Robert Reid’s Postage Stamps

reidstampwoodcarvingcroppedtwiceIn March of this year, Robert Reid wrote a blog article for the Alcuin Society which began like the beginning of a suspense novel: “I was running a type house in Montreal at the time I was asked to design Christmas stamps.”

This would have been at the time of Expo 67. It is a nice story to recount, just as Peter F. McNally once did  for the Reidfest held in 2007. The story goes that Robert Reid created some designs as proposals for holiday stamps, which he had printed up on perforated sheets and mailed in to an art committee working for the Post Office. In the meantime, one of his employees had swiped a stamp out of the wastebasket and used it. Reid did not take the prize, and within two  weeks, the mounted police were knocking at his door on Sherbrooke Street, and up the street at McGill’s Rare Books Department, where Mrs. Elizabeth Lewis, the Head of the Department, had been steadfastly archiving all of  Robert Reid’s printed productions, whether large or small. She had to hand over her batch of stamps as well. The original story can be found here.

Fortunately, a hidden stash of the proof stamps is still within our grasp here at McGill University, in the William Colgate Collection, specialized in the History of Printing. Reid points out that the design below was based on a native French-Canadian wood sculpture dating back to the 18th century, a carving that he had come across at a  Museum in Quebec City.

Robert R. Reid is an award-winning typographer, graphic designer and letterpress printer- an acknowledged leader of the private press tradition in Canada. The William Colgate Collection showcases the fine printing he achieved during the “Montreal years”. His life reads like a good novel.

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Born in 1927, Reid came to Montreal in 1963 from British Columbia. He spent more than ten years in Montreal from1963 to 1976. He first held the position as Designer and Production Manager for the McGill University Press, a responsibility he held for five or more years. During that time, he also accomplished really exquisite limited and special editions. The Lande Bibliography (1965) and the Notman Photo Album entitled: Portrait of a Period (1967) are two of the outstanding productions achieved under his direction in that category.

Reid later became Director for a new Publications Service at McGill University, serving the needs of multiple departments for various kinds of “job printing” – event posters, announcements, booklets, invitations, and various printed projects of an ephemeral nature, such as these colourful postage stamps. Reid moved on to New York by 1976, and stayed there for some twenty years. He is now back in British Columbia.

For a taste of the incredible and comprehensive record of Reid’s career, we invite you to consult his memoirs which are held in the William Colgate Collection entitled: Printing a Lifelong Addiction (Vancouver: 2002-2007) in 5 volumes and 13 parts, at last count. McGill has  No. 3 of just 16 copies of the volume on the “Montreal” years. It is a good place to start in order to appreciate the excellence of Robert Reid’s talents in the art of printing, and book-making. And of course, we have the originals.

We wish you very happy holidays.

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And in connection with stamps, ..coming soon is a wonderful exhibition to be held at the McLennan Library entitled:  “Every Stamp a Story: History, Culture and Art through the Lens of Philately”, curated by David M. Lank, and sponsored by the Friends of the Library. On view as of January 13th, 2017.

Now it just so happens that David M. Lank and Robert R. Reid published a very handsome book together on Thomas Bewick. To be continued… .

 

Rare Books Take on an Added Dimension

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As technology continually reshapes the world, modern academic libraries are finding innovative new digital projects and presentations to breathe renewed life into rare treasures from centuries past. Moving from the physical to the digital is allowing McGill students, faculty and researchers to explore ROAAr‘s rich holdings in creative new ways.

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Visualization wall in the Research Commons

Last year, the McGill Library launched its new Research Commons, an innovative, collaborative space that provides next-generation tools to students and researchers. The Commons includes a high-tech visualization studio capable of projecting high-resolution images onto a large video wall comprised of eight video screens.

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Emeritus Professor Ian MacLaren  presenting “From ‘nothing but a pasenger [sic]’ to Canadian Hero: Paul Kane’s Authorship of Wanderings of an Artist (1859).”

This October, ROAAr put that new technology to the test during a public lecture by Emeritus Professor Ian MacLaren (University of Alberta) about prominent 19th-century Canadian artist Paul Kane (1810-1871). Kane travelled from Ontario to the northwest quadrant of North America in the 1840s, sketching and painting the life and customs of the indigenous peoples across the vast northwestern Canadian wilderness. This initiative would eventually grow into a key documentary and visual history of the west, a portion of which was published in London in 1859 as Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America : from Canada to Vancouver’s Island and Oregon through the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and Back Again. Continue reading

Mrs. Beeton in Publisher’s Cloth

Professor Nathalie Cooke, McGill Library’s Associate Dean of Rare and Special Collections, drew our attention to these cookbooks while giving a seminar to Geoffrey Little’s graduate class in Book History. The McGill Library has a substantial historical Cookbook Collection, steeped in printing curiosities and demonstrating exceptional aspects in book production developments.

