Hansel and Gretel – Simon Armitage

This was not the book I expected to be writing about at the beginning of June as the publication date is not until the 24th of this month, but on the 31st May a wonderful package arrived and I couldn’t help abandoning what I had been reading and starting on this beautiful volume straight away.

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Simon Armitage has just been made the Poet Laureate for the next ten years and this is therefore his first newly published work since that honour. The poem originally appeared as a ‘libretto’ to a puppet production designed and directed by Clive Hicks-Jenkins which toured England between July and November 2018 but this is its first book publication.

You can see the entire production with the darkly appropriate music by Matthew Kaner, performed by the Goldfield Ensemble here

Clive Hicks-Jenkins has produced a wonderful series of illustrations for this book published by Design For Today. These are clearly based on the theatre production without being limited by his original work.

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The subtitle of the poem is ‘A Nightmare in Eight Scenes’ as the Hansel and Gretel story has been re-interpreted as a modern tale of refugees from a war zone. Without giving too much away the family are starving as the bombs rain amongst them at the start of the book and the parents decide to at least get the children away from there to somewhere where they stand more chance of survival. Hansel and Gretel though mishear their parents planning and think they are simply to be abandoned. This is not the only time that mishearing becomes a plot device in the poem.

As in the original Brothers Grimm tale there is a ‘witch’ and a gingerbread cottage, a trail of stones, a trail of breadcrumbs and abandonment to avoid famine followed by a return only this time without the treasure that would lead to a happy ending. In the modern world of war meted out against helpless civilians there is rarely a happy ending…

The illustrations fit the text so well and the design of the book is beautifully done. I particularly like the colour coding of the words so that you know who is speaking, each character has their own colour as specified in the cast list at the start.

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Oddly I’d never read any Simon Armitage before this but I will definitely be seeking out more of his work. According to his website there are a lot of books to check out

The total production run of this book is two thousand copies, of which one hundred form a further limited edition signed by Simon Armitage and Clive Hicks-Jenkins and which include two extra art prints. Mine is copy number twenty two.

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It’s been a year

I have kept this weekly blog now for just over a year and I thought I would take the opportunity to look back at the entries and see if it can give me some ideas as to which books to talk about next. To my surprise the top five liked entries as I write this are all related to Scotland

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William McGonagall wrote excruciatingly bad verse about Scotland and the people there and was a proud resident of Dundee, eventually Dundee has become proud of him as well. Iain Banks was another Scotsman through and through and the book I reviewed was his homage to the land of his birth. Shaun Bythell’s book was one of the first things I wrote about so his diary of keeping a Scottish bookshop going has had a whole year to accumulate its tally of likes whilst I only wrote about Elizabeth Cummings book about Scottish artist Sir Robin Philipson a couple of weeks ago and it has already made it to number five. You may have noticed I skipped Robert Service, he was also Scottish although found fame as a poet in Canada however I left him to last as he highlights another trend in popular posts here and that is poetry.

This is even more obvious when I look at the next five entries…

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The Frogs is a classical Greek play in verse, Persian Poets is clearly about poetry and Under Milk Wood is a poetic masterpiece by Dylan Thomas, this makes half of the top ten liked entries are about poetry although there is nowhere near that percentage represented in the total number of essays I have produced so far.

The remaining two are interesting. The Royal Tour is a beautifully illustrated diary of a cruise around a lot of the then British Empire and Uncle Jim is a bit of a sleeper as it deals with the early output of fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett but without mentioning him in the title so you had to read the article to find out.

There are other statistics available that don’t display on the front page so aren’t visible to readers of the blog and from those I can see that Deep in the Forest – Estonian Folk Tales is looked at more often than any other entry and it is viewed from all over the world, as opposed to my other Estonian review of the Apothacary Melchior books which also gets quite a few readers but 90% of these are in Estonia or Finland. Only one entry has not been read by anybody according to the statistics available and that is The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Sorry Will although I have all your plays several times I don’t think you are going to be featured here again.

So what does all this tell me? Well poetry is definitely popular here and that’s good as I also like poetry and have quite a few more poets to write about, one of which will probably be in the next four weeks. Bearing in mind the Scottish bias as well I suppose I had better get the volume of Robert Burns I have from 1946 out and reread that soon.

The Frogs by Aristophanes was a surprise hit, to me at least, so we will see how next weeks entry, which is also classical Greek, goes down. I have a lot of ‘the Classics’ and am also planning a review of a book dealing with the subject of what makes a classic in the next month or so. Art and Design has also been popular and again this is something I have a lot about in my library so expect more of those subjects in the coming year.

