Tono-Bungay, by H.G. Wells, Arion Press (2008) and Limited Editions Club (1960)

H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946) is best known for his science fiction novels, The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898). However, many consider his best work to be Tono-Bungay, published in 1909, a work that is not in the science fiction genre. Wells himself regarded it as his “finest and most finished novel” while also calling it his “most ambitious novel.” An ardent proponent of Socialism, Wells using this novel to satirize elements of what he saw as unfettered capitalism rife within late-Victorian and Edwardian England. Edward Ponderevo gets wealthy selling a product named Tono-Bungay, a quack ‘medicine’ (based on the emergence of Coca-Cola) for all ailments that really is all about Ponderevo getting wealthy through the power of advertisement. Ponderevo’s life revolves around seeking money and pleasure, otherwise leading an existence devoid of meaning. The book is narrated by protagonist George Ponderevo, the nephew of Edward, who spends seven years of his life helping in the production and manufacture of Tono-Bungay (despite his belief of it all being a swindle).

In some ways, Wells seems to be taking on the mantle of Dickens in his treatment of class and in his portraiture of English society. While I (surprisingly) immensely enjoyed this story, Wells does not have the Dickensian ability to bring such portrait fully to life. His characters are less real and a bit more mechanical. His messaging comes off as more explicit, almost lecturing, rather than just implicitly seeding such within the readers mind by the actions and discussions of the characters  (which Dickens is a master of). Edward is particularly a caricature in his presentation as an empty headed capitalist with no mind other than that of making money. George comes across as much more real, with inner turmoil and personal struggles that most readers can relate to. The story itself is good and quite entertaining. It’s look at advertising is quite spot on, and is a devastating critique of its ill-use.

Advertising is particularly powerful in a world of excess, as highlighted by this soliloquy by the narrator:

I’ve never been on love with self-indulgence…But in these plethoric times when there is too much coarse stuff for everybody and the struggle for life takes the form of competitive advertisement and the effort to fill your neighbor’s eye, when there is no urgent demand for personal courage, sound nerves or stark beauty, we find ourselves by accident. Always before these times the bulk of people did not over-eat themselves, because they couldn’t, whether they wanted to do so or not, and all but a very few were kept “fit” by unavoidable exercise and personal danger. Now, if only he pitch his standard low enough and keep free from pride, almost anyone can achieve a sort of excess. You can go through contemporary life fudging and evading, indulging and slacking, never really hungry nor frightened nor passionately stirred, your highest moment a mere sentimental orgasm, and your first real contact with primary and elementary necessities, the sweat of your death-bed.

Advertising creates an illusion of need, creating wants and a feeling of “If I just had that”:

It was all a monstrous payment for courageous fiction, a gratuity in return for the one reality of human life — illusion. We gave them a feeling of hope and profit…”We mint Faith, George,” said my uncle one day, “That’s what we do. And by Jove we got to keep minting!”

Such illusion creates false confidence. Eventually such confidence needs to be built up and maintained or the entire edifice of civilization can come crashing down. One can see the risk of the Washington-Wall Street axis of today when it comes to the following:

Civilisation is possible only through confidence, so that we can bank our money and go unarmed about the streets…The whole of this modern mercantile investing civilisation is indeed such stuff as dreams are made of. A mass of people swelters and toils…about this busy striving world the rich owners go, controlling all, enjoying all, confident and creating the confidence that draws us all together into a reluctant, nearly unconscious brotherhood…Yet it seems to me indeed at times that all this present commercial civilisation is no more than my poor uncle’s career writ large, a swelling, thinning bubble of assurances; that its arithmetic is just as unsound, its dividends as ill-advised, its ultimate aim as vague and forgotten; that it all drifts on perhaps to some tremendous parallel to his individual disaster….

Well’s also ponders philosphically how we live our lives, recalling Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage.

Many people in this world seem to live “in character”; they have a beginning, a middle and an end, and the three are congruous one with another and true to the rules of their type. You can speak of them as being of this sort of people of that. They are, as theatrical people say, no more (and no less) than “character actors.” They have a class, they have a place, they know what is becoming in them and what is due to them, and their proper size of tombstone tells at last how properly they have played the part.

