Shakespeare’s Sonnets, William Shakespeare, New Albion Press

{Ed. Note: This article is from Books and Vines contributor DlphcOracl. If you like what you see below, please contact Jonathan Finegold to place an order, or to say hello and express potential interest in future works he is considering; that being a book of Montaigne’s essays and another of Whitman’s poems. Mr. Finegold’s response to one of my questions is a wonderful example of how fine private presses approach their work:  “I put my all into it, everything from undertaking a painstaking editing of the text based upon a line-by-line study of a half dozen modern critical editions of the Sonnets, to a precise and extremely time-consuming kerning of the digital Doves typeface, to designing the cover based upon a Doves bindery design from 1896, to say nothing of the printing itself.”}

What, again??  Do we really need another private press edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets??  Well, no and yes.

Initially, one might question the need for yet another private press edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  Since the modern revival of the private press began in 1891 with William Morris and his Kelmscott Press publishing books with letterpress printing on hand made papers, often with innovative designs and superb illustrations, certain works of literature have fared particularly well. They have repeatedly been the object of private press affection, published numerous times and, more often than not, superbly.  Classic works such as Homer‘s Iliad and Odyssey, Dante‘s La Divina Commedia, Chaucer‘s The Canterbury Tales, The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius, Walter Pater‘s Cupid and Psyche (from Apuleius), Hamlet from Shakespeare, Thoreau‘s Walden, Whitman‘s Leaves of Grass, and religious-themed works such as Genesis, Ecclesiastes, and the Revelation of St. John the Divine, all immediately come to mind in this regard.  Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Poems are certainly members of this private press royalty and they have been published in splendid editions by the Kelmscott Press, Doves Press, the Medici Society/Riccardi Press, Vale Press, the Golden Cockerel Press, the Roycroft Press, Shakespeare Head Press, Limited Editions Club, Alberto Tallone Editore, The Folio Society Letterpress Shakespeare Editions,  and the Arion Press.

The founder and sole proprietor of the New Albion Press (NAP) is Jonathan Finegold. From brief e-mail exchanges with him, I am not aware of his having formal training or prior experience in book design and letterpress printing. The New Albion Press is not his primary source of income and his work on the NAP is in addition to a busy professional career in an unrelated field. Simply put, this is a labour of love by someone with a deep interest in and respect for the process of printing with a hand press.  Much of his knowledge was acquired from reading and referring to a book entitled Printing on the Iron Handpress by Richard-Gabriel Rummonds, and, subsequently, by trial and error as he slowly mastered the art of letterpress printing on the hand press. Mr. Finegold’s decision to publish this edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets was twofold: to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of the first printing of the Sonnets in 1609 and the one hundredth anniversary of the Doves Press edition printed in 1909 by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker.

A few paragraphs regarding the Doves Press are in order before further description of the New Albion Press edition of the Sonnets.  The Doves Press is one of the three great British private presses (Kelmscott, Doves Press, and Ashendene) in operation at or near the turn of the twentieth century that helped revive interest in the art of fine letterpress printing and the creation of beautifully designed and hand made books in limited editions.  The movement was begun by William Morris with the founding of his Kelmscott Press in 1891 as an extension of the British Arts and Crafts movement. He had a lifelong interest in design and producing beautiful handcrafted objects as a counterbalance to the industrialization and mass production methods of Victorian England.  Joined by typographic expert Emery Walker, Morris studied the early examples of movable type editions from the latter half of the fifteenth century following Johannes Gutenberg‘s invention of the printing press in 1448.  In particular, he admired the roman font of Nicolas Jenson (1420-1480), a French engraver, pioneer printer and type designer.  His highly legible typeface, based upon humanistic scripts,  served as the model for William Morris’ Golden Type that was used in all of the Kelmscott publications.