But is there anything you would like me to write about? Not specific books, as according to the rules I set myself I have to own the title to write about it so you would have to be really lucky to hit one of the 6,500 titles on my shelves, but general subjects. I haven’t done much on Travel and Exploration but what has been done has been generally well received, should I do more? Any suggestions would be good either as a comment below or as a message through the site.

Robin Philipson – Elizabeth Cumming

This is the first of my ‘what I got for Christmas’ posts and this book was a wonderful surprise from some very good friends. I first saw Robin’s art at their home and loved it straight away so that I have bought several pieces over the ensuing years, some of which I am using to illustrate this essay rather than images from the book itself.

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Sir Robin Philipson RA RSA FRSE RSW to give him his proper title was a major name in Scottish art through the second half of the 20th century; not only as a creator of beautiful works but as a teacher for many decades at the Edinburgh College of Art. There have been a couple of biographies before, along with pamphlets to accompany exhibitions, but this is easily the most comprehensive biography so far. Cummings has spoken to lots of members of Robin’s family including his widow Diana and also his nephew who gave me this lovely book.

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As this was a Christmas present it is appropriate to start with a couple of Robin’s Christmas cards on my walls. What can be immediately seen is his bold use of colour, as Dr Cumming says in her book.

…colour was always a principle tool in Robin’s art, and it evolved throughout his career; he was one of Scotland’s major colourists. It was this as much as technical experiment which drove all his work; whether easel painting, printmaking or his involvement in textile enterprises…

Robin produced a Christmas card every year from the late 1960’s, not only painting the original but also printing the cards, en masse they look fantastic, I only have three but hope to add others to my collection as time goes on.

The book’s cover picture is entitled Brenda Spring Portrait, she was his first wife, they married in 1949 a couple of years after he took up his first role as lecturer at the Edinburgh College, and he painted her several times. The Summer and Winter portraits are also included in the book along with a very interesting study for the Spring portrait. One of the joys of this volume is the inclusion of studies for works along with pictures of Robin in his studio which gives an opportunity to see how he went about some of his pieces.

The book is split into several sections, part one looks at his early life and how he came to be in Scotland in the first place; he was born in Cumbria in 1916. Part two is the longest and takes us from starting teaching and his marriage to Brenda, to his discovery of the joys of print making and the introduction of three of his main themes, cock fighting, kings and cathedrals.

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My largest piece and one that hangs above my desk can be seen above, limited to 50 and signed by Robin it is also my favourite in it’s bold use of colour and dynamism of the subject.

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The book is copiously illustrated and includes a significant number of works that are held in private collections so not generally seen, it also gives me a chance to roughly date the art I have collected as style and themes develop through the book as we move through Robin’s career.

He designed the posters and programme covers for the Edinburgh Festival in both 1958 and 1959, the book includes examples of both programmes and in my collection I have an original (and highly fragile) poster for 1959 which is a really good example of his style at the end of the 1950’s.

Part three takes us from the early death of Brenda from a brain tumour in 1960 which led to a period where very few works were produced and those that did appear are dark and angry in tone to meeting Thora Clyne who was to become his second wife in 1962. This seems to have led to a blossoming of Robin’s art and he also took up the appointment of head of Drawing and Painting in the early 1960’s so became very busy.

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I have a couple of versions of Peasant, which dates from 1958 and are different sizes, only one of which is signed, I really like this happy character and he also hangs above my desk where I am writing this.

He did manage to fit in a trip to Colorado in the summer of 1963 as a visiting Professor of Art in Colorado. During this time he became influenced by native paintings and also Mexican churches, there is a truly beautiful painting of a yellow altar towards the end of that section.

The fourth section of the books sees another theme emerging in Robin’s art as we complete the 1960’s and that is depictions of crucifixion. This is a logical extension of his works depicting church interiors , specifically rose windows, and the altars he had started painting in the early part of the decade. Again Cummings takes us through the change in his art against the changes happening in his life and explains how they fit together.

The fifth part covers most of the 1970’s, from his surgery for colonic cancer whilst on a trip to France to study tapestries through his divorce from Thora and marriage to Diana. This was a period not only of great creativity and more new themes to his work such as ‘human kind’ which depict inter-racial couples in various settings to his numerous paintings of ‘women of pleasure’; but also of much greater recognition in the world outside of the Scottish Art scene. He became president of the Royal Scottish Academy, a post he held for a decade and from that a fellow of the Royal Academy in London. In 1976 he was knighted for services to art and all whilst heading up the Drawing and Painting department at the Edinburgh College of Art. He would continue to have bouts of illness throughout this period but his workload and artistic output hardly seemed to let up.