How true is it that the optimism of youth usually ends up trampled by the harsh reality of the world:

I thought I was presently to go out into a larger and quite important world and do significant things there. I thought I was destined to do something definite to a world that had a definite purpose. I did not understand then, as I do now, that life was to consist largely in the world’s doing things to me. Young people never do seem to understand that aspect of things.

Wells certainly does not come across as a romantic in how he approaches love:

Love, like everything else in this immense process of social disorganisation in which we live, is a thing adrift, a fruitless thing broken away from its connexions…Once more this mighty passion, that our aimless civilisation has fettered and maimed and sterilised and debased, gripped me and filled me with passionate delights and solemn joys– that were all, you know, futile and purposeless.

While the following is an analogy to a larger point Wells is making, and is true even in a narrower sense, it still further highlights his overly analytical way of looking at love and beauty:

A beautiful face differs from an ugly one by a difference of surfaces and proportions that are sometimes infinitesimally small.

To make things even worse, he seems to think the answer to the mysteries of love is to have the State involved in it!

Love is not only the cardinal fact in the individual life, but the most important concern of the community; after all, the way in which young people of this generation pair off determines the fate of the nation; all the other affairs of the State are subsidiary to that. And we leave it to flush and blundering youth to stumble on its own significance, with nothing to guide it but shocked looks and sentimental twaddle and base whisperings and cant-smeared examples.

In fairness, Wells does understand what many philosophers have lamented previously:

…but desire which fills the universe before its satisfaction, vanishes utterly — like the going of daylight — with achievement.

Wells is not overly optimistic on the future of the human race:

If single human beings — if one single ricketty infant– can be born as it were by accident and die futile, why not the whole race?

Though he does place supreme confidence in science:

Scientific truth is the remotest of mistresses; she hides in strange places, she is attained by tortuous and laborious roads, but she is always there! Win to her and she will not fail you; she is yours and mankind’s for ever. She is reality, the one reality I have found in this strange disorder or existence.

Lastly, he does close with a brilliant line reflecting the adventure and mystery of life:

We are all things that make and pass, striving upon a hidden mission, out to the open sea.

Tono-Bungay is well worth reading, and certainly belongs on any list of important classics. Luckily for fine and private press lovers, there are at least two editions well worth seeking out. The Arion Press published an edition in 2008 with illustrations by Stan Washburn and and Limited Editions Club published an edition in 1960, via The Thistle Press, with illustrations by  Lynton Lamb. We will take a look at both in this article, starting with that from Arion Press.

The Arion Press Tono-Bungay is, as is typical with Andrew Hoyem’s work, flawlessly executed and a pleasure to read. It is nice reading size at 9-1/8 by 6 inches and is handsomely bound in a plum/purple full cloth, with titling labels on the spine and front cover, the latter in the shape of a bottle.  Stan Washburn provides 14 illustrations, mostly portraits along with a pair of views of the city of London, done by scratching the emulsion of film, which was then used to expose polymer plates, creating the linear effect of etching. I enjoyed his work here, especially the opening illustration of Ponderevo riding the rocket of his tonic to fame and fortune (see Sample Illustration #1 below). I also find the London views very striking, almost lonely (see Sample Illustrations #6 below). In addition to Mr. Washburn’s illustrations, this edition includes 20 illustrations in the form as advertisements, written by Roy Folger and Andrew Hoyem, in addition to those provided by Wells in the work itself. Arion Press expands on this, saying:

Advertising is one of the book’s important themes, both as an object of Wells’s satire and as illustration of the text. Wells drew his own sketches of ads for Tono-Bungay, ostensibly from the hand of Uncle Edward, that are reproduced in the first edition of the book. Most of the advertisements he concocted are written out in the text or described, but three are set up in boxes to resemble printed promotions for nostrums. Expanding on these, the publisher Andrew Hoyem and his friend Roy Folger, no strangers to extravagant expression, have created twenty additional ads for Tono-Bungay, its other products, and those distributed by the company, as well as some of their own invention, such as the competing Tunick’s Teutonic Tonic. To distinguish these outside inventions from Wells’s own, they have been set in larger type, each with various display faces and decorative rules from the period, drawn from Arion’s extensive type collection, and are printed on gray paper, differing from the ivory paper used for the text and illustrations.

