Pearl, by the Pearl Poet, translated by John F. Crawford with Andrew Hoyem, Grabhorn-Hoyem (1967)

{Ed. Note: This article, and the pictures, are from Books and Vines contributor DlphcOracl.}

One of the very pleasant aspects of being a collector of any sort is to stumble upon something that is simply wonderful, very affordable, and obviously under-priced in the market.  I recently purchased a book that fits that description and is an edition that you simply should not pass on should you find one available: Pearl, by the Pearl Poet, translated by John F. Crawford with Andrew Hoyem, published by Grabhorn-Hoyem in 1967.

Andrew Hoyem worked at the Grabhorn Press and learned much of the publishing craft from the Grabhorns — during this time the name of the press changed from the Grabhorn Press to the Grabhorn-Hoyem Press.  Once the partnership ended with the passing of Robert Grabhorn, Hoyem decided to continue their fine tradition of printing letterpress books under his own auspices as the Arion Press.  The most famous books from the Grabhorn-Hoyem collaboration were two books of poetry called: Redondillas or Something of That Sort by Ezra Pound and Howl by Allan Ginsburg.   However, they published a gem that very few book collectors know about, namely, Pearl.

What is Pearl?  It is one of the most important, complex, and ingenuously crafted poems done in Middle English, in the late 14th- century.  Pearl (poem) was discovered as one of four works all found and contained in a manuscript now known as the Cotton Nero A.x., housed in the British Museum.   The most famous of these four works is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the three smaller poems included in this manuscript are entitled:  Pearl, Patience, and Cleanness (or Purity).  The precise identity of the Pearl Poet is unknown but what is known is that the form of this alliterative Middle English poem is the most innovative and technically polished to come out of this period, far superior to Geoffrey Chaucer and William Langland (Piers Plowman) who were the Pearl Poet’s contemporaries.  Those with interest can read a superb discussion and overview of the Pearl and the Pearl Poet here, here and here.

This Grabhorn-Hoyem book is stunning.  It has a goat vellum leather spine and turquoise silk covered boards with spine lettering in gilt.  The paper is an exquisite, thick hand made from Thos. Saunders of London and the letterpress work is flawless.  Best of all, the poem is printed inter linearly in black and red with one sentence of the original Middle English given and the modern English translation printed directly underneath, similar to how the Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition of The Man Who Planted Trees is done with the original French and its English translation.  Additionally, four facsimile illustrations from the original manuscript are included!!  Best of all, there is a twenty page scholarly discussion of the Pearl poem, the Pearl Poet and their significance by the principal translator (John F. Crawford) at the conclusion of the poem.

I have letterpress books that cost between $500 to $650 that aren’t this good and certainly not this unique and important.  For reasons I cannot fathom, a fine or near-fine copy of this book typically sells on AbeBooks for between $150 to $250!! All in all, a wonderful book, well worth having!

About the Edition

  • Original Middle English text with translations in Modern English, printed interlinearly in black and red
  • Commentary by John F. Crawford and Andrew Hoyem
  • 4 facsimile illustrations from the original 14th-century manuscript in color
  • 1/2 goatskin vellum over turquoise silk boards with gilt spine title
  • Handmade paper
  • 11 1/4 x 9 1/2 inches, 125 pages
  • Limited to 225 copies

Pictures of the Edition

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The Pearl, Grabhorn-Hoyem, Spine and Cover
The Pearl, Grabhorn-Hoyem, Cover
The Pearl, Grabhorn-Hoyem, Title Page
The Pearl, Grabhorn-Hoyem, Macro View of Index Page
The Pearl, Grabhorn-Hoyem, Sample Text #1
The Pearl, Grabhorn-Hoyem, Sample Text #2 (Macro)
The Pearl, Grabhorn-Hoyem, Illustration #1
The Pearl, Grabhorn-Hoyem, Sample Text #3
The Pearl, Grabhorn-Hoyem, Sample Text 4 (first page of commentary)
The Pearl, Grabhorn-Hoyem, Limitation Page

3 thoughts on “Pearl, by the Pearl Poet, translated by John F. Crawford with Andrew Hoyem, Grabhorn-Hoyem (1967)

  1. The problem of course is that the reason most editions are “fashionable” is exactly because they are popular and liked by so many. It is therefore sometimes hard to find fine press books which are “unpopular” but that you still fall in love with. That said, i have a huge penchant for the Taylor Golden Cockerel Press books, which are at the cheap end of the Golden Cockerel market.

    As to modern fine press books, i do understand the necessity of pricing, but still find it incredible that you can pick up a number of titles from the great early presses such as Kelmscott, Ashendene, Golden Cockerel et al. and still pay less than what a modern press is charging for their output, albeit you would have to buy through auction.

  2. I was aware of this poem, but have never read it. Like, I would assume, many others I have read Chaucer and Piers etc. Maybe it’s about time I ‘gave it a go’.

    The book is lovely and I am also intrigued by the enigma of pricing of fine press books in the antiquarian market (and for new fine press books as well). For some volumes pricing is easy to work out and they are priced astronomically because of the artist or imprint (even if it is far from their best work) and others remain a mystery. Fashion and taste can be fickle and if you have the confidence to stay true to your own personal likes and dislikes a book like yours can be had for far less than its intrinsic value.

    If a person tastes are in line with what is percieved as fashionable, then they will have to have very deep pockets. If they buy what they like and they think is ‘good’, in spite of received opinion they could end up with a nice collection without spending ‘silly money’. In saying that the ‘best’ in most areas of collecting is unlikely to ever throw up a bargain and we all all have to ‘bite the bullet’ and pay the price or do without in those cases.

    I, like you, have books that are comparable in design, production values and materials, but are valued by the market very differently. I also have books that have increased and decreased in value over the years because of fashion, events, exhibitions, critical comment and so on.

    This book with its important text, hand-made paper, vellum and silk binding, printed in red and black by an accomplished press in interesting typefaces, would command a very much higher price if it was produced by a private press today.

    Thanks for bringing this one to our attention,

    Neil

  3. I never knew this existed before. I have the work in Middle English, along with Gawain, Patience and Purity in the classic edition of A.C.Cawley which was used in my graduate class in Middle English literature. I still have this, and it doesn’t hold a candle in terms of beauty to this one. (It is also in ME only, no translation, but with helpful glossaries and notes.

    It is a fine poem, and as you remarked, it is very polished in its prosody. As an allegory it is superior to Langland’s Piers Plowman, but as poetry, it lacks the emotional context that make Langland and Chaucer so enjoyable to read to this day.

    Still, I wish I could afford to pick this one up.

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