is a Fine copy left on any book collector’s shelf. It’s too bad since the William Sharp aquatints are some of the best illustrations made by the Club. I have saved them in my copy which I have rebound in black Nigerian and black and white marbled boards and end pages.

  2. I share your love of the earlier Folio books – there’s an intimacy about them that I don’t find in many of the present and more recent ones (last year’s Crusader Castles by T E Lawrence was a welcome exception, a return to a book small enough to go in a coat pocket). The choices, too, were less predictable (Norman Douglas, William Barnes); bordering on the quirky sometimes, which I suspect reflects its founder’s personal taste; it’s always nice to feel connected to another mind through their choice of books.
    I also agree about the quality of the artists – Robert Gibbings, Buckland-Wright, Edward Bawden, Frank Martin. (Some illustrations were indeed hand-coloured: certainly those in the R S Surtees series.) There’s also an agreeable touch of ‘naughtiness’ about many of the early books and their illustrations: daring for the 1950s (placed out of reach of the children in many a vicarage, I imagine), so innocent today.

    Having just checked, I’m surprised to find that the lovely William Barnes volume is much later than I thought: 1989, many years after Charles Ede left the society.

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