Several years after William Morris’ death in 1896, T.J. Cobden-Sanderson founded the Doves Press in partnership with Emery Walker, having quit a law career to become a fine bookbinder several years earlier with William Morris’ encouragement. The Doves Press was the “anti-Kelmscott” and was nearly 180 degrees apart from William Morris’ concept of the beautiful book and the Kelmscott Press’ ornate style.  Cobden-Sanderson eschewed all elaborate ornamentation, detailed wood-engravings and illustrations, and intricate capital letters. The Doves Press became noted for simplicity, austerity and clean elegant pages that were focused solely on fine typography without other visual distraction.  As did William Morris, Cobden-Sanderson admired the typeface design of Nicolas Jenson and he had Emery Walker design their own modification (in a single size and weight), cut by punch cutter extraordinaire Edward Prince and cast at the Miller & Richard type foundry.  The Doves Press typeface was considerably lighter than the Kelmscott interpretation  and it became renowned for its beauty and legibility, used in all of the Doves Press publications.  Cobden-Sanderson’s only concession to ornamentation were the bold, simple, calligraphic initial letters drawn by Edward Johnson, usually printed in an orange-red color.   Other different colored inks were sparely used and only where deemed appropriate to the text.

The celebrated Doves Press type was used for exclusively for sixteen years (1900 – 1916) but, unlike other famous type faces created over the centuries, it was lost to history in what is now an infamous episode of “typocide”.  This episode is well described in a chapter from the book Just My Type by Simon Garfield, a book about fonts:

One distinguishing feature of the Doves Press books was the Doves font of type whose creation was primarily the responsibility of Emery Walker.  When Walker withdrew from the partnership of the press in 1909, the two partners agreed that Cobden-Sanderson should have the use of the type in the printing of the Doves Press publications until his death.  Upon his death, the ownership of the Doves type was to pass to Emery Walker, who was then free to use them for any private or commercial printing endeavors which he desired.  However, when the press closed in 1917, Cobden-Sanderson announced in the final publication of the press that the Doves Press font of type had been ‘bequeathed’ to the bed to the River Thames.

Simply stated, over a period of nearly half year necessitating over one hundred visits to the Hammersmith Bridge, he tossed the matrices, punches, page galleys, and cases of type into the Thames River.  Cobden-Sanderson thought of his work at the Doves Press in spiritual terms and saw his creation of ‘The Book Beautiful’ as being ‘at one with the purpose of the Universe’.  He could not bear the thought of seeing the Doves Type being used for commercial purposes or by someone who was unsympathetic to the art and craft of fine letterpress printing and book design.  As a result, the Doves Type was lost to fine and private presses for most of the twentieth century until it was recreated digitally by the Swedish type designer Torbjorn Olsson in 1995. Further refinements in the attempt to recreate the Doves Type have since been undertaken by the 7th Seal Digital Type Foundry of London.

The reintroduction of the Doves Type made it possible for the New Albion Press to create a new edition of the Sonnets which would pay homage to the classic edition produced by the Doves Press.  Obviously, a great deal of planning and effort by Mr. Finegold were necessary because in addition to acquiring mastery of the Albion hand press he was also battling time pressure — to almost singlehandedly produced this book while simultaneously occupied at his primary professional career and still release this edition in 2009, making the tribute(s) to the original Shakespeare edition of 1609 and the Doves Press edition of 1909 timely and meaningful.  The result?  The New Albion Press became one of several other small private presses successful in making their first publication a stunning success.  Other presses showcased on Books and Vines that have accomplished this remarkable feat in the last handful of years include: The Bowler Press (The Importance of Being Earnest, 2008), the Chester River Press (Heart of Darkness, 2008), Hand and Eye Editions (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, 2010).

This small, elegant edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets from New Albion Press fills a definite niche for a variety of reasons:

1. The most famous private press editions (Kelmscott, Doves, Arion) will cost well over one thousand dollars.

2. Many of these books are large, folio-sized editions that are somewhat unwieldly to read.

3. With the exception of the Arion Press and Folio Shakespeare Letterpress editions, these books are 70 to 120 years old and are difficult to find in fine or near-fine condition.

4.The text of this edition has been edited to incorporate the best recent scholarship as to the spelling, punctuation and meaning of the poems, making them accessible to the modern reader.

Most important, because this is a small book (9″H x 6 34″W) that is new it makes a splendid gift.  Although the thought of acquiring a copy of the now 103 year old Doves Press edition may set a private press book collector’s heart aflutter, your significant other or intended gift recipient may be less than thrilled with receiving a book with vellum binding covers that are bowed, puckered, and covered with the inevitable layer of grime and soiling that routine handling bestows upon vellum bindings.  In the current age of iPods, iPhones, iPads, iDon’t KnowHowElseToWasteMyTime, etc., giving a gift of a fine press book has now become an uncommon, offbeat idea and a delightfully retro gift.  If one truly wants to get into the spirit of the Victorian Era and the turn of the twentieth century, one can deface and vandalize the book prior to gifting by scribbling a meaningless inscription in barely legible handwriting within, as was seemingly the custom back then.  The New Albion Press Sonnets is offered in two versions:

The Standard Edition: Seventy-five signed and numbered copies, printed on Zerkall Ingres paper, bound in cream cloth-covered boards and gold-stamped with an emblem inspired by Doves Bindery tooling on the front cover (Price: $450).