     For example, Mrs. Beeton’s cookbooks were the most popular British series of cookbooks in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  Elizabeth Driver writes that “From its first publication in book form in 1861, Mrs. Beeton’s The Book of Household Management ruled English kitchens for well over half a century.Her monumental text was recognized as a culinary authority throughout the Empire as emigrants carried the complete book, or the various shorter derivations of the original work, with them to their new homes” (Culinary Landmarks, 474).

1887. Decorative publisher’s cloth .

They were a staple commodity for the Ward and Lock Publishers in London. Despite the popularity and longevity of the Mrs. Beeton persona, as well as the many editions of ‘her’ books on cookery and household management, the real Isabella Beeton died after childbirth on 6 February 1865.

Ward & Lock used the Beeton name on for a number of affordable every day handbooks such as: gardening, letter writing, dictionaries and household management. We are showing just two of the later British editions, from about 20 titles that Rare Books and Special Collections houses on the “Mrs. Beeton’s cookery” series.

Edition bindings started up in the nineteenth century as the book market expanded and the publishers of books started to do large print runs of popular titles intended for a wide readership.   Cookbooks fit the bill, especially the Mrs. Beeton series, which continued well into the twentieth century. In the 1830s, for various reasons, publishers started to assume the responsibility for binding their own editions. Cloth was their choice material – it was more durable than paper; and less expensive than leather.

1893. Pictorial publisher’s cloth.

Publishers commonly had their names stamped at the bottom of the spines, hence the book collector’s term:  “in publisher’s cloth”. Publishers understood that illustrated covers “could be used to enhance the outward appearance of a book and thus help catch the eye of the buyer” to encourage a sale (Percy Muir, Victorian Illustrated Books, 1971). At first, cloth bindings were dyed in colours and either textured or decorated in simple border designs by a blind-stamping process, and used small squares of paper as spine labels. By the 1840s, lettering and decorative and pictorial designs, were filled in with black or gilt, and applied directly onto the cloth.

Elaborate, multi-coloured pictorial cloth bindings picked up where stamped bindings left off.  The Ward and Lock edition from 1893, is an excellent example of this trend, which was at the height of popularity in the late Victorian era. It is bound in a smooth cloth dyed mustard yellow; the front cover and spines are partly stamped and partly printed in colours: white, black and pink and a bit of blue. The design is carried over to the spine. Continue reading

Announcement: Lecture by Professor I.S. MacLaren on Paul Kane

We welcome you to a lecture at McGill Library’s  Research Commons Presentation Space_A for a compelling lecture on Paul Kane’s Wanderings of an Artist (1859), to be delivered by Emeritus Professor Ian MacLaren (University of Alberta).

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Professor MacLaren will discuss Paul Kane (1810-1871), the best known artist of early English-language Canada, and the alteration of his field writings to make a book “readied for the press” under the title:Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America : from Canada to Vancouver’s Island and Oregon through the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and Back Again.

This book appeared in London in 1859 by the publishing giant Longman, and would transform Kane into a hero of early Canada. It was followed by  subsequent editions, such as a French translation produced in Paris in 1861; and a closer-to-home version out of Toronto in 1925 by the Radisson Society of Canada.

This event is free of charge and all are welcome. Please note the room location at the Research Commons Room A. This event is sponsored by the Montreal Book History Group, and the McGill Library’s new ROAAr (Rare and Special Collections, Osler, Art and Archives) division.

Voltaire by Madame Lamothe

voltaire-exhibitionTo supplement the exhibit on Voltaire, we have conducted further research on the exhibit’s centre piece. It is a handsome standing portrait of Voltaire represented in the later years of his life, with calligraphic flourishes on his jacket, hat under one arm, and a cane in the other, entitled “PRIERE DE VOLTAIRE”. Printed in Paris in 1805, this engraved portrait turns out to be quite rare.

Exhibitions are a matter of team work. First of all, our sincere thanks to Michael David Miller, Liaison Librarian for French Language and Literature from McGill’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library, who helped to prepare and mount the “Celebrating Voltaire” exhibition. As for the image, thanks to Greg Houston of Digitization Initiatives, for digitizing several Voltaire-related imprints; and to Lauren Goldman, Communications Officer from the McGill Library, who integrated this image into various announcements relative to our series “Celebrating Voltaire”. Selection for the exhibition was accomplished in collaboration with the Head of Rare Books and Special Collections, Dr. Richard Virr, who identified and designated this print as the “brand” image for the McGill Voltaire Collection. This flurry of activity of course was inspired by the recent extraordinary acquisition in 2013 of the J. Patrick Lee Voltaire Collection. In the case of this print, we are making connections from the established collections to the topic of Voltaire.

