Printing Kate Greenaway: the Color Wood Blocks of Edmund Evans

Cotsen 32262

Above is the half-title illustration from Kate Greenaway’s collection of children’s poetry Marigold Garden (London; New York: G. Routledge and sons, [1885]). “Printed in Colours” by Edmund Evans, the book is full of excellent examples of color wood engraved illustrations. Sometimes referred to as chromoxylography (from the ancient Greek roots for “color-wood-writing”), color wood engraving was one of the most popular forms of color printing during the 19th Century. A variety of wood engraving, using an engraver’s burin to cut relief images against the grain of a hard wood block, color wood engraving employed multiple blocks to make color images: often employing one block per color.

Rare Books PZ8.3.G75 Mar3, title-page.

Yet examples of the actual blocks used for this once ubiquitous process are few and far between. Perhaps this is because contemporary printers didn’t value the blocks after their job was done (namely printing illustrations). Wood engraving blocks were often used or reused so much (for different editions of some work or even shared across different publications) that they wore down or broke over time; becoming utterly useless for printing. Others were simply discarded or re-purposed (probably burned) after a print job was completed so that they wouldn’t take up valuable space in a print shop.

But as historical artifacts, wood blocks (and other printing surfaces like lithographic stone or intaglio plates) can be extremely informative about the history of the book, revealing more about the process involved than the finished product (i.e. books) can show us. Cotsen is lucky enough to have the original color wood blocks for the half-title illustration of Marigold Garden. Besides being beautiful objects in their own right, the blocks elucidate aspects of the production of Marigold Garden that have up till now, been otherwise unknown or unrevealed.

Cotsen 32262. Each block measures only about 3 x 2 x 1 inches.

As primary sources the blocks illustrate the color wood engraving process. They give us a first hand glimpse into Evans’s methods and style showing, through comparison, how he designed and layered blocks in order build a multi colored image. With close scrutinization of both the blocks and the resulting illustration we can discern the block printing order with more certainty (from lightest to darkest): pink, yellow, orange, green, blue, and black (the “key block” for printing the line work). Notice too how the ink in the “pink” block has not only turned orange over time, but reveals the grain of the wood on the flat raised printing surface (see below).

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Cotsen 32262. Here are the blocks and illustration paired for comparison. Notice how the image in the blocks is the reverse image for the finished product (converted during the printing process as the blocks are pressed onto the paper).

Close analysis of the wood blocks themselves, including areas other than the printing surface, reveals even more about the production of Marigold Garden. By looking at the backs of the blocks, we find the name “T. I. Lawrence” carved (with a burin) into the blocks themselves.

Cotsen 32262. Back of the “Blue” block. “T. I. Lawrence” is just visible across the bottom right of the block. It looks thick paper was once affixed to the back of the block. This may have been done by the printer to help the blocks reach “type height” in order to be flush with type used on the page. Or it may have been pasted on later in order to mount the blocks for presentation.

Using cutting edge research tools (a little bit of googling) I was able to discern the identity of T. I. Lawrence. From the website of Lawrence art supplies, I was able to discover a well informed (complete with sources) meticulous family history of Lawrences who have been art suppliers for seven generations. It turns out that Thomas John Lawrence Junior (1840-1887) was an engravers’ block manufacturer and most likely the wood block supplier for this work. With close analysis of the wood blocks themselves, I was able to add this missing link to the book production process.

Looking closely at the blocks also reveals more about their use. Printing blocks were subjected to a tremendous amount of pressure during the printing process. As a result, many would crack after continuous pressings. Notice above how the “green” block has a significant horizontal crack across the upper left side. Such cracks are sometimes visible in illustrations using well worn blocks. But, with a little attention, cracks could be repaired for continual use without blemishing the image. Savvy printers like Evans could extend the life of a wood block by inserting new wood joints and rejoining cracks and splits:

Cotsen 32262. The top left edge of the “green” block.