The final section deals with the last fourteen years of Robin’s life up to his death in 1992, this was still a highly busy and productive time with yet another theme to his art appearing, the wonderfully delicate poppy still life paintings.

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I have a couple of these prints, both signed, as my representations of this period and there are three originals reproduced in the book with various backgrounds which demonstrate his total mastery of colour. Sadly the cancer first detected in the 1970’s was to claim him just when it looked like he was reaching another peak in his creativity. I have more pictures by him than I have used in this short review and am always looking for more to add to my small collection especially now I have seen some of the works in this beautifully illustrated book.

All in all this is a major retrospective of the life and work of a man who became very important figure in Scottish art for several decades and hopefully it will help raise his profile again twenty five years after his death. The main body of the book (excluding chronology, notes and index) is 138 pages long, sixty nine of which are made up of full page (and indeed double page) illustrations and a large proportion of the text pages also have a picture or two on them, this really is a magnificent review of Robin’s works and for the most part is extremely readable. My one criticism is the impression you get that Cummings wants to prove she has done her research which leads to whole paragraphs which seem to consist of nothing but lists of names and dates which you hit like boulders in the stream of an otherwise flowing tale. Having said that I very much enjoyed the book and will finish this overview with my only Philipson original, a small pastel still life.

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The Moomins and the Great Flood – Tove Jannson

Most people who know Tove Jansson’s wonderful Moomin books have come across the eight books starting with Comet in Moominland (1946) and ending with Moominvalley in November (1970), a smaller number of people will have seen the five picture books for younger readers (1952 – 1993) only four of which have been translated into English and which will probably be featured in a blog on here sometime next year. Fewer still will have seen the long running cartoon strip which I covered in a previous blog. And then there is the subject of today’s post.

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The Moomins and the Great Flood has a very odd history it began life in 1939 at the start of WWII when twenty five year old Swedish speaking, Finnish born artist Tove Jansson, faced with a lack of inspiration for her work decided to try writing something. As she herself said in 1991

It was the winter of war, in 1939. One’s work stood still; it felt completely pointless to try to create pictures.

Perhaps it was understandable that I suddenly felt an urge to write down something that was to begin with “Once Upon a Time.”

Inspiration didn’t really strike with the written word either and the part written story was put away to be largely forgotten until she showed it to a friend in 1945 who encouraged Tove to finish it as a children’s book and do some illustrations to see if it would sell. The original title in Swedish is Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen or Small trolls and the Great Flood and although the following eight books became hugely popular all over the world from the 1950’s and have spawned a massive merchandising industry this first appearance was rather neglected. The book was out of print for a long time and did not get translated until 2005 when a limited edition copy was produced in English for the 60th anniversary of it’s first publication. This translation however was printed in Finland and was not widely available outside that country, the edition I have is printed by Sort Of Books in 2012 and is the first copy that is easy to obtain.

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So why was this book missed out when the others took off, well the first thing you notice is that it doesn’t seem to be very consistent with the others, this is clearly Tove finding her way with the characters. Here the Moomins are absolutely tiny as can be seen in the picture above where Moominmamma and Moomintroll encounter Sniff for the first time, although he is never named in this book being referred to as ‘the little creature’ throughout. The flower that Moominmamma is holding is far bigger than she is, now it has to be said that nowhere in any of the other books is a size given for Moomins but I was really surprised to see this picture as in the later illustrations Moomins and the other characters are normally interacting with things that are to the same scale as themselves so I had never thought about how tall they are before. A later picture in this book shows Moomintroll riding on a stork looking for survivors of the flood

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and this also shows him as very small. The other difference is the lack of recognisable characters, apart from Moominpappa who only makes an appearance at the end only Sniff, Moomintroll and Moominmamma and the Hattifatteners are ones we know, no Snork Maiden, Snufkin, Hemulen etc. all these wouldn’t appear until Comet in Moominland.

The back story given in this book that Moomins lived with House Trolls in peoples homes and would be behind the tall stoves that used to be so common in Scandinavia and they didn’t like central heating as there was no nice warm place to hide.

“Did the people know we were there?” asked Moomintroll

“Some did,” said his mother “They felt us mostly as a cold draught on the back of their necks sometimes – when they were alone”

As far as I can remember this is the only time an interaction with humans is mentioned in any of the books. Ultimately after numerous adventures they find Moominpappa although he has lost the house that he built as it was washed away in the floods only to find it again in a different place that became Moominvalley. The house is shaped like an old stove as a memory of the way Moomins used to live and the next book continues the story from this point.

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It’s a pity that although the book is now available in English as well as the original Swedish that there don’t appear to be other translations yet so the worldwide Moomin fans are still largely unaware of how the Moomins started, the full page pictures are beautiful and so unlike any of the books to come after this and deserve to be appreciated everywhere.

