The Birth of Christ, Illustrated by Noel Rooke, The Golden Cockerel Press, 1925

{Ed. Note: Thanks to Books and Vines contributor Celtic (Neil) for this article on The Birth of Christ from Golden Cockerel Press.}

The great calligrapher Edward Johnston was appointed to teach a course in Writing and Illuminating at the Central School of Art and Design, London, in 1899.  Two of his first pupils were Eric Gill and Noel Rooke (1881-1953).  Rooke learned that the form of the letter is determined by the form of the tool that you use to make it; this practical outlook was to have a great influence on Rooke. Rooke went on to study at the Slade School for Fine Art for four years, practiced life painting at the studio of William Rothenstein, attended the LCC school of photo-engraving and visited galleries and libraries throughout Europe paying particular attention to engraving.

Rooke started making wood engravings for book illustration. Influenced by shapes made naturally by the tools he used, Rooke came to the conclusion that the secret beauty of the white line in wood engraving had been lost through the reproductive methods of engraving in the second half of the 19th century which had focused on accurately translating someone else’s pen and ink drawing.  Rooke started the move away from the black line to the white.  Here’s what he had to say:-

I concluded that wood engraving offered the best means of book decoration and illustrations for the future, but on condition that it was done from a new point of view.  All the attempts to revive it had failed because they followed the error which had caused its destruction fifty years ago, i.e. making engraving a method of reproducing drawings, instead of making it the chance of creating designs which could not be brought into existence in any other way

Rooke became a teacher of book illustration at the Central School in 1905 and introduced wood engraving for book decoration into his class.  This had been done surreptitiously as the principals at the school still viewed wood engraving as a medium of pictorial journalism practised by hacks.  In time (and following changes to the people running the school) Rooke ‘won through’ and after establishing classes in Lettering and Wood Engraving in 1911 and 1913, he was made Head of the School of Book Production in 1914.

Among his early pupils was Robert Gibbings one of the most progressive and prolific wood engravers of his generation. Gibbings was a central figure in the formation of the Society of Wood Engravers and the owner of the Golden Cockerel Press from 1924 to 1933.  In 1925 Gibbings commissioned his old teacher, Noel Rooke, to design and illustrate a book for the Golden Cockerel Press.  That book was The Birth of Christ : from the Gospel according to Saint Luke.  

For a book of 220mm X 150mm and 44 pages, Rooke chucked everything but the kitchen sink at it – red, black, italic, bold and roman text.  Headpieces, tailpieces, full page and smaller engravings and a two-colour frontispiece.  Does it work?  What about his visualisation of Mary?  The end result can be seen in the images below.

Book Details

  • Printed by Robert Gibbons at The Golden Cockerel Press October, 1925
  • Arrangement of the book and wood engravings by Noel Rooke
  • Text taken from Barker’s quarto edition of the Authorized Edition of 1612
  • 220mm X 150mm
  • 44 pages
  • 14pt and 18pt Caslon O.F. type
  • Batchelor hand-made paper
  • Bound in quarter leather with blue paper boards
  • 370 copies – this is 365

Pictures

(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.)

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Spine and Cover

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Macro of Spine

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Title

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #1

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Frontispiece and Title Page

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Macro Text

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #2

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #3 with Decoration

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #4 with Decoration

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #5

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #6

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #7 with Decoration

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text #8 with Decoration

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Illustration #8 with Text

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, Colophon

The Birth of Christ, Golden Cockerel Press, The Logo

 



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