The work is printed using Plantin type in Monotype composition, with Brush Script handset as the display type; plus a number of period display types and borders used for the advertisements. This is done on Mohawk Via laid paper, ivory for the text, grey for the advertisements. All quite pleasing to the eye. I should mention that Arion’s edition comes with a booklet reprinting the informative notes by Edward Mendelson from the Penguin Classics edition of Tono-Bungay (2005). This was a nice touch, proving quite useful and helpful in reading the book (providing “explanations of unfamiliar references and elucidations of realities underpinning the fiction“).

Arion still has a few copies available at $750 ($525 for subscribers). I certainly recommend this!  Lastly, Arion has a useful short essay about Tono-Bungay here.

About the Edition (Arion Press)

  • Designed by Andrew Hoyem
  • 14 illustrations by Stan Washburn, done using scratch negatives for the direct production of polymer plates, printed by letterpress
  • Also includes 20 illustrations in the form as advertisements, written by Roy Folger and Andrew Hoyem
  • Plantin type in Monotype composition, with Brush Script handset as the display type; plus a number of period display types and borders used for the advertisements
  • Mohawk Via laid paper, ivory for the text, grey for the advertisements
  • Large octavo format, 9-1/8 by 6 inches, 372 pages
  • Bound in full cloth, with titling labels on spine and front cover, the latter in the shape of a bottle, in slipcase
  • Included with the book in the slipcase is a booklet reprinting the informative notes by Edward Mendelson from the Penguin Classics edition of Tono-Bungay (2005)
  • Limited to 300 copies

Pictures of the Edition (Arion Press)

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. 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 or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

{Ed. Note: You can click on any image for a close up view.}

Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Slipcase Spine
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Slipcase Spine
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Spine and Covers
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Spine and Covers
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Macro of Spine
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Macro of Spine
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Macro of Cover
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Macro of Cover
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Side View Macro
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Side View Macro
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Title Page
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Title Page
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Macro of Title Page
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Macro of Title Page
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Copyright and Contents
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Copyright and Contents
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Macro of Text #1
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Macro Text #1
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Macro of Sample Illustration #1
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Macro of Sample Illustration #1
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Sample Advertisement #1 with Text
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Sample Advertisement #1 with Text
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Macro of Sample Advertisement #1
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Macro of Sample Advertisement #1
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Sample Text #2
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Sample Text #1
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Sample Advertisement #2 with Text
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Sample Advertisement #2 with Text
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Sample Advertisement #3 with Text
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Sample Advertisement #3 with Text
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Sample Text #2 (H.G. Wells sketch)
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Sample Text #2 (H.G. Wells sketch)
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Sample Text #3
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Sample Text #3
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Sample Text #1
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Sample Advertisement #4 with Text
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Sample Advertisement #4 with Text
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Sample Illustrations #6 with Text
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Sample Illustrations #4
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Colophon
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Colophon
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Notes Cover
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Notes Cover
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Notes Sample Text
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Notes Sample Text

 

The Limited Editions Club Tono-Bungay (1960)

The Limited Editions Club (LEC) published Tono-Bungay in 1960. It was designed by Bert Clarke and printed at The Thistle Press. The Monthly Letter (ML) called it the finest novel about advertising ever written.”  As such, they had Norman Strouse, who was president of the J. Walter Thompson Company of New York – the largest advertising company in the world at that time, provide an introduction. In addition, Mr. Strouse was chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the recipient of advertising’s Gold Medal Award. Mr. Strouse operated a printing press himself, called the Silverado Press, making him a natural to get involved in this edition. From his obituary, we also learn:

After retiring in 1968, Mr. Strouse focused on his hobby of collecting rare books, fine printing and bindings. He specialized in books by Thomas Carlyle, works bound by Thomas Bird Moser and 12th- to 16th-century illuminated manuscripts. 

He donated more than 1,500 volumes to the University of California at Berkeley and a Carlyle collection to the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he taught about books. He and his wife founded the Silverado Museum in St. Helena, dedicated to Robert Louis Stevenson, with more than 6,000 books and other items. He also wrote four books, including “How to Build a Poor Man’s Morgan Library.”

I would like to think Mr. Strouse would have enjoyed a site such as Books and Vines!