Cotsen’s six blocks for the half-title illustration reveal how much work and preparation is involved in creating just one small 3 x 2 inch image. Larger images would have required multiple wood blocks joined together (using end grain wood from young box wood trees meant that the size of engraving wood blocks was limited to a few inches), often employing several wood engravers working together to complete a single image. Can you imagine then how much more labor and time was required to make a larger image (or, indeed, the whole book)?

Rare Books PZ8.3.G75 Mar3, page 20. I count seven colors requiring seven blocks, how many do you see? This illustration also reveals one of the primary advantages of printing from wood blocks. Images and text could be printed together since wood blocks and printer’s type could fit together in the printer’s forme (unlike the popular rival to color wood engraving: the chromolithograph).

Wood blocks and other printing surfaces help tell the story of the labor and people involved in making books. They can also be used to help teach and illustrate the history of printing and illustration. With close consideration of these once disregarded pieces of manufacturing equipment we can learn so much more about the history of books and the process of their creation.

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Heads up for a blog extravaganza! Next week, in celebration of banned books week, Cotsen will highlight a banned children’s book every day!

 

The Annals of Reading: Once a Classic, Always a Classic for Children?

“Stories Old & New”: The Canterbury Tales

Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales : brightly-colored, color-printed dust jacket of  Blackie & Son’s edition for children from their “Stories Old & New” series (©1966).

The other day I spotted an interesting-looking book on the shelves of the Princeton Public Library’s ongoing “Friends of the Library” book sale (which prices most books at $1 or $2, just the right price to snare a casual browser!).  It was an edition of The Canterbury Tales in a brightly-colored, illustrated paper dust-jacket, published by Blackie & Son of London and Glasgow (©1966), which originally sold for 45 pence as a new book, the equivalent of a little over $1 — or roughly about £9 and $11, respectively, at today’s exchange rate, the British pound having declined in value from about $2.40 to $1.25 between 1966 and 2019.  Times change, currency exchange rates change, and literary tastes with them!

Even accounting for changing book-design and cover artwork over the last 50 years, the dust jacket looked a too colorful for an edition of “classic literature,” at least to my eye; the book itself also seemed rather thin to contain all twenty-four of Chaucer’s tales.  Looking a little more closely at the book, I saw found the explanation on the inside front dust jacket’s blurb: this edition was part of the publisher’s series of children’s books — “Stories Old & New” — “designed and written to appeal to children over the age of seven.”  And the table of contents listed just four tales: The Knight’s Tale, The Clerk’s Tale, The Man of Law’s Tale, and The Franklin’s Tale, preceded by a short Introduction by the credited adapter, Dulan Barker, who purposefully rendered his adaptation in “simple and straightforward” prose,” not verse as Chaucer’s original had been (and in modern English too, not Middle English — young readers rejoice!).

Barker adds that he selected these four tales as ones “most likely to appeal to children.” A quick survey of Cotsen copies of a number of Canterbury Tales adaptations from the 19th and 20th centuries tends to confirm his judgement about popularity, at least insofar as “appeal” is reflected by which tales are included in reprinted editions.  And The Knight’s Tale, The Clerk’s Tale, and The Man of Law’s Tale are confirmed as the “most often retold” of the tales in the Victorian and Edwardian editions for children by Velma Bourgeois Richmond in her scholarly study, Chaucer as Children’s Literature, which includes several checklist tables, tallying exactly which tales are included in prominent editions, as well as how many illustrations each of these various editions contain.[i]

“Stories Old & New” series titles, as listed on the dust jacket’s inside flap.

Barker’s short but illuminating Introduction concludes by asserting that he hopes readers will be prompted by his short edition to then turn to the “unique and delightful tales … as Chaucer wrote them.” The goals of adapting literary “classics” for children in language that they can (and will!) read and enjoy, seeking to use these adaptations to cultivate readers’ interest in the canonical originals — and in literature generally — and also using these adaptations as a means of teaching moral lessons are all ones that children’s books publishers pursued from the 18th century on into the 20th century (when explicit moral lessons and heavily didactic “instruction” increasingly took a backseat to “delight,” pleasure, and cultivating imagination).  Like most generalizations, the one I just made greatly oversimplifies nuances and individual authorial styles, but overall, I’d say that’s the general trend in children’s books over this time span.

