The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian – Golden Cockerel Press (1927)

{Ed. Note: This article is from Books and Vines contributor Neil.}

Most people that are interested in fine printing and the Private Presses are familiar with the Golden Cockerel Press books from Robert Gibbings and Eric GillTroilus & Criseyde (1927), The Canterbury Tales (1929) and The Four Gospels (1931).  These are generally recognised as the best designed, illustrated and produced volumes to have come from the Golden Cockerel Press and many believe that The Four Gospels is at the pinnacle of the 20th century Private Press achievement in general, with The Canterbury Tales not far behind.

Apart from Eric Gill’s wonderful engravings, the factor that made The Four Gospels stand out was the accomplished and visually stunning integration of image and text.  Troilus & Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales used Caslon as their typeface, but by the time it came to designing The Four Gospels, Gill decided that a new typeface was required. He created the Golden Cockerel type which married perfectly to his images, initials and borders resulting in the perfect integration of image and text. Troilus and Canterbury can be seen as ‘steps’ on the way to producing Gibbing’s and Gill’s vision of the visually perfect integration of image and text that culminated in The Four Gospels.  There can be little doubt that with Gill producing the engravings and typeface for The Four Gospels that he had the far greater input into this book.  This may also lead to the conclusion that Gill was the driving force behind the whole idea of the effective integration of image and text in a Golden Cockerel production.

The Golden Cockerel Press had, in fact, produced a book in 1927 designed and illustrated by the owner of the press, Robert Gibbings, that was an early attempt to marry the illustrations to the text.  Whilst this volume adopted a very different approach and cannot be seen as being as successful as the Gibbing/Gill books, it is a very attractive production and shows that Robert Gibbings was interested in the integration of image and text before he embarked upon his ‘adventure’ with the talented and inspirational Eric Gill.

The text Gibbings chose for his ‘experiment’ in 1927 was The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian.  Lucian was a Greek speaking Syrian and wrote this strange story in the 2nd century AD.  It is a satire against many ancient and contemporary sources quoting mythical events as truth (for instance it shows Herodotus being eternally punished for the ‘lies’ he told in his Histories).  It takes the form of a travelogue with part of the story taking place on the Sun, Moon and other planets populated with all sorts of strange and exotic beings leading to many viewing it as the earliest science fiction text.  Whilst this would initially appear a strange choice for a Golden Cockerel book, the story does gave real scope to an engraver with talent and imagination.

Robert Gibbings chose a page size of 12×9 inches and printed the text in an English translation with the Greek text arranged as a border.  He then ‘wrapped’ the illustrations around the text, much in the manner of early scholarly books which have the notes surrounding the text rather than images.  Unlike the Gill books which have very ‘free flowing’ images, most of the illustrations in the Gibbings book are framed, but they do form the structure of the page alongside the text and appear throughout the book.  Lucian is of interest because of Gibbings attempt to integrate the decoration with the text.  The Canterbury Tales and The Four Gospels were to prove far more successful solutions, with Gill involved. Although Lucian is quite different to those volumes it is an equally valid solution and a credible attempt at integrating text and decoration.

About the Edition

  • The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian
  • The Golden Cockerel Press – December 1927
  • Price on publication, 3 Guineas
  • Translation by Francis Hickes (17th Century)
  • Introduction by Professor J.S. Phillimore
  • Wood-engravings by Robert Gibbings
  • 12 1/2 ins X 9 ins
  • 14pt Caslon Old Face type
  • Greek type set by the Oxford University Press (They charged Gibbings £20)
  • Batchelor’s hand-made paper
  • Quarter bound in leather with cloth sides by Sangorski & Sutcliffe
  • 275 copies – this is number 148

Pictures of the Edition

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The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Cover and Spine
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Cover and Spine
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Cover
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Cover
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Title Page
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Title Page
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text and Illustrations #1
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text and Illustrations #1
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text and Illustrations #2
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text and Illustrations #2
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text and Illustrations #5
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text and Illustrations #3
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text and Illustrations #6
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Sample Text and Illustrations #4
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Colophon
The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian, Golden Cockerel Press, Colophon

2 thoughts on “The Trve Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian – Golden Cockerel Press (1927)

  1. I would add the monumental 1948 Mabinogion to your list in your (very interesting and informative) reply – cheers dlphcoracl.

  2. This is an inspired Golden Cockerel Press (GCP) choice by Neil and it is one of my favorite GCP books.

    The GCP is, of course, one of the greatest of the 20th century private presses, almost single-handedly reviving the British tradition of wood engraving by providing a venue for the most gifted of the young British wood-engravers in the 1920’s and 1930’s (e.g., Robert Gibbings, Eric Gill, John Buckland Wright, Blair Hughes-Stanton, Agnes Miller Parker, David Jones, Mark Severin, etc.) to showcase their craft. In time, after Robert Gibbings assumed ownership in 1924, the GCP also became known for their beautiful handmade limited editions with handset type, handmade papers, and the extraordinary special editions (usually books 1 – 100) with stunning full leather bindings by Sangorski & Sutcliffe.

    As Neil duly notes, the high water mark of the GCP are the triumvirate of Eric Gill illustrated/Robert Gibbings designed books: Troilus and Criseyde, the Canterbury Tales, and the Four Gospels. These books are amongst the greatest private press editions of the twentieth century. However, if you were to poll avid GCP collectors and ask them what the most prized and beautiful GCP books were AFTER these three masterworks (disregarding the special bindings by S&S), there would probably a very wide divergence of opinion. Is it:

    1. ‘Endymion’ (1947) with the 56 magnificent wood engravings by John Buckland-Wright?
    2. ‘The Song of Songs’ (1925) with Eric Gill’s erotic illustrations?
    3. ‘The Log of the Bounty’ – 2 volumes (1937) – with inclusion of material from Wm. Bligh’s logs not
    previously published and an innovative ‘Sail’ design for the bindings?
    4. ‘The Voyage of the Challenger’ – 2 volumes (1938) – an extraordinary travel history of an historic
    circumnavigation of the globe in the years 1872-1876, with faithful full page color reproductions of
    Herbert Swire’s magnificent paintings and drawings taken directly from his manuscript journals?

    Regardless, ‘The True Historie of Lucian the Samosatenian’ belongs in this 2nd tier just beneath the Eric Gill & Robert Gibbings ‘triumvirate’, and why not?? The binding by Sangorski & Sutcliffe is beautiful with a rich leather spine and an oatmeal colored linen-like cloth over boards, the Batchelor’s handmade paper feels like ancient parchment, and the page design is innovative and unique, with a combination of the original Greek text and Robert Gibbing’s wood-engravings framing the centrally placed English translation.

    Best of all Robert Gibbings clearly outdid himself with nearly every page containing “little creatures” — mythological warriors and beasts, amazon-like women, ancient sailing vessels, and anything else that struck Gibbings’ fancy. Simply put, every page is of visual interest and no other GCP book has this look. Best of all, the story itself is wild and fascinating, totally unexpected for an ancient Grecian tale.

    Great choice, Neil !!

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