Book Talk, Illustration, type, Uncategorized

Farmer’s Boy

This book was given to me in payment for the recovering of the science book recently posted in installments here. It is a small  160 x 100 x 16mm volume in mottled and heavily worn calfskin, with gold tooling around the edge of each cover and decoration on the spine.

It has marbled endpapers in the Gloster style.

The last section is lightly torn and strained giving the appearance of some of the pages being loose, but it is still firmly bound. The headbands are ‘proper’ sewn headbands, not false ones glued on. You can tell this by the broadness of the stitches and a just visible second row beneath.


The corners are knocked in a bit, and there is a little foxing of the pages and a very strong ‘old book’ smell. Why is it that some books are more pungent than others?

It has been well-printed, if a little heavily impressed, with generous margins and a running header between rules that give a brief outline of each page:

There is quite a bit of ink transfer from the engravings, giving each of the chapter pages a lightly stained reflected ‘ghosts.’

Golly, after that lengthy description, let’s see what we can make of the type. At first, I was fairly sure that this was set in Caslon. It’s about the right timescale, and the quality of the letters a, g  & b all seem to fit the pattern compared with a modern Adobe digital font:

I didn’t think too much about it until I began looking at some of the italic set at the beginning of each of the four seasonal ‘chapters.’ In particular, ‘k’ and ‘y’:

I guess this may be something that has been developed out of the original cut of the typeface over the years, or possibly, this could be set in an earlier typeface, probably one of the the Fell Types that were prevalent in the years leading up to this. Both  characters in the examples I found on the internet were both of the same style of the Adobe Caslon examples. The lower case ‘p’ also did not conform to my comparative samples.

Another look through my type files mostly gave up more examples and variations of what I already had found, with all of my ‘Old Style’ (read modern interpretations of Old Style) faces falling into the same pattern. I broadened my search and found something with similar characteristics; ITC Century, this version designed by Tony Stan (American Typewriter, Cheltenham) in 1975.  

Whilst there are one or two irregularities in other characters, this matches those original ‘k’ and ‘y’ shapes I was looking for. This will probably be an ongoing investigation, as they say in the movies. If anyone can identify these typeface exactly, and provide examples, I would be very, very grateful…

This book is a seventh edition, published in 1803. The book was originally published in 1800, but written during 1796-98 (the comment above refers to a letter he received prior to publication and is on the first page of the preface.)  Oddly enough, the book was turned down by a number of publishers and eventually passed on by his son to a barrister who revisited it and arranged for the woodcut illustrations, and got it published. It was reprinted three times in the first year, and by the seventh edition three years later, had sold 30,000 copies; a publishing sensation that echoes the the kind of modern success seen by the likes of J.K Rowling. Bearing in mind that in 1800, about 45% of men and 25% of women had some degree of literacy (please note that these figures were calculated from the ability of individuals to sign their names in the marriage registers!) but very few had the spare cash to buy books.

The woodcut illustrations were by Thomas Bewick, an accomplished ornithographer and wildlife illustrator and are very fine. Strangely, the first illustration is signed (the only one that is) as Thurston, another well-known engraver of the time, but I have found very little reference to this piece in any of the Bewick or Thurston online sources.

I have included super macro shot of the signature (which is in the bottom left of the image above) against a ruler showing millimetre increments to show the scale and finesse of the work:

Each season begins with an appropriate vignette of rural life, and has other incidental images throughout:

On the title page, the publishers credit reads:

by James Swan, Angle Street, Newgate Street.

Again, I’ve tried a quick internet search to get some background on Vernor and Hood, but come up with little, except that Thomas Hood had a very interesting life and conducted a lot of business from his sickbed! Longman and Rees came up with a few more, but nothing to regale you with here. James Swan, the printer I hoped for more. The surname of the person who gave me this book is Swann, and it would have given me great pleasure to furnish him with some interesting historic facts about his namesake. I didn’t find much but did get this:

SWAN, James, printer, 7, Haberdasher’s Walk, Hoxton 1802H; 4, Angel Street, Newgate Street 1802-04; 76, Fleet Street 1804-05; Crown Court, (71), Fleet Street 1807; 76, Fleet Street 1809-29. Trading: with William Darton 1799; alone 1802-07; as Swan and son 1809-1819R; as James Swan 1820R-1829. Firm prob. established by Robert Swan 1748. Produced many broadsides, pamphlets and tracts. Crown Court office destroyed by fire with a loss of £2,000 above his insurance 20 Aug. 1807. Registered presses 1802, 1805. Plomer; Timperley 831; Todd; Brown.

A very dry account, but it does begin put a story to the people who printed books in the nineteenth century. Destroyed by fire? Accident or arson? How many people worked there? Under what conditions. What was their daily life like? What happened to them after the fire? I am so easily distracted.

I also like the history of individual books; the marks, notes and repairs they accumulated during their lifetimes. Towards the back, just before the Winter chapter there is a name written in pencil; Scott Abbott, I think it reads. Given the style this is written in, I am guessing that it is early nineteenth century. It is very faded, but the image below gives an accurate copy.

Again, who was he? What gave him to sign his name with such a flourish? Why that page and no other? More stories…

On the inside of the back endpaper there is a mysterious  inscription: R + m + y and nothing else. I really love this.

I have not researched this academically and admit that there are likely to be errors. If anyone can shed further light on any of the points covered in this post, please let me know.


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