Other “Stories Old & New” series titles listed on the lower inside dust jacket indicate that adaptation included a combination of older literary “classics,” perennial children’s favorites, and collections of tales or stories: The Arabian Nights, The Golden Fleece, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Tales from Shakespeare (the Lambs’ prose adaptation of Shakespeare plays, which itself became a children’s classic), Alice in Wonderland, Stories from Grimm, Sleeping Beauty, Lazy Jack & Other Stories.

Following the general practice in adaptations of literary classics for children — and in 19th and 20th century versions in particular — Blackie’s “Stories Old & New” edition of The Canterbury Tales features a number of illustrations: dramatic line-drawings by Geoffrey Fraser. Several highlight the action-and-adventure aspects of the world of medieval knights, era of chivalry, or fabled warriors from mythic epics or romances that publishers thought would appeal to young readers, but particularly to boys, I’d have to say.

Duke Theseus of Athens — depicted much like a medieval king — accosted on his erstwhile wedding day by the widowed queen of King Capaneus, who begs for justice against the murderous, usurper Creon of Thebes in The Knight’s Tale.

The Athenian Arcita (i.e. Arcite), depicted as a chivalric knight, with quasi-Greek helmet, as he goes into trial combat with Palamon for the hand of Emily (Emelye), sister-in-law of Duke Theseus, illustrating a subsequent scene in The Knight’s Tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women are depicted in an almost equal number of Fraser’s illustrations, most stressing the pathos of their roles in the tales in which they appear (usually as victims of the ill-will or capriciousness of others, mostly men but sometimes women too). These illustrations have an emotional power and resonance that I think distinguishes them from the illustrations of noble knights or some of the other, more simply pictorial ones.

“Patient Griselda” weeping with happiness and hugging one of her children, after finding out that they had not been killed by her husband, who also pretended to divorce her, and did cast her out of the house in a series of Job-like trials (The Clerk’s Tale).

Tempest-tossed boat carrying Constance — wife of the Syrian sultan and daughter of the Roman emperor — after she was treacherously put to sea in a rudderless boat to be “blown on the seas” for years until her “virtue and goodness” are rewarded” (The Man of Law’s Tale).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding this illustrated edition fascinating, if quirky, I realized that I didn’t recall seeing — or cataloging — very many editions of The Canterbury Tales in Cotsen Library’s collection over the years, especially books from the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries.  A quick search of our catalog bore out that impression — there’s weren’t nearly as many as there were of comparable editions of “literary classics” for children, such as adaptations of Shakespeare plays, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, or even Pilgrim’s Progress, the latter once something of a “must read” for children and the object of a number of illustrated or abbreviated versions for children. Virtually all the adaptations for children were from the 19th century — and the latter part at that — with earlier adaptations of Chaucer’s tales or episodes from the tales definitely not kid stuff!

Title page of Gay’s Wife of Bath Comedy (London: 1713) [3751.5.397.11]

Among the adaptations of Chaucer I found in Princeton’s catalog was a 1730 theatrical adaptation of the Wife of Bath’s Tale by John Gay, perhaps best know as the playwright of The Beggar’s Opera (immortalizing the likes of Captain Macheath and Polly Peachum), which had been first produced just two years before. The Wife of Bath’s Tale, with its sexual content and the bawdy language used by the Wife herself, is decidedly not for children.  And Gay’s “Comedy” is it is not intended for children either; it features characters with names like Doggrell, Merit, Astrolabe, Grist, Spigot, and Busy, more akin to those of the madcap inhabitants infesting Ben Jonson’s wildly satiric London City Comedies. (Prior owners have made some personal annotations on the title page, including adding Gay’s first name in a print hand, apparently later than the inked script at the head of the page.)