The Royal Tour – Harry Price

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The facsimile of the diary kept by Petty Officer Harry Price on board the H.M.S. Ophir during the Royal Tour of 1901 was printed in 1980 by Webb & Bower of Exeter. Harry had died back in 1965 and it was his son Jack Price who showed it to the publisher and which led to the facsimile printing.  Sadly it’s no longer in print but it is readily available on the secondary market for just three or four pounds, which considering how attractive the book is has to be one of the great book buying bargains.

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Harry was a talented artist and had attended Birmingham School of Art before joining the Royal Navy where he rapidly progressed to Petty Officer before joining H.M.S. Ophir just in time for the nine month long world voyage of Prince George and Princess Mary. George held both titles of Duke of Cornwall and Duke of York hence the slightly odd description given and he would later become King George V on the death of his father in 1910.

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The tour was started just two months after the death of Queen Victoria and was probably seen as an opportunity to introduce the younger Royals to the Empire after the end of her sixty three year reign. The diary is in Harry’s handwriting just as he originally wrote it as the voyage was progressing and provides a fascinating view of the trip and the various onshore excursions he managed.

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According to the list at the front of the diary, the route was as follows: Portsmouth, Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said,Suez Canal, Aden, Colombo, Singapore, Albany, Melbourne, Sydney, Hawksbury River, Sydney, Auckland, Wellington, Lyttleton, Hobart, Adelaide, Albany, Freemantle, Mauritius, Durban, Simonstown, St Vincent, Quebec, Halifax, St. Johns and then back to Portsmouth.

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I am including pages in sequence as the trip progresses so we have already reached New Zealand where he comments on the weather on the right hand page above. The style is quite chatty and it is clear throughout the book that he is intending this to be a souvenir that he can show to other people rather than a private diary. To this end he records his personal experiences but as though telling the reader about them.

The sketch below was taken up the river, some fifteen miles above Christchurch where as you can see the scenery was most bewitching, but a hard frost setting in as the sun went down made matters a little bit disagreeable, to us, who only a short time ago, were under a scorching tropical sun.

The date at this point was the 27th June so midwinter in New Zealand.

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Returning to Australia Harry produced the very attractive full page picture of the various arms of the Australian states inspired by examples displayed along the banks of the Adelaide River, this time he didn’t get ashore but they did have ‘a visitors day’ where local townspeople could tour the ship and this proved so popular that they were almost overwhelmed by the numbers.

It is quite enough; when I say that quite a number of ladies fainted, and the bluejackets and marines had their handsfull

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I remember this book coming out and the original volume by Harry Price being shown on various TV programmes, the reproduction is extremely good but it can’t have been a particularly sound financial proposition for the publisher as it must have been expensive to print and it soon slipped from the list of titles they had available even though it clearly sold well judging by the number of copies available on abebooks. I bought my copy a few years later second-hand for £4, I know I wanted one at the time but I suspect it was beyond my teenage finances.

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The crossing from Australia to Mauritius was surprisingly good for the Southern Indian Ocean but they hit bad weather crossing from there to South Africa as can be seen in Harry’s picture of their escort ship the St. George. It seems odd that South Africa was on the itinerary at all as the Boer War was in full progress with guerilla activity led by Louis Botha and Jan Christiaan Smuts in both the Eastern and Western Transvaal’s and Cape Colony respectively against the British occupation although by now the fighting really was going against the Boer forces. H.M.S. Ophir was protected by several British warships whilst in South African waters and the Royal couple had a significantly stronger armed guard with them whilst ashore whereas before the soldiers with them were largely ceremonial.

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Harry Price even included an image of one of the POW ships moored off the coast, in total they spent less than two weeks in South Africa and three days of that was moving from Durban to Simonstown which was then (as now for the South African Navy) the main naval dockyard. They then set off for Canada via the Caribbean.

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The strength of the Royal Navy at the time that the book was written can be judged by the fact that even leaving the small Caribbean island of St. Vincent there were four other naval ships available to escort the Ophir as it left the territory two of which are described as over 12,000 tonnes and in excess of 500 feet in length. There then followed a journey of ten days solid cruising up the eastern seaboard of the United States to Canada during which the American President William McKinley was assassinated and it is specifically mentioned that all the Royal Naval ships waiting for them in Quebec were also flying the American stars and stripes at half mast in respect.

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For the visit to Canada the Duke and Duchess disembarked and travelled for over a month via railway all over Canada. The Ophir waited for their return in Halifax, Nova Scotia and during that period was fully repainted and all needed repairs done. Discipline was clearly somewhat more relaxed than when the royal couple were aboard and this provided a break for the crew apart from their duties refurbishing the ship in dry dock.