The Deluxe Edition: Twenty-six copies lettered A to Z printed on handmade Twinrocker Yale paper and bound in the sewn-board design (invented by Gary Frost), with a spine of terra-cotta goatskin gold-stamped and boards covered with handmade paper printed with a Doves Press pattern (Price: $850).

Both editions were bound by Ms. Coriander Reisbord, a talented book conservator and binder in California.  To my knowledge, new copies of both editions are still available and can be ordered by sending an e-mail to Jonathan Finegold from his New Albion Press website. The digital photos are taken from my Standard Edition.

Pictures of the Edition

(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.)

Shakespeare’s Sonnets, New Albion Press, Front Cover
Shakespeare’s Sonnets, New Albion Press, Spine and Front Cover
Shakespeare’s Sonnets, New Albion Press, Title Page
Shakespeare’s Sonnets, New Albion Press, Sonnet No. 1 with Doves Press large capital letter
Shakespeare’s Sonnets, New Albion Press, Sonnet No. 2
Shakespeare’s Sonnets, New Albion Press, Text illustration #1 with Doves Press type
Shakespeare’s Sonnets, New Albion Press, Text illustration #2 with Doves Press type
Shakespeare’s Sonnets, New Albion Press, Colophon

7 thoughts on “Shakespeare’s Sonnets, William Shakespeare, New Albion Press

  1. This edition is growing on me. I also like the sound of a selection of Montaigne and/or Whitman.

  2. Reply to menteith and Robert:

    The treatment of sonnets 1 and 2, printed one sonnet to a page in capital letters with indented lines, is unique to these two sonnets and was done to complement the elaborate capital “F” letter in red (Sonnet 1) designed by Edward Johnson. They are printed opposite one another with Sonnet 1 on the verso page and Sonnet 2 on the recto page. I believe this is how they appeared in the original Doves Press edition as well. All of the remaining sonnets are printed as illustrated in my other photos, the traditional “two sonnets to a page” with flush left-hand margins to the sonnet lines.

    I heartily concur with menteith —- Shakespeare’s sonnets certainly deserve to be owned in more than one edition. I also own the deluxe edition from the Golden Cockerel Press (full morocco maroon leather binding by Hiscox with gilt lettering and cockerel designs on the binding, printed on Barcham Green hand made paper with watermark — stunning!) and the 1941 LEC 2-volume set designed by Bruce Rogers. This small slender volume from the New Albion Press is the one I actual read the sonnets from, however, and the Doves type is simply beyond compare, a joy to read.

  3. A lovely book and beautifully printed, though I agree with menteith that the examples with line breaks are not a good idea.

    Though it be heresy to mention it in the company of the Olympian achievements described above, for me, the most beautiful edition of the sonnets is the original Heritage Press edition with Valenti Angelo’s illuminations. I even prefer it to the Bruce Rogers-designed LEC and the gorgeous Folio Society Letterpress edition, primarily because the size of those volumes is a little too large for the poems.

    1. Robert,

      I think it no heresy. The HP edition is second to none in my opinion, thanks to Valenti Angelo’s work.

  4. Interesting and informative article.

    I was aware of this new edition of Shakespeares Sonnets and felt it was a beautifully executed homage to the Doves Press that brings this elegant book within the reach of the many people who admire the original, but will never own a copy.

    Looking at the images above and reading the comments of the person who made this edition convinces me that it was a project well worth the time, skill and effort.

    The coloured capitals and shoulder notes frame a typeface that will be a joy to read for those lucky enough to own a copy. Lovely book!

  5. Can you comment on the layout of the first two sonnets versus that of the following poems? It seems the first two are set out one per page, one line followed by an indented line. Is this the case with just the first two? There is a lot to recommend this edition, but I have to say I am not fond of the indented lines. I also have to say that I prefer the hand-marbled paper of the Folio LE. That said, the Sonnets are one of those works that deserve several editions. I for one enjoy being spoiled for choice!

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