Affordable Treasures and Pleasures #3, The First Three Folio Society Books (1947): Tales by Leo Tolstoy, Trilby by George du Maurier & Aucassin et Nicolette

{Ed. Note: The third in our series of Affordable Treasures and Pleasures, focusing on books affordable by most, is from Books and Vines contributor Neil. This installment is of historical interest to book lovers, as it looks at the first books published by The Folio Society.}

It’s always interesting and of considerable historical value to see the initial efforts of a famous publisher like The Folio Society, so let’s take a look at their first three books, all of which fall into the ‘Affordable Pleasures…’ category in that they can still be found for reasonable prices that most can afford. Before jumping straight to the books, a bit of background on the founder of The Folio Society, Charles Ede, is in order.

Charles Ede wrote that he had, from an early age, an interest in the books of William Morris along with a lifelong interest in fine printing. Following the end of the Second World War, when he was demobilized in 1946, Ede decided to pursue his ambition of producing books that would take fine printing to a wider group. To prepare himself he enrolled at the London School of Printing (with the support of Christopher Sandford of The Golden Cockerel Press) and also took part-time classes at the LCC Central School in the techniques and methods of illustration: “I felt very strongly that if I was going to commission artists………I must myself have engraved and cut wood, etched copper and drawn on the lithographic stone…”.

Through the generosity of Christopher Sandford the fledgling Folio Society kept its initial costs down by sharing the rooms (and staff) in Poland Street, Soho, that The Golden Cockerel Press rented from the binders Sangorski & Sutcliffe.  In a time of post-war shortages and rationing (particularly paper), Ede’s energy, enthusiasm and ingenuity sustained the Society through the difficult early years.  When other, more established, businesses were struggling to source the materials to make books, Ede was successful in identifying good suppliers and printing firms on the continent.  This enabled Ede to bypass some of the worst problems faced by other British Publishers and successfully produce his first book which was printed in Belgium.

Without further ado, the first three books published by The Folio Society…

{Ed. Note: Pictures follow the descriptions of the three books.}

Book #1 – Tales by Tolstoy

Charles Ede was commissioned to design and produce a history of the British Chemical Industry (a nice limited edition of 1,100) in the late forties and some people regard this as the ‘first Folio Society’ book.  However, the first book published by The Folio Society as most know it today was, in fact, Tales by Tolstoy.

  • Tales by Tolstoy appeared in 1947
  • It contains six of Tolstoy’s short stories (The Raid, Two Hussars, Three Deaths, Polikushka, Two Old Men and The Death of Ivan Ilyitch) and has nine full-page illustrations.
  • Illustrated by Elizabeth MacFadyen
  • 252mm x 163mm, 280pp
  • Designed by Charles Ede
  • Set in 13pt perpetua type
  • The paper was sourced in Belgium and the book was printed and bound there by ‘Messrs. Brepols’
  • It is bound in a black (sort of ‘silky’) and red cloth binding with a dustcover
  • The copies listed on Abe’s run from £17 – £37 and I bought this, slightly tatty, one a few years ago for £8!

Book #2: Trilby by George du Maurier

Trilby was a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic when it was first published in serial form in 1894 and as a book in 1895.  It is a story about three artists, two English and One Scottish, and Trilby, a girl working as a model.  It is set in a masterly evocation of a Bohemian Paris.  It introduces us to some memorable characters, the most famous being the hypnotist Svengali.

  • Bound in quarter cloth with cloth boards printed with a woodcut design and has a dustcover
  • Printed in 1947 in Belgium in 12 & 14pt Garamond by Messrs. Brepols who also bound it.
  • Illustrated with pencil studies by the author
  • Cover design by Alice Hindson
  • 250mm x 194mm, 276pp
  • This book is listed on Abe’s from £3 to £45, I paid £8 (again!) for it a few years ago

Book #3: Aucassin et Nicolette, anonymous

This is a charming little edition of Aucassin et Nicolette, the anonymous French chantefable (‘a sung story’), which is written in prose and verse and dates from around the 12th/13th centuries. Books and Vines has a comprehensive overview of this classic story in the review of the edition put out by Limited Editions Club.

  • Translated from the Old-French by F.W. Bourdillon
  • Illustrated throughout by Lettice Sandford (line block reproductions of her pen drawings) who had illustrated volumes for the likes of The Golden Cockerel Press, The Golden Hours Press and The Boar’s Head Press
  • Printed, in 1947, at The Chiswick Press of Christopher Sandford who was Lettice’s husband
  • Designed by Charles Ede and Lettice and printed in 14pt Caslon
  • Bound by ‘Messrs. Stevenson’ in cloth with a cream spine and blue boards with raised fleur de lys in the same cream as the spine
  • It has a transparent mylar cover with title and illustrator printed on the front and information on the flaps
  • 225mm x 148mm, 64pp
  • On Abe’s for between £4 and £30

Pictures of Tales by Tolstoy

(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 by Tolstoy, Folio Society, Book and Spine
Tales by Tolstoy, Folio Society, Cover
Tales by Tolstoy, Folio Society, Spine
Tales by Tolstoy, Folio Society, Inside Dust Jacket
Tales by Tolstoy, Folio Society, Title Page
Tales by Tolstoy, Folio Society, Colophon and Contents
Tales by Tolstoy, Folio Society, Macro of Printed In
Tales by Tolstoy, Folio Society, List of Illustrations
Tales by Tolstoy, Folio Society, Sample Text #1
Tales by Tolstoy, Folio Society, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Tales by Tolstoy, Folio Society, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Tales by Tolstoy, Folio Society, Sample Text #2
Tales by Tolstoy, Folio Society, Sample Illustration #3 with Text

Pictures of Trilby

(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.)