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The final page I have included features a set of stamps issued in Canada to mark the royal visit and describes preparations to leave Canada and sail back for home. The book is a fascinating and beautiful historical document with almost every page decorated by Harry’s watercolours and one I like to pull off the shelves quite often, not just to read but sometimes just to enjoy the pictures.

King Penguins

Although the longest essay I have written here so far, this is just a brief introduction to a very attractive series of books produced by Penguin from 1939 to 1959. Covering a vast array of subjects with (for the most part) excellent illustrations in both black and white and colour they make up a mini reference library all on their own.

20180626 King Penguins 01Starting a new series of illustrated hard back books just as war had broken out was clearly just bad timing for Penguin Books, they had been planned for months and the first two were ready to go for November 1939. That the series not only survived the subsequent paper rationing but flourished for a further 74 volumes until 1959 was nothing short of a miracle. Almost all the books have the same format, a monograph on the specialist subject which may also include black and white line illustrations or photographs, followed by a series of colour plates. The monograph averages about 30 pages; although Ur by Sir Leonard Woolley has only 18 and at the extreme opposite A Book Of English Clocks by R.W. Symonds has 74 pages of text. Likewise the colour plates were intended to be on 16 pages, this also varies but by no means as much as the texts as this was easily the most expensive part of each production so costs were closely monitored.

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Kings were inspired by the German Insel Bucherei printed by Insel Verlag, these beautiful art books had started in 1912 and by the time Penguin launched their Kings there were roughly 500 Insels already available and their catalogue would eventually reach 1,400 different titles. Fortunately for my bookshelves Kings stop at number 76 although there are a few variations to collect as well but my complete set of the first editions is shown in the picture at the top of this essay. One of the most striking aspects of that picture is the wide variety of covers and the design of these was seen as one of the most important aspects of the series. After all they have to draw the potential purchaser in, especially as these were initially priced at one shilling or twice the price being charged for the normal Penguin paperbacks. Unfortunately this didn’t last very long as the price very quickly doubled as it became clear that they were more expensive to do right that initially anticipated and Alan Lane wanted them to be done as well as Penguin could manage. This meant that they really had to look striking so the original house style on the first five was quickly dropped.

Only seventeen Kings were ever reprinted or revised, so with almost all of them the first edition is the only example available and on average 20,000 were printed of each title, although A Book of Toys sold over 55,000 copies. This means that Kings are not normally particularly rare; but are scarce enough to make the hunt trying to collect them all interesting. Some such as Magic Books From Mexico were recognised as niche interests from the start so the print runs were commensurately smaller. In the case of this book however even these apparently didn’t sell and there is a rumour that a large number of them had their plates removed and put under glass in the type of coffee table very popular in the 1960’s and 70’s.

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K1 – British Birds on Lake, River and Stream by Phyllis Barclay-Smith – Nov 1939
K2 – A Book of Roses by John Ramsbottom – Nov 1939
K3 – A Book of Ships by Charles Mitchell – Sept 1941
K4 – Portraits of Christ by Ernst Kitzinger & Elizabeth Senior – Feb 1941
K5 – Caricature by E.H. Gombrich & E. Kris – Feb 1941

The first five Kings produced under the editorship of Elizabeth Senior are highly distinctive, although the actual printing quality is not as good as it might be given the intention to emulate the Insel books. However as you can see from the dates of first publication this was not a time for finesse, wartime restrictions soon caused problems with the series meaning that a large proportion of K3, K4 and K5 were bound in soft card covers cut flush to the internal pages as well as the overlapping boards normally used for Kings. The Book of Ships in the picture above is one of these soft back editions and as can be seen is consequently slightly smaller than the other four. K1 is the first of these volumes to use plates from John Gould‘s famous work The Birds of Great Britain, the other being K19 Garden Birds. A Book of Roses (K2) also makes use of a famous earlier work for the plates, in this case Redouté‘s Les Roses. The other three volumes use 16 colour plates from a mixture of sources and along with these there are several black and white images within the text. K1 and K2 only have the 16 colour plates along with a single black and white portrait of Gould and Redouté respectively.