First of all, it is uncommon to see an engraving signed by a woman in the early 19th century. Unfortunately we do not know more about Madame Lamothe for the time being.

Secondly, McGill’s use of the print as advertisement has not always made obvious the text printed beneath the portrait: a “Prayer ”engraved in roman lettering, consisting of 8 lines of poetry, in 4 rhyming couplets. In fact, the text can be traced to an earlier print (de Vinck 4102), probably from the 18th century.

The plate is signed on the left side of the portrait as: “Gravé par Madame Lamothe”; and dated on the right side as: “Le premier Germinal An 13” (ie. March 22, 1805). At the bottom centre of the plate, is inscribed the place of printing and publication: “Chez l’Auteur, rue St. Honoré, N°145, pres [sic] l’Oratoir, A Paris. – Déposé à la Bibliothèque Nationale. This print of Voltaire is indeed held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, but for the moment no other locations can be found, including other institutions in North America. Continue reading

Gorey in Rare Books

A recent acquisition presents the work of the American artist, book designer and author Edward Gorey (1925-2000), consisting of cover and typographical designs on paperbacks published by Doubleday Anchor Books of New York in the 1950s. Gorey worked for Anchor Books roughly from the mid 1950s to mid 1960s. The cover designs and typographical work are not always credited. For this reason, this body of commercial work is a lesser known aspect of Gorey’s artistry. Examples are: the The American Transcendentalists, 1957; and the cover and typography for the non-fiction book, The Dead Sea Scriptures, translated into Englpic_2015-11-12_195843ish by Theodore Gaster, 1957.

They supplement very well the existing Gorey holdings as book illustrator, and are reminiscent of the work we associate with Gorey. In Rare Books and Special Collections, the Gorey Collection of book illustration is comprised of eighty-eight volumes, mostly first editions and date from the period ca 1950 to 1980. As well, there is a small body of ephemera including book jackets by and articles about Gorey. Other links to Gorey’s work in are the editions of Albondocani of New York housed in the Colgate Collection section 6 on private presses – showcasing Gorey’s enchanting work in a handful of editions.

Happy Holidays.

On Conjuring, the Book-Collecting Baron

To supplement the current exhibition in the lobby of Rare Books and Special Collections, “Sir Charles Sebright: The Book-Collecting Baron,” Jason Rovito (Master of Information Studies, Candidate) was invited to write the following text:


Thus counter to that ancient will’s malign,
Who them to the devouring river dooms,
Some names are rescued by the birds benign;
Wasteful Oblivion all the rest consumes.

 

—Orlando Furioso, Canto XXXV, as translated by W. S. Rose (1858).

In 1848, on the turbulent Mediterranean island of Cephalonia, insurrection broke out. Amidst a wave of revolutions in Europe, citizens of the United States of the Ionian Islands declared themselves to be Greek. In the middle of this fray was Charles Sebright, the Baron d’Everton, whose book collection is currently being exhibited at McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections.

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Detail from Canto IV, Orlando Furioso (Venice, 1722); from the Sir Charles Sebright Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University.

Continue reading

Victorian Holiday Cards

Rare Books and Special Collections holds a wide variety of Victorian holiday cards which form just part of a much larger greeting card collection, amounting to many hundreds of examples, designed for almost any season or occasion.

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Christmas cards of Saint Nicholas, extracted from a specimen sheet of four cards for sale.

Of special interest regarding the print trade are the specimen sheets used for commercial purposes, ticketed with the price per quantity on the sheet. They  feature a range of options for choice of image or greeting. The collection also consists of pages from private scrapbooks revealing a kaleidoscope of styles from this era.

The vast majority of our holiday cards have been collected or added as single specimens. Some are complete with manuscript greetings or personal notes, which hold interest for cultural historians. In each case, they are rare due to their ephemeral nature.

BirdMost of the cards demonstrate the application of the technical revolution in the printing of illustrations in the nineteenth century. The designs are usually high in colour, printed by chromolithography, which was at the height of its popularity around 1860. We might see as well the use of photo-mechanical techniques, such as photogravures, mounted as inserts on card stock.