The most striking thing about the LEC edition is the ‘period-piece’ design, especially the 16 full page color illustrations and 39 black and white drawings by English artist, lithographer and designer Lynton Lamb. Mr. Lamb studied bookbinding under the preeminent English bookbinder Douglas Cockerell, the writer of the influential bookbinding manual, Bookbinding and the Care of Books. He learned well, designing the binding of the Bible used at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. He also designed very well received postage stamps and even ingots for the Royal Mint. More directly related to LEC collectors, Mr. Lamb was consultant designer to Oxford University Press, and illustrated two other LEC’s outside of Tono-Bungay: Silas Marner and The Spectator. His drawings for Tono-Bungay give it an extraordinarily Edwardian feel. When asked about his process for creating these illustrations, he responded (in the ML):

I draw my basic design in black ink on a coloured paper which I also heighten with white. (The coloured paper I choose is one that is of a middle strength between light and dark; and for block making purposes I have used a middle blue, although once the blocks are made, this part of the design may be printed in another colour.  The other colours are then drawn on separate sheets of tracing paper in black to give the necessary combination of overprinting.) To my eye these basic drawings really establish the tonal scheme of the whole composition; but the black block will only represent certain dark accents and shadows, the blue paper (or medium tone) holds the high lights and lit areas as well as the neutral tone on the composition.

The plates were made by John Swain & Company of London. The reproduction is nicely done. The illustrations, along with the text, were printed on toned laid paper, called Colophon Text, made for this edition, from Curtis Paper Company. Concerning this paper, the ML tells us:

It is a laid paper, meaning that the dandy-roll which flattened the wet pulp was furnished with wires which left their impression in parallel lines that become clearly visible if you hold a leaf of the book up to the light. Lacking these lines, the product would be called wove. The wire lines on our Colophon Text are much closer together than is usually the case, enhancing the quality and texture of the paper.

The type is 11 point Caslon Old Style No. 337 for the text, with Craw Clarendon for the book divisions and chapter headings. I think you will see below that this is an eminently readable type, and works well with the soft colors and black and white drawings it is paired with. The ML says, concerning William Caslon, who designed this type in 1725:

He was an admirer of 17th century Dutch types, and the Caslon family (of types, that is) has always reflected this inheritance. The original matrices are still in hesitance, and virtually every foundry has its own version. Caslon possesses a definitely period flavor that comports well with a definitely period book.

The binding is done using a woven cloth of what the LEC called ‘bombazine weave’, decorated with colored labels in a period style.  Like the Arion Press edition above, the LEC uses a bottle motif on the binding. Another similarity that I really want to point out. Look closely at Lamb’s drawing shown below as ‘Macro of Sample Illustration #4.’  Now look at the Arion Press drawing from Stan Washburn in ‘Macro of Sample Illustration #1’ above. It is amazing to me how stylistically similar the use of lines are in these illustrations.

The LEC Tono-Bungay is what I refer to as a typical or average LEC work. There is nothing spectacular about it, unlike what was to become common in the LEC Shiff era, or that many earlier Macy-era works attained. However, it is how good it as, even as an average LEC that makes the LEC as special as it is. Nice reproduction, nice type choice, attractive illustrations, good paper, well chosen introduction, etc., etc. The fact that is can be found in near fine or better condition for $35-70 is a huge extra bonus and is almost hard to understand.

About the Edition (Limited Editions Club)

  • Designed by Bert Clarke
  • Printing done at The Thistle Press in New York
  • 16 full page color illustrations and 39 black and white drawings by Lynton Lamb
  • Plates made by John Swain & Company of London
  • Introduction by Norman Strouse
  • Type is 11 point Caslon Old Style No. 337 for the text, Craw Clarendon for the book divisions and chapter headings
  • Toned laid paper, called Colophon Text, made for this edition, from Curtis Paper Company
  • Binding using woven cloth of bombazine weave, decorated with colored labels in period style
  • 6 3/4″ x 9 3/4″, 416 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies, signed by Lynton Lamb

Pictures of the Edition (Limited Editions Club)

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. 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 or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

{Ed. Note: You can click on any image for a close up view.}

Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Slipcase Spine
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Slipcase Spine
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Spine Macro
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Spine Macro
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Side View
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Side View
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Title Page
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Title Page
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Contents
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Contents
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #2
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #2
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #4
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #6
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3
Tono-Bongay, Arion Press, Sample Text #3 (H.G. Wells sketch)
Tono-Bungay, Arion Press, Sample Text #3 (H.G. Wells sketch)
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #8
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #4
Tono-Bongay, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
Tono-Bungay, Limited Editions Club, Colophon

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