Sadly Elizabeth Senior was killed in an air raid in 1941 and editorial control of the series passed to Nikolaus Pevsner

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K6 – British Shells by F. Martin Duncan – June 1943
K7 – Fashions and Fashion Plates 1800-1900 by James Laver – June 1943
K8 – Elizabethan Miniatures by Carl Winter – June 1943
K9 – The Microcosm of London by John Summerson – June 1943
K10 – The Bayeux Tapestry by Eric Maclagan – Dec 1943
K11 – Fishes of Britain’s Rivers and Lakes by J.R. Norman – Dec 1943
K12 – The Poets’ Corner by John Rothenstein – Dec 1943
K13 – Edible Fungi by John Ramsbottom – July 1944
K14 – A Book of Lilies by Fred Stoker – Dec 1943
K15 – Seashore Life and Pattern by T.A. Stephenson – July 1944
K16 – Children as Artists by R.R. Tomlinson – Dec 1944
K17 – The Leaves of Southwell by Nikolaus Pevsner – Dec 1945

After the fairly dull cover design of the first five with its fussy white banding round the spine it is a relief to see the variety produced in the next dozen. Half of them have that Insel Bucherei look with the title and author appearing on a reproduction of the paste down labels quite common on quality books from the previous 100 or so years. Unlike Insel books this is actually part of the printed design rather than an extra slip, but it does give a touch of class to the book. The first few are experimenting with alternate cover styles and Fishes of Britain’s Rivers and Lakes is a very attractive design by Charles Paine, I’m less impressed with the cover of Microcosm of London with it’s overly florid text done by Walter Grimmond. Having said that Microcosm is the first of the Ackermann editions in Kings. Rudolph Ackermann was a bookseller and printer in London in the early 1800’s and his books and prints sold well making him known for the quality of his images which captured not only cityscapes like this along with K59 Cambridge and K69 Oxford but also the images documenting the start of the railway age some of which are included in K56 Early British Railways and for further variation K46 Highland Dress, all plates of which were originally printed by Ackermann.

Other notable books in this block of twelve are K10 The Bayeux Tapestry with 8 pages of colour plates and 40 pages of black and white photographs which at the time were some of the best images available in print. K13 Edible Fungi is beautifully illustrated by Rose Ellenby who also did its pair K23 Poisonous Fungi. Like Elizabeth Senior, Nikolaus Pevsner got one of his own titles in this block with K17 The Leaves of Southwell which has 32 pages of lovely black and white photographs of the capitals and columns in the chapter house at the Minster of Southwell in Nottinghamshire.

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K18 – Some British Moths by Norman Riley – May 1945
K19 – Garden Birds by Phyllis Barclay-Smith – May 1945
K20 – English Ballet by Janet Leeper – Dec 1944
K21 – Popular English Art by Noel Carrington – Dec 1945
K22 – Heraldry in England by Anthony Wagner – Nov 1946
K23 – Poisonous Fungi by John Ramsbottom – Dec 1945
K24 – Birds of the Sea by R.M. Lockley – Dec 1945
K25 – Ur: The First Phases by Sir Leonard Woolley – May 1947
K26 – A Book of Toys by Gwen White – Dec 1946
K27 – Flowers of Marsh and Stream by Iola A. Williams – Nov 1946
K28 – A Book of English Clocks by R.W. Symonds – May 1947
K29 – Flowers of the Woods by Sir E.J. Salisbury – Apr 1947

Apart from the obviously wonderfully choice of getting somebody called Leeper to write a book about ballet this is a delightful mix of titles. K18 British Moths goes back to the first two Kings by using prints from an old classic book on the subject, in this case by Moses Harris from the mid 1700’s. K21 Popular English Art is an eclectic mix from  drawings of Windsor chairs to colour images of a jug, ship’s figurehead and even a pub interior all done by Clarke Hutton who like Noel Carrington who wrote the text is probably best known to Penguin collectors for their work on Puffin Picture books. Birds of the Sea is also illustrated by an artist in Puffin Picture Books, R.B. Talbot Kelly who created the PP52 Paper Birds which was a cut out book now rarely seen in one piece along with the beautiful PP65 Mountain and Moorland Birds.

One of my favourite King Penguins comes next, K26 A Book of Toys by Gwen White, it’s one of the oddities in the range as it deviates from the plan of a monograph and plates being illustrated all the way through much more like a small hardback Puffin Picture Book with the handwritten text drawn directly onto the plates and not typeset; and what is not to like about a cover with dozens of toy penguins. K27 is let down badly by the quality of the printing of the colour plates, K28 is frankly a mess with far too much jammed into the book which would have been better expanded as a Pelican Book and dropped from this series but K29 rescues this block with some lovely if rather flat coloured plates.

