The Faerie Queene. (Finely Bound)
London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1897.
London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1897. First edition. First Fairfax-Muckley edition, one of 100 large paper copies in three volumes rather than two, this one of an unspecified but very small number of copies bound by Cedric Chivers after a design by L. Fairfax Muckley, and a splendid example of Chivers’s pioneering “vellucent” bindings, superbly executed.
3 volumes, quarto. Original vellum by Cedric Chivers of Bath, hand-painted with design following the story and its themes, then richly enhanced with gilt tooling, turn-ins with wavy gilt roll, floral printed endpapers, top edges gilt, others uncut. Housed in the original cloth slipcase (expertly repaired at the joints). With woodcut illustrations throughout, printed in red and in black.
Patented in 1898, Chivers’s “vellucent” bindings departed from traditional methods of creating hand-painted vellum bindings. The usual approach was to merely bind a book in vellum and then paint on a design, but this is prone to rubbing and flaking and such examples are often now found chipped and deteriorated. In the 18th century Chivers’s great predecessor, Edwards of Halifax, painted in reverse on the underside of translucent vellum, thereby providing a layer of protection for the design. His technique was not widely copied and almost vanished with his death, and it was not until the 1890s that Chivers developed his own similar method for protecting the design underneath the vellum itself - the backing sheet of the vellum was painted, which was then covered in vellum which had been shaved to transparency. The vellum was then tooled in gilt, on occasion incorporating additional mother-of-pearl and onlays. The books which Chivers thus bound have always been a favourite of collectors, and usually still present well, the vellum having served its purpose of protecting the design for many decades, as Chivers intended.
The example here is a vibrant specimen of the method, executed early in his career. As usual, the design is based around the plot, themes, and essence of the book in question. The front covers have a broad decorative border incorporating heraldic devices, the centre panel depicting a knight in armour, mounted and in flight, leading a horse upon which a woman is mounted; the rear covers with a circular centrepiece depicting a dragon in a fury; the spines depict a woman in Grecian dress, holding aloft a smoking incense burner. In this case, and unusually for Chivers (and indeed for any binder), the cover designs were cut in wood and printed onto the covers, and then afterwards coloured in by hand. In so doing, Chivers ensured a uniformity of the intrinsic design between the covers, then providing variation with a different colour scheme on each of the covers.
The edition which Chivers used is that of J. M. Dent, a particularly attractive production. Adopting the influences of the arts and crafts and the private press movements - especially that of the Kelmscott Press - the book incorporates full page woodcuts in duplicate in red and black with tissue guards, and ornate woodcut initials, head and tailpieces, ornaments and borders throughout. This is one of 100 large paper copies on handmade paper, with a further trade issue of 1,250 ordinary copies. The number of copies that Chivers bound is not stated, but no more than a handful of examples could be traced in auction records, and these few and far between. (Item #4378)