RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
02 April 2011
In the Key of Blue...
I bought some books at a house yesterday, show biz stuff some signed and rather Ebayable and some rubbish (Jeremy Clarkson, books on Bros and Rod Hull and his Emu.) All in a day's work-- 20 boxes in the back of the battered Volvo. The seller showed me some of his own collection (this stuff had belonged to an uncle) and I took a shot of that-- a pretty stunning thematic collection of blue books. The photo does not do them justice, they had a kind of glow from the Victorian indigo-- hints of Royal Azure, Cerulean and Ultramarine. Out of shot were some Strands and Punches (sometimes seen in blue rather than red.) Impressive and quirky, self indulgent - but in a good way (and NOT FOR SALE, dammit!)
He did not have a copy of the lovely 1890s book by John Addington Symonds In the Key of Blue (1893). The interesting thing about this book is that it is normally seen in cream cloth or if you are lucky vellum with a gilt pattern of laurel and hyacinths by Charles Ricketts. The first copies were actually blue but when Ricketts saw them he protested that the colour had to be changed because the critics would otherwise be tempted to refer to the binding as "Ricketts blue." This is a reference to a very old product which was used for washing clothes -- 'Reckitt's Blue' sold by the Carbolic Soap Company. Quite a few blue copies got through but it can go for $500 + and more if limpid.
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Some years ago I saw a collection of books with mirror covers- actually reflective covers- for sale. I always thought the whole poibt of such a collection- or the blue collection- was looking for and finding them individually. Buying the complete works of an author you want to read is one thing, butbuying a set of books for their external qualities, perceived by the collecter, surelybtakes away much of the point anf pleasure of collecting.
I agree that the Symonds book is one of the loveliest of its era, and there was some pretty stiff competition (Silverpoints, Yeats's Poems etc) - although I have to say that my copy is not as blue as most of the books in the photo. Blue and gilt work so well together, though so do cream and gilt.
Artist Chris Cobb rearranged all the books in Adobe Bookshop of San Francisco a few years ago. You can find some of the images online, e.g.:
A great picture of the blue books. Thanks for sharing it. --Tom, USA
Thanks to all. I was actually at Adobe just after the color installation. Andrew (Adobe CEO) is a great patron of the area's arts and artists. It looked great. Nigel
You should mention that clicking on the image of the blue books enlarges them beautifully . Pip! Pip!
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