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K30 – Wood Engravings by Thomas Bewick by John Rayner – Apr 1947
K31 – English Book Illustration 1800-1900 by Philip James – Sept 1947
K32 – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Dec 1946
K33 – Russian Icons by David Talbot Rice – Oct 1947
K34 – The English Tradition in Design by John Gloag – Oct 1947
K35 – A Book of Spiders by W.S. Bristowe – Sept 1947
K36 – Ballooning by C.H. Gibbs-Smith – Nov 1948
K37 – Wild Flowers of the Chalk by John Gilmour – Dec 1947
K38 – Compliments of the Season by L.D. Ettlinger & R.G. Holloway – Dec 1947
K39 – Woodcuts of Albrecht Durer by T.D. Barlow – Sept 1948
K40 – Edward Gordon Craig by Janet Leeper – Oct 1948
K41 – British Butterflies by E.B. Ford – Oct 1951

The first two of this block make a great pair, they have a similar design with high quality illustrations right through the text as well as the plates at the back and K39 Woodcuts of Durer goes well with the both of them. That brings us to another King Penguin oddity. K32 A Christmas Carol is almost a facsimile of the original first edition of this Dickens classic, it doesn’t count as a true facsimile as the font used is Monotype Modern, it being the closest available to match the original. The very interesting Russian Icons by David Talbot Rice is another book let down by the poor quality of the printing of the plates, it also has a correction slip pasted over credit for the cover illustration. William Grimmond is credited on the page with Enid Marx pasted over the top. The English Tradition in Design has 72 pages of black and white photographs, the cover of this book does tend to fade badly, probably more than any other King Penguin whilst Wild Flowers of the Chalk, Compliments of the Season and British Butterflies all go back to the original internal plan with a monograph followed by 16 plates which was now becoming a rarity in the series, even if only the last one had a suitable cover design.

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K42 – British Military Uniforms by James Laver – Oct 1948
K43 – A Prospect of Wales by Gwyn Jones – Sept 1948
K44 – Tulipomania by Wilfrid Blunt – Oct 1950
K45 – Unknown Westminster Abbey by Lawrence E. Tanner – Nov 1948
K46 – Highland Dress by George F. Collie – Aug 1948
K47 – British Reptiles and Amphibia by Malcolm Smith – June 1949
K48 – A Book of Scripts by Alfred Fairbank – Nov 1949
K49 – Some British Beetles by Geoffrey Taylor – June 1949
K50 – Popular Art in the United States by Edwin O. Christensen – June 1949
K51 – Life in an English Village by Noel Carrington – June 1949
K52 – The Isle of Wight by Barbara Jones – July 1950
K53 – Flowers of the Meadow by Geoffrey Grigson – June 1950

By now Swiss designer Jan Tschichold was firmly in control of the Penguin house style, he had started with tidying up the look of the major series and setting firm rules not just on typography but also strict design specifications, his influence can now be seen in the Kings. His re-imposition of the original plan of monograph with 16 plates continued with these dozen, just two don’t fit this general structure although the number of plates did get up to 22 for some. The two that don’t fit are K45 Unknown Westminster Abbey along with K48 A Book of Scripts, K45 is very similar in structure to K17 The Leaves of Southwell which makes sense as these are covering much the same field just a different building. A Book of Scripts is another King oddity, concentrating as it does on fine handwriting and to do this it needs lots of illustrations, it also is the only King Penguin to be revised/reprinted four times. Beyond that record it was later greatly enlarged and printed in February 1969 as a large format Pelican (A973) which also went to several reprints.

Largely this gives an idea as to what Kings could have been if there had been more money, better quality printing and greater control on the design from the beginning. The problem was the price that they now had to be sold at. From 1940 to 1949 they had been either 2 or 2½ shillings, by 1952 the price had rocketed and they were just under 4½ shillings and two years later they had reached 5 shillings. They are truly lovely books though, watercolours by Kenneth Rowntree show Wales at its best with K43, Edward Bawden took on the English village (K51) in his distinctive style whilst Barbara Jones not only beautifully illustrated K52 The Isle of Wight but unusually also wrote the monograph. Tulipomania uses plates by Alexander Marshall from a collection from the 1650’s and now in the Royal collection in Windsor. These are some of the most vibrant flower paintings in the King series and makes this a highly desirable book in its own right. The other great joy of this dozen is K49 Some British Beetles illustrated by Vere Taylor.

