The Door in the Wall, by H.G. Wells, The Folio Society Limited Edition (2016)

The Folio Society Limited Edition program remains one of the most exciting sources of unique and finely published books in the market today. In fact, the program seems to just get better and better. Their latest release is a facsimile of a rare 1911 edition of the H.G. Wells collection of short stories titled The Door in the Wall (and Other Stories) with exquisite photogravures by the influential early twentieth century photographer Alvin Langdon CoburnThe Folio Society says:

Wells discussed the illustration of his collection of stories with the innovative London-based American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, a key figure in the pictorialist movement, in 1908. Two years later Coburn contacted the New York editor, publisher and gallery owner Mitchell Kennerley, and a limited edition of 600 copies was planned, with a new typeface by Frederic W. Goudy, set by his wife Bertha – the first major collaboration of author, photo-illustrator and typesetter in publishing history. Sixty copies, signed by Wells and Coburn, were distributed in London by Grant Richards, and it is from one of these extremely rare books that the Folio Society facsimile has been created. Coburn himself was subsequently adopted and championed by Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists and went on to produce some of the first abstract photographs. His photogravures of London scenes in The Door in the Wall are especially evocative – a hauntingly beautiful counterpart to Wells’s text which subtly evoke the settings and subjects of these extraordinary stories.

As alluded to in the aforementioned remark, this edition represents as fantastic collaboration between artists and craftsmen. H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946) does not need much introduction. He 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), as well as a work outside of that genre, Tono-Bungay, published in 1909 (reviewed by Books and Vines here). Suffice to say Wells’ influence is firmly entrenched in the Western Canon and one can find dozens of biographies to further read up on his writings and life.

Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966) is not nearly as remembered as Wells, though within the world of photography has had a similar influence. He is one of the greats of early 20th-century photography through his role in the development of American pictorialism. As stated on his Wikipedia entry, “He became the first major photographer to emphasize the visual potential of elevated viewpoints and later made some of the first completely abstract photographs.” His cousin was Fred Holland Day (1864-1933), an accomplished photographer himself who, in 1899, brought Coburn’s work to the attention of the Royal Photographic Society, when Coburn was just 17 years old. His career quickly took off from that point. He studied under and exhibited with a who’s who of photography from that era, including British photographer Frederick H. Evans (1853-1943) who was one of the founders of the famous Linked Ring society, a “photographic society created to propose and defend that photography was just as much an art as it was a science, motivated to propelling photography further into the fine art world,” Edward SteichenRobert DemachyGertrude Käsebier and Arthur Wesley Dow. He photographed many of the leading artists and writers of his time, including G. K. ChestertonGeorge Meredith, W.B. YeatsHenri MatisseHenry JamesAuguste RodinMark TwainTheodore Roosevelt and, of course, H. G. Wells. By his mid to late forties, Coburn lost interest in photography, destroying thousand of negatives, much of his life’s work therefore lost to posterity!

The third collaborator of this edition, Frederic Goudy, is well known to Books and Vines readers.  A search on Frederic Goudy within Books and Vines brings up a multitude of works designed by Goudy or using his typefaces. The typeface Frederic Goudy created for The Door in the Wall and Other Stories in 1911 is called Kennerley Old Style, named for publisher Mitchell Kennerley.  It was Goudy’s first major success and he was soon well on his way to becoming one of the most sought after and prolific American printers and type designers (he designed over 100 typefaces!). The type and decorations designed for The Door in the Wall by Goudy were set by his wife Bertha S. Goudy at the Village Press. Bertha Goudy was often referred to as the First Lady of Printing and was one of America’s pre-eminent female graphic designers. {Ed. Note: see Goudy Fonts for a wealth of information on their work).

As for the facsimile itself, it matches the original binding and production, including deckled edges and tipped-in photographs. The excellent reproduction is by Grafos of Barcelona, Spain. It was printed on German mould-made paper by Karl Grammlich, Pliezhausen, and bound in cloth with paper sides and blocked in gold by Lachenmaier, Reutlingen, Germany. As you will see below, all did an outstanding job. The book is quite large at 15˝× 11¼”, and comes in a 16˝× 12¼˝ solander box which is bound in cloth, blocked in gold with photograph inset on front. The edition comes with a 9½”× 6¼” commentary volume consisting of 40 pages typeset in Kennerley and printed on Sunken Wove, and contains a frontispiece photograph of Wells by Coburn. The Folio Society says of that commentary volume that the:

…booklet containing essays by two very different experts on H. G. Wells. George Hendrick, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Illinois and co-curator of the university’s 1997 exhibition ‘Alvin Langdon Coburn and H. G. Wells: The Photographer and the Novelist’, provides an authoritative account of the work of Wells and Coburn. It is followed by a lively treatment of Wells by former academic, now best-selling novelist, David Lodge, whose 2011 novel ‘A Man of Parts’ is an intimate portrait of the author. Also included are transcripts of letters from Coburn to Wells written during the development of the book.

