Pet Book Project: Little Journeys to the Homes of English Authors

The unusual suede cover and deckled-edge pages are what drew me to Elbert Hubbard’s Little Journeys to the Homes of English Authors. Upon further examination, the book held an interesting history of some of England’s most famous authors and orators. The tales of authors like Thomas B. McCauley and Lord Byron read much like Vasari’s accounts of the Italian painting masters. The stories display the intellect and notable traits of the men in question, but they at times feel more like entertainment than history. I have long been interested in writing, and Hubbard’s stories gave me a unique view of the lives of some of England’s greatest writers.  Hubbard’s work is the second book in his volume on English authors in a greater series detailing the lives of great artists, musicians, and other symbols of culture.

Little Journeys to the Homes of English Authors was published in Erie, New York by Hubbard’s Roycrofters Press in 1899. The cover, as mentioned, is a weathered brown suede, cut or torn by hand with yapped edges. The suede is wrapped around a cover that appears to be cardboard covered in a green material not unlike a fine corduroy.  It is most likely folded silk. The suede cover has soaked up the green dye from the materials behind it and now appears green in places. The title and volume number are inscribed on a small section of leather sewn to the front. The letters were once gold, but have since begun to fade. The spine sports the same leather title piece. The pages have deckled edges except for the tops, which are cut and covered with a fading layer of gilt. This straight edge is where the complete paper would have been cut after the initial collation of the pages. The book is very soft and not that heavy, but feels fragile in one’s hands.

Hand-bound, Little Journeys to the Homes of English Authors is slowly falling apart. The binding appears to be section sewn, and the individual threads are tearing or stretching, leaving pages hanging slightly from the spine during use. Each section is four pages, two sheets of paper folded, one inside the other. All 172 pages of the book are like this except for the portrait prints, which are individual half sheets sewn into sections. The portraits pages are, however, original.

Inside the front cover is an old bookplate. The plate simply says “Ex Libris” and shows what appears to be a hot air balloon rising over a book through a storm. Inside the next page an owner has written his name. It appears to say Logan D. McKee, Monett, Missouri. After this page, Hubbard has signed a statement verifying authenticity and that this book is number 124 of 947 that were printed by Hubbard and hand illumined by Maud Baker. Below Hubbard’s signature Ms. Baker has signed both her name and one of the Roycrofters’s printers mark. At the bottom of the same page are watermarks for the Roycrofters press. These same watermarks appear on pages throughout the book. An Index on the next page introduces the six authors discussed in the book alongside a portrait of the first author, Thomas B. McCauley. All six of the portraits are printed from various paintings.

The text is about average sized with decent spacing. The margins are large, especially the bottom, which is about two inches or perhaps a little more. The font is a normal serif font. There are small, printed shamrocks, ferns, and other natural images spaced intermittently between sentences throughout the book. Capitals at the beginning of each section, and at times within each author’s description, are hand illumined, according to Hubbard. The Letter and designs were certainly colored by hand, but I have questions about the outlines. It would appear the the outlines were printed from a block, most likely a wood engraving since the text appears next to the image. This would make it easier for the artist to color all 947 copies. If this were the case, it does not detract from the beauty of the hand colored images.

The text is spaced well and at times tapers off from a block of text to an upended pyramid of sorts. This taper tends to come at the end of sections. Every taper is capped off with a design like the shamrocks and ferns. It is still unclear to me if these designs are hand drawn or printed.

There are few signs of use, other than McKee’s signature and ex-libris. There are mold and water stains throughout the book, but these are mostly around the edges and do not affect the book’s ability to be read.

Although fragile, the book is in excellent condition for something entirely handmade. There are extensive histories surrounding both Hubbard and McKee that I look forward to exploring in more detail in later posts.