Some cards were embossed for added effect and in some cases, fabrics were used to dress up the card. There are pop-up, single-sided cards with personal notes on the back, or cards that open with printed verse inside. Some of the latter might be stitched by side ties or decorated by ribbons, while some of the former might be fabulously framed by a fringe, and used as decorations with an attached piece of fine rope.

A few of these extra-ordinary examples are currently on view in the main Reading Room of Rare Books and Special Collections, located on the 4th floor of the McLennan Library Building.

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Embossed Victorian Christmas card with velvet overlays.

And best wishes for a wonderful holiday.

 

 

News on the William Colgate Collection

Established in 1954 from a gift of several hundred titles of typographical interest, the William Colgate Collection has prospered over more than half a century from new acquisitions and collection development policies and has become one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind in Canada.

Read more on the founder and donor William Colgate

Read more on the founder and donor William G. Colgate

Today, the Colgate Collection covers the full spectrum of the history of printing: typography, the presses, papermaking, book design, illustration, and binding, amounting to more than 12, 000 books, supplemented by sample books and specimens related to book history.  A large part of the collection is focussed on fine and small press publications from Europe and North America, dating from the late 19th century, including the Kelmscott Press of William Morris. 

To find out more about the donor and the collection, we invite you to consult the Spring 2014 issue of Amphora, a journal specialized in a wide range of topics related to the book published by the Alcuin Society, available on our newsstand in Rare Books and Special Collections.

We hope that this initial profile will attract additional researchers and help further define McGill Library’s history of the book collections.

Controversial Authorship: Voltaire and one of his imitators

By Elise Breton*

Perhaps because of his distinctive writing style, as well as his great popularity, Voltaire was often imitated as an author. Questions of dubious Voltaire authorship were an area of interest for Voltaire scholar J. Patrick Lee, whose library was recently acquired by McGill. In his article “The Apocryphal Voltaire: Problems in the Voltairean Canon,” Lee discusses several such titles that are now held in this new collection to McGill.

Les JesuitiquesAs Lee noted, Voltaire had himself complained about the many works that were wrongly attributed to him [translation ours]:

On ferait une bibliothèque des ouvrages qu’on m’impute. Tous les réfugiés errants font de mauvais livres et les vendent sous mon nom à des libraires crédules. […] On me répond que c’est l’état du métier. Si c’est cela le métier est fort triste.1
[One could make a library with all the works that are attributed to me. Every wandering refugee makes a bad book and sells it under my name to gullible booksellers. […] I am told this is simply the state of the profession. If so, the profession is very sad.]

Among Voltaire’s imitators, the abbot Henri-Joseph Du Laurens was not the least talented. He copied Voltaire’s style so well that many of his works, the most famous being Le Compère Matthieu (of which Lee owned two copies), were attributed to Voltaire by his contemporaries. Other works of Du Laurens held in the Lee Voltaire Collection include editions of Les Jésuitiques, which was also for some time attributed to Voltaire. In this copy we can see that an early reader added “par l’abbé du Laurens” in manuscript on the title page.

Voltaire knew about du Laurens, as he wrote in 1768:

Il y a un théatin qui a conservé son nom de Laurent qui est assez facétieux, et qui d’ailleurs est instruit : il est auteur du compère Matthieu, ouvrage dans le goût de Rabelais, dont le commencement est assez plaisant, et la fin détestable.2
[There is a Theatine, who kept his name of Laurent, who is quite mischievous, and who is actually educated: he is the author of Compère Matthieu, a work in the style of Rabelais, of which the beginning is quite pleasant, and the end odious.]

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“Perhaps in an ironic revenge for this exploitation of his name,”3 says Lee, Voltaire decided to return the favor: Voltaire’s Relation du bannissement des Jésuites de la Chine is attributed to “l’auteur du Compère Matthieu” on the title page.
These kinds of malicious false attributions of authorship are interesting to track as they are often connected with fascinating stories. And our thanks go to the rare books catalogers, who have to deal with these complicated publishing contexts!


* Elise Breton is an intern in Rare Books and Special Collections from École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques

1. Letter to Damilaville, dated 17 December 1766, in Mémoires secrets (Londres, 1780), VI, 203, quoted in J. Patrick Lee, “The Apocryphal Voltaire: Problems in the Voltairean Canon,” in The enterprise of enlightenment, ed. Terry Pratt and David McCallam, (Bern: Peter Lang AG, 2004), 272.
2. Correspondence and related documents in The Complete Works of Voltaire, ed. Theodore Besterman, (Banbury and Oxford, 1974). Letter no. D14838, quoted in Lee’s “Apocryphal Voltaire,” 268.
3. Lee, “Apocryphal Voltaire,” 268.