Johann Holtz’s ‘Faust’, Published by Paul Bender (1929)

{Ed. Note:  The pictures and article are from Books and Vines contributor dlphcoracl.}

Johann Holtz’s early 1920’s hand-done illuminated manuscript of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust is one of the finest calligraphic works produced in the Germany language in the 20th century and arguably one of the most beautiful books ever published.  Holtz (1875-1944) was a gifted calligrapher and the original book is — in its entirety — a work of calligraphic art.  Taking four years, Holtz produced a modern day illuminated manuscript, exactly as was done before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press with movable type. Everything in the original book is drawn by hand by Johann Holtz —– the text, the illustrations, the elaborate initial letters, and the border decorations.

A handful of years later, in 1929,  Holtz decided to permit his original work to be replicated by the private press of Paul Bender in Zollikon bei Zurich in Switzerland.  600 copies were published, 400 standard editions printed on a handmade paper from the Biberist paper mill in Switzerland (which closed in 2011) and 200 of which being deluxe issues, bound in full leather (pigskin) and printed on special hand made parchment paper by Zanders, the finest paper mill in Germany at that time, and signed by Johann Holtz in the colophon.  The greatest German private press books from 1900 to 1939 (e.g., the best works from the Bremer Presse and the Cranach Presse) inevitably used Zanders hand made papers, made to their specification. The pictures you will see below are from this deluxe edition.

The book is giant folio size, measuring 10.5 inches width by 15.5 inches height. This is clearly not produced with either letterpress or hand press technique — at least, I cannot understand how it could possibly be printed and published in this manner.  First, the text does not have the “palpable” quality of metal type impressing itself into handmade paper as is easily discerned with any of the Allen Press books.  More importantly, on several of the macros shots below you can clearly see that each page has a “scaffolding” of horizontal lines drawn softly in pencil to guide Johann Holtz in his calligraphic work.  Similarly, many of the letters can be seen in the background softly drawn in pencil and then scribed over with black ink.  I cannot imagine how that could be accomplished with a letterpress or hand press.

I do not know what the state of the art in publishing and printing was in 1929 but it was clearly far more advanced and sophisticated that I had ever imagined.  Remember, they did not have computers or any of the sophisticated visual and cinematic techniques and equipment we nowadays take for granted.  Despite this, Paul Bender at his Graphic Arts Institute in Zollikon was able to perfectly reproduce Johann Holtz’s illuminated manuscript (and that is precisely what this book is !) with the available technology of that time.   Also, what you would not know unless you had previously read a fair amount of German literature in their classic Gothic type face (called Fraktur) is that there are two or three variations of this classic German typeface but this is not one of them.  Rather, what you see is Johann Holtz’s original creation of his own German Gothic script.  In effect, he is reproducing the Fraktur type face with his own artistic license :-).

Pictures of the Edition

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Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Front Cover
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Front Cover
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Spine and Covers
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Spine and Covers
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Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Title Page
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #1
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #1
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #2
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #2
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Macro #1
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Macro #1
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #3
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #3
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #4
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #4
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #5
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #5
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #6
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #6
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #7
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #7
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #8
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Sample Page #8
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Macro #2
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Macro #2
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Macro #3
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Macro #3
Johann Holtz's Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Colophon
Johann Holtz’s Faust, Published by Paul Bender, Colophon

One thought on “Johann Holtz’s ‘Faust’, Published by Paul Bender (1929)

  1. Whatever the process for printing this, they appear to have captured the vibrant colours of the original. It is a beautiful book!

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