Another 18th century “adaptation” of Chaucer that my catalog search turned up was: John Dryden’s Palamon & Arcite, or, The Knight’s Tale: in Three Books, contained in a 1713 volume of verse entitled, Fables Ancient and Modern…from Homer, Ovid, Boccace (i.e. Boccaccio) and Chaucer.  Again, not really children’s reading; I think they’d find three volumes of Dryden’s heroic couplets a bit taxing, and less than fully engaging, as the opening lines might suggest:

Dryden’s Palamon & Arcite, from Fables Ancient and Modern… (London: 1730) [PR3418 .F5 1713]

In days of old, there liv’d, of mighty fame
A valiant Prince; and Theseus was his name:
A chief, who more in feats of arms excell’d
The rising not setting sun beheld.

Finding my OPAC searches not yielding much in terms of earlier children’s adaptations of The Canterbury Tales, I turned to some standard bibliographies of children’s books: The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books: 1476-1910 (1975) and Laurence Darton’s The Dartons: An Annotated Checklist of Children’s Books… 1787-1876 (2004).  Both are magisterial classics.  But among Darton publications all I could find was a book, cover-titled Illustrious Characters… Ornamental Penmanship (1823), including an engraved plate statement about William Caxton, the first publisher of The Canterbury Tales.  Osborne listed A Treatise on the Astolabe, addressed to his son, Lowys, by Geoffrey Chaucer (1561?) and the 1882 title: Chaucer for Children: A Golden Key by Mrs. H.R. Havens , “a keen student of Chaucer,” also noted that she had previously published a 1880 title: Chaucer for Schools. 

I later turned up a number of other versions of Chaucer for children in Cotsen’s collection and elsewhere, most of them from the latter 19th century or the 20th century, when Chaucer adaptations for children really seemed to come into their own, in part due to the romantic allure of medievalism and medieval design. But many items were entered (properly) under their own title, not with “Canterbury Tale,”or “Chaucer” as part of their title, and some were published as part of broader collections of items within a book of a different title (cf. Dryden’s Fables…, which I mentioned above, which fortuitously mentioned Chaucer in its title and also included a cataloger’s note about the contents.  Thus, Chanticleer and the Fox (mentioned in the Nun Priest’s Tale), The Story of Patient Griselda (from the Knight’s Tale), or Pilgrim’s Tales from Chaucer, were among the books turning up in a revised search query.  So I got a small lesson in catalog searching!

Gilt-stamped pictorial cover of the search-evading title: The Story of Patient Griselda (London: Routledge, [1906]) [Cotsen 84718]

But the absence of earlier (17th-18th c.) adaptations was still a puzzle to me. Was Chaucer considered unsuitable fodder for children’s adaptations because of some of the Tales‘ inappropriate sexual, and sometimes reprehensible content, the sometimes-bawdy language used by some characters, or something about the subject matter related (drinking, warfare, quarreling, etc.)?  Or did this absence have something to do with religion?  The pilgrimage to Canterbury was made by the tale-tellers (like others) to venerate a Catholic saint, Thomas Beckett; pilgrimages and saints also continued to have distinctly Catholic overtones in assertively Anglican England after the Protestant Reformation and perhaps even more so in Puritan England and America.  Could this religious context have made the Tales content that a publisher would shy away from issuing for children?  Were fabliaux, fairy tales, and fantastical tales considered too racy or too tied to superstition, or wild imaginings and fantasies for some educators and proponents of children’s literature after the Enlightenment?  Or some combination of all of these?  This seemed possible to me, and Richmond’s introductory chapter — “Contexts and Criticisms” — confirmed this.

But this is a topic that I’d like to explore more — as well as looking more closely at some of the (often lavishly-illustrated) Canterbury Tale adaptations for children from the mid-nineteenth century onward in a future blog posting.  And all this because of a $2 book found in a library book sale!

“Dinner in the Olden Time” – Late 19th c. colored wood-engraving by Edmund Evans, depicting the Canterbury pilgrims at a tale-telling meal: Chaucer for Children (London: Chatto & Windus, 1877) [Cotsen 23643]


Notes:
[i] Richmond, Velma Bourgeois. Chaucer as Children’s Literature: Jefferson, N.C. and London: McFarland & Co., 2004. 

According to Richmond, The Knight’s Tale comes in as the #1 tale, included in virtually all collections of Canterbury Tales reprints in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.