Leaves from Wither's Book of Emblemes

Finally digging into the project about George Wither's 1635 A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient & Moderne. Whole sections of libraries are filled with books about the history, tradition, iconography etc etc of Renaissance emblem books; the focus of HM's project will be Wither's book itself, the story of its production, with each copy containing one (possibly two) leaves from a broken copy that was presented to HM by a longtime patron who knows of my interest in printing history & leaf books.

There have been several facsimile editions of Wither's book, notably from the Scolar Press and the University of South Carolina, but the reproductions really don't do the book justice. The original's letterpress is a bit rough, but the engravings by Crispin van de Passe are stunning in execution & printing. The original leaves included in the HM project will give readers the opportunity to admire them first-hand, as well as scrutinize the 17th-century combination of letterpress and intaglio printing, the paper, the type and ornaments.

Part of the process for planning this publication entails deciding what parts of the book are worth reprinting. The original frontis, by William Marshall, is a likely candidate, if only to juxtapose the (historically well regarded) image with Wither's passive-aggressive full-page Preposition on this Frontispiece, in which he explains that he didn't actually like the image Marshall created, but included it anyway. Nice guy.

Other parts of Wither's preliminaries offer interesting insights to the book's conception and production, and those also are candidates for reprinting (not in facsimile; newly set). It might be fun to reproduce all of the initial letters used in the mottoes, together on a spread. And the various head- and tailpieces could be incorporated to any newly set text. As for original content, I plan on including a survey & discussion of what various academic and bibliophilic sources have written about Wither's book of emblems since its publication.

One of the unique elements of Wither's book is the inclusion, at the back, of a "lottery" - a parlour game people could play, spinning pointers on two volvelles included at the back of the book, the results sending them to a particular "lot," or emblem, in the collection. Most existing copies of Wither's book lack the volvelle page, or have it in facsimile - proof of its popularity with readers. The HM book will include our own facsimile of the volvelles (reproduced from a complete copy kindly made available to HM by the staff at the University of British Columbia's Special Collections & Rare Books Library), along with the two-line mottos that serve as titles for each of the 200 emblems, so people can at least play an abbreviated version of the game.

The page size will be slightly larger than that of the broken copy providing sample leaves, about 7 x 11 inches. Some of the leaves are in rough shape (like the pair above, which even include some old casting repairs), and may require washing and resizing before being attached to a tab & sewn into the HM book (they will not be tipped in, which is the laziest & least useful way to insert sample sheets to a book.) The edition size will be determined by how many leaves can be salvaged from the pile we have, but I expect it to be 50 copies, with a portion of these forming a deluxe issue containing additional leaves and a more elaborate binding. Ready for early 2015?