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K54 – Greek Terracottas by T.B.L. Webster – Apr 1951
K55 – Romney Marsh by John Piper – May 1950
K56 – Early British Railways by Christian Barman – May 1950
K57 – A Book of Mosses by Paul W Richards – July 1950
K58 – A Book of Ducks by Phyllis Barclay-Smith – Apr 1951
K59 – Ackermann’s Cambridge by Reginald Ross Williamson – June 1951
K60 – The Crown Jewels by Oliver Warner – June 1951
K61 – John Speed’s Atlas of Tudor England and Wales by E.G.R. Taylor – June 1951
K62 – Medieval Carvings in Exeter Cathedral by C.J.P. Cave – May 1953
K63 – A Book of Greek Coins by Charles Seltman – Nov 1952
K64 – Magic Books from Mexico by C.A. Burland – Feb 1953
K65 – Semi-Precious Stones by N. Wooster – May 1953

Jan Tschichold only lasted a couple of years in his role at Penguin but in that time he completely revolutionised the house style. His replacement was the German Hans Schmoller, he took Tschichold’s templates and refined them further. In this batch we can see the continuation of the original Insel inspired cover designs with fake paste-down label on the majority. The cover of K61 John Speed’s Atlas is based on an old copy which is highly appropriate for this collection of county maps from 1627, the title reflects the usual name for this group of maps although they were not actually by the great Tudor English cartographer but rather his Dutch contemporary Pieter van den Keere. The cover of K63 A Book of Greek Coins is another Walter Grimmond design, he did fifteen in all and only two (K59 Ackermann’s Cambridge and K64 Magic Books from Mexico) come close to looking like the original plan. A further oddity of K63 is one of the coins on the cover, which are intending to show the development of the Britannia figure all the way from an original Greek version to the present day. Grimmond includes a penny with the date 1952 in the bottom left as that was the printing date of the book, however no pennies were actually minted that year as there were plenty already in circulation.

K55 Romney March written and illustrated by the artist John Piper is a very attractive volume, although his sketches illustrating the section on churches in the area are for me more compelling than the 16 colour plates at the back. Also sticking strictly to the 16 plates rule are K57, K58, K60, K64 and K65 with K58 A Book of Ducks and K65 Semi-Precious Stones being particularly fine. K62 Medieval Carvings in Exeter Cathedral continues the style set by the other three books in this sub series of medieval carvings (K17, K45 and K72) all of which have a large collection of black and white photographs, by in this case having 64 pages of them. One extra oddity that should be covered at this point is the soft back Mexican reprint of K64 by Ediciones LARA produced in 1966 to coincide with the Mexico Olympics, although not printed by Penguin it was fully authorised by them as stated  inside.

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K66 – Birds of La Plata by W.H. Hudson & R. Curle – Apr 1952
K67 – Mountain Birds by R.A.H. Coombes – Nov 1952
K68 – Animals in Staffordshire Pottery by Bernard Rackham – Sept 1953
K69 – Ackermann’s Oxford by H.M. Colvin – Mar 1954
K70 – The Diverting History of John Gilpin by William Cowper – Nov 1953
K71 – Egyptian Paintings by Nina M Davies – May 1954
K72 – Misericords by M.D. Anderson – Oct 1954
K73 – The Picture of Cricket by John Arlott – May 1955
K74 – Woodland Birds by Phyllis Barclay-Smith – Nov 1955
K75 – Monumental Brasses by James Mann – Nov 1957
K76 – The Sculpture of the Parthenon by P.E. Corbett – July 1959

The final batch of Kings took a long time to come out certainly compared to the rapid fire production of earlier years. K66 Birds of La Plata is the only bird book in the series not to feature British birds but rather those of South America following an interest Sir Allen Lane (the founder of Penguin) had developed during his time in that continent at the end of WWII whilst trying to launch Penguin Books there. K70 John Gilpin has also strong links to Lane as it is a heavily reduced in size version of a book he had privately printed as a limited edition Christmas gift the previous year. To emphasise the unusual nature of K66, K67 Mountain Birds is actually called British Mountain Birds inside.

Again 16 colour plates is the norm with only John Gilpin (as a reprint of an existing book), K72 Misericords with lots of photographs (as noted above to match others in the sub series) and the final two books K75 Monumental Brasses and K76 The Sculpture of the Parthenon not matching that pattern. K71 Egyptian Paintings is a little disappointing, the colours are very muted in the reproductions and don’t have the vibrancy of the original tomb paintings. All three bird books are lovely things and would with their compatriots through the Kings make a very attractive collection on their own with the advantage that with the exception of K66 La Plata they are all quite easy to find. K75 Monumental Brasses was a surprise when I first got a copy, I was expecting more black and white photographs but instead this book is illustrated with drawings that have been coloured a pale yellow and very nice they are too as they are certainly clearer that photographs might have been. This is particularly true of the final book in the set; K76 is a sad end to a great series, the photographs are poorly printed compared to previous works and the text is hardly a gripping read

The animation below showing some of the wonderful plates from various King Penguins was done for a talk on the Gentle Art of Penguin Collecting given by myself and Megan Prince at The 2018 Hay Independence celebrations. I hope this inspires a collector or two out there to take a look at the 76 King’s almost 60 years after the last one was printed, they are well worth dipping into.

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