As for the stories contained in the collection, The Folio Society provides the following synopsis:

The tales contained in ‘The Door in the Wall’ are at once distinct and thematically interwoven. The title story explores the tension between the rational, scientific universe and the realm of aesthetics and imagination through its protagonist, the respected politician Lionel Wallace, whose obsession with the childhood memory of crossing a mysterious threshold into a reassuring, dream-like world ultimately proves disastrous. The end of our planet is contemplated in both ‘The Star’ – in which, as in ‘The War of the Worlds’, H. G. Wells stares out into the solar system and examines the impact on Earth’s population of a threat from space – and ‘A Dream of Armageddon’, whose terrifying apocalyptic vision is revealed to its narrator in the course of a conversation on a train. Irrational human instincts and the industrial world collide in both ‘The Cone’, a tale of jealousy which pits an artist against the manager of a blast furnace company, and ‘The Lord of the Dynamos’, in which a man from the ‘mysterious East’ worships as a god the machinery in the engine shed where he works. ‘A Moonlight Fable’ takes up the title story’s focus on escape from the constraints of everyday life, again with grim consequences, while ‘The Diamond Maker’ returns to the claustrophobic setting of a disturbing dialogue. The final story in the collection, ‘The Country of the Blind’, is a short novel in which an explorer stumbles on a hitherto undiscovered society of blind people, a distorting mirror image of humankind which attracts and then repels him.

As an aside, The Country of the Blind was published by the Golden Cockerel Press and was reviewed here by Books and Vines.

In short, this is an excellent facsimile, produced in a very high quality fashion, of an important and entertaining set of short stories by one of the greats of science fiction, illustrated by one of the greats of photography, with type designed for the book by one of the greats of typography.  The price also is outstanding for a production of this quality, with a $320 members’ launch price available until 5th June 2016 (after which it goes up to $360). In the few weeks it has been for sake, the limitation is already over half-sold so I suggest hurrying up if you have interest!

The Folio Society Limited Edition has many more exciting works coming in the future. Within days, we should start seeing some initial promotions from The Folio Society on their much anticipated Salvador Dali illustrated Tales from the 1001 Nights. This edition will include 50 full-page colour plates printed on Modigliani paper and each will be protected with a translucent overlay. The facsimile is quarter-bound in deep-blue calfskin with sides of Tsarina Crush blocked in gold.  The solander has amazing calligraphy by Ged Palmer who, incidentally, also designed the current Folio logo. The commentary for Tales from the 1001 Nights includes a translation of the illustrated tales by Malcolm C. Lyons and his wife Ursula, along with an introduction by Robert Irwin.  Later this year, I am also looking forward to a facsimile of Hansel and Gretel, a selection of stories by the Brothers Grimm, with stunning illustrations by Kay Nielsen along with gorgeous endpapers.

Rumors also abound on additional works that may end up in the pipeline, including The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, and Microcosm of London which is “a magnificent tour of the metropolis in its Regency heyday, taking in all its institutions, from law courts to jails, from the House of Commons to the Royal Academy, and scenes of common life, from Billingsgate Market to Bartholomew Fair. The project was a collaboration between the architectural draughtsman Augustus Charles Pugin and the caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson, who peopled Pugin’s refined architectural views with colourful throngs of Londoners. The 104 hand-coloured aquatint plates and fascinating accompanying text were originally published in parts (1808–10), and are here reprinted in their entirety in two volumes (13 1/2″ x 11″) bound in leather and marbled paper.

Lastly, my understanding is Folio is down to less than 60 copies left of their wonderful Quentin Blake illustrated The Golden Ass, reviewed by Books and Vines here.

About the Edition

  • Full-sized facsimile is based on the rare 1911 edition distributed in London in 1915 by Grant Richards which consisted of sixty copies, signed by Wells and Coburn; the facsimile matches the original binding and production, including deckled edges and tipped-in photographs
  • Photogravures by Alvin Langdon Coburn
  • Reproduction by Grafos, Barcelona, Spain
  • Printed by Karl Grammlich, Pliezhausen and bound by Lachenmaier, Reutlingen, Germany
  • Text printed on German mould-made paper with deckled fore-edges
  • 10 plates, including a frontispiece, printed on Tatami and tipped in on two corners
  • Quarter-bound in cloth with paper sides; blocked in gold on front
  • Title label inset on spine
  • 15˝× 11¼”, 160 pages
  • Limited to 1,000 copies
  • In a 16˝× 12¼˝ solander box bound in cloth, blocked in gold with photograph inset on front
  • With a 9½”× 6¼” Commentary volume, 40 pages with frontispiece photograph of Wells by Coburn, typeset in Kennerley and printed on Munken Wove

Pictures of the Edition

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The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Solander Cover
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Solander Cover
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Macro of Solander
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Macro of Solander
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Book and Companion Volume in Solander
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Book and Companion Volume in Solander
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Cover and Spine
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Cover and Spine
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Macro of Cover
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Macro of Cover
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Solander Cover
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Half-Title & Signature Facsimile
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Macro of Title Page 1
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Macro of Title Page 1
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Macro of Title Page 2
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Macro of Title Page 2
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Text #2
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Text #1
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Text #1
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The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Macro of Sample Text #2
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Macro of Sample Text #2
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The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Text #3
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Text #1
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The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Text #5
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The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Text #6
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Text #7
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Sample Text #7
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Colophon
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Colophon
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Companion Volume Cover
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Companion Volume Cover
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Companion Volume Frontispiece and Title Page
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Companion Volume Frontispiece and Title Page
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Companion Volume Sample Page
The Door in the Wall, The Folio Society, Companion Volume Sample Page

2 thoughts on “The Door in the Wall, by H.G. Wells, The Folio Society Limited Edition (2016)

  1. I thought four years of exposure to the LEC and other fine presses had immunized me against ever again buying a limited edition facsimile volume. ..
    But within 10 or 12 minutes of the Door in the Wall prospectus landing in my letter-box I had pulled up the FS website and was placing my order. It looked a superb volume and has turned out to be exactly that, with the Goudys’ contribution a major factor.

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