Trilby, Folio Society, Book and Spine
Trilby, Folio Society, Cover of Dust Jacket
Trilby, Folio Society, Dust Jacket Spine
Trilby, Folio Society, Inside Dust Jacket
Trilby, Folio Society, Price!
Trilby, Folio Society, Title Page
Trilby, Folio Society, Colophon
Trilby, Folio Society, List of Illustrations
Trilby, Folio Society, Macro of Printed In
Trilby, Folio Society, Sample Text #1
Trilby, Folio Society, Sample Text #2
Trilby, Folio Society, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Trilby, Folio Society, Macro
Trilby, Folio Society, Sample Text #3
Trilby, Folio Society, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Trilby, Folio Society, Sample Text #4
Trilby, Folio Society, Sample Illustration #3 with Text

Pictures of Aucassin et Nicolette

(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.)

Aucassin et Nicolette, Folio Society, Cover and Spine
Aucassin et Nicolette, Folio Society, Front Cover with Dust Jacket
Aucassin et Nicolette, Folio Society, Inside Dust Jacket
Aucassin et Nicolette, Folio Society, Inside Dust Jacket (Back)
Aucassin et Nicolette, Folio Society, Title Page
Aucassin et Nicolette, Folio Society, Colophon
Aucassin et Nicolette, Folio Society, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Aucassin et Nicolette, Folio Society, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Aucassin et Nicolette, Folio Society, Sample Illustration #3 with Text

4 thoughts on “Affordable Treasures and Pleasures #3, The First Three Folio Society Books (1947): Tales by Leo Tolstoy, Trilby by George du Maurier & Aucassin et Nicolette

  1. I’ve just run across another affordable treasure among the older Folio Society publications: The 1972 edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets is quietly beautiful.

    The book is modest in scale, bound in a nice red buckram that is decorated with a stamped gold and black design, and it is housed in a gold-papered cardboard slipcase. The endpapers are a pleasingly printed all-over design in red, and there’s a nice frontispiece engraving of the Bard’s likeness.

    The poems are — apparently, to my eyes — letterpress-printed, in a clear, readable typeface, one to a page, with numbered head-pieces in red. An interesting point about the headpieces: Their design is based on the pattern printed on the endpapers, and each pair of facing pages seems to have a slightly different headpiece design!

    The paper is a very nice laid sheet in a pretty blue-gray tint, bearing the crowned watermark of Abbey Mills/Greenfield. Top edge is stained red, all other edges trimmed.

    All-in-all, a finely-detailed, sweet little edition of the Sonnets, that I picked up in near-fine condition for a mere $15.

  2. Dlphcoracl,

    It was your posts on Books and Vines of some of your early Folio’s that prompted me to send these to Chris – I hope we’ll see some more of your collection!

    Robert,

    The ‘Trilby’ illustrations aren’t the best. The first books from Charles Ede are influenced by the challenges facing his new venture in post war Britain (which adds a fascinating dimension to his new enterprise). I wouldn’t be surprised if Charles Ede found the temptation of including ‘readily made and available’ illustrations from the author too tempting after overcoming the obstacles he had to overcome in producing the book.

    The ‘Aucassin et Nicolette’, which was printed at Christopher Sandford’s Chiswick Press (where he printed many of his Golden Cockerel books) and illustrated by Sandford’s wife is a lovely little book which shows the new ventures reliance on familiarity and friends. Another example of Ede’s new project finding a solution to its challenges would be ‘The Confessions of an English Opium Eater’ which was published in 1948 and illustrated by the great Blair Hughes-Stanton with engravings he had made for an un-published edition for the Fanfrolico Press some years before.

    The story of the early years of Charles Ede and The Folio Society are as interesting as the books themselves!

    The story behind the ‘Trilby’ hat is one I didn’t know and it’s one of those that is so obvious when you’ve had it explained to you that you feel a bit ‘daft’ for not knowing!

  3. I have the Folio Trilby, a very nice little book, beautifully designed, and an important work in the canon of late Victorian English novels. Like the LEC/Heritage edition of the same author’s Peter Ibbetson, I find that I prefer du Maurier as a storyteller–his drawings are somewhat amateurish, and I long to see what a Steiner-Prag or Eichenberg would have done with Trilby and Svengali. The great John Barrymore was so effective in the movie version of the novel the film was named “Svengali.”

    Incidentally, the stage version of this gave to the world my favorite hat style–the trilby, so named because the it was worn by the actors. It is a modified fedora–a style which is also named after a stage play by Sardou because in it the eponymous heroine, played by Sarah Bernhardt, wore such a hat.

  4. A wonderful post.

    I, too, share your enthusiasm for the Folio Society titles (particularly the older ones) and own well over two hundred of them!! As with you, Neil, Folio Society books were my first introduction into the world of fine press books — books that were not disposable and printed as cheaply as possible. For someone living ‘Across The Pond’ they also had a quirkiness and their book selections, in many instances, were peculiar to a British audience, a source of great amusement to me. That said, some of the Folio Society eccentricities proved revelatory. For example, their fondness for adventurer’s and traveler’s books were of immediate interest to me and these titles were rarely available in hardcover editions in the States.

    The early Folio Society titles, as I’ve described in an earlier Books and Vines article, hold a special place in my heart and to this day still have a handcrafted feel that make them special. Many of the Folio Society books in my collection are from their first two decades of publication and although my collecting tastes have broadened considerably and (unfortunately) become more costly, I often pick up one of the vintage Folio Society editions for a pleasant evening of reading.

    P.S. I, too, own Tolstoy:Tales and the slim edition of Aucassin et Nicolette.

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