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Eighteen Nineties & Decadent Movement

The Eighteen Nineties, or 1890s if preferred, is a fascinating era, for book & art collectors of course, but also for historians and those with an interest in societal changes. Nestled in the tale end of the Victorian period, the Eighteen Nineties on one hand saw a return to traditional practices of book production, embodied most splendidly perhaps by William Morris's Kelmscott Press, with the book being re-explored as an object of beauty; on the other hand, the 1890s saw a counter-culture emerge seemingly in spirit the (possibly inevitable) response to the overly worthy strictures & aspirations of Victorian society more generally.

This counter-culture is often defined by two Movements in the UK during the Eighteen Nineties: the Decadents, associated with excess and artifice; the Aesthetics, who sought to enshrine the beauty of all artist representation, over the socio-political for example. The period is perhaps most famously characterised by Oscar Wilde, whose arrest, arraignment and court cases in the Eighteen Nineties almost risked over-shadowing his remarkable literary output, and Aubrey Beardsley, an illustrator whose art evolved in tandem with the decade. The controversy surrounding the lifestyle of the former and the oft-challenging art of the latter led at its peak to outbursts of public anger, with for example the publisher's of Beardsley's Yellow Book having their building in London pelted with mud & stones.

Collecting Eighteen Nineties books

Many of the writers from this period are not so well known any more, but their first editions were often produced in small print runs or limited editions, and can still be highly sought after. The private press books from this epoch, i.e. Kelmscott, Vale, Eragny and (just about) Doves, can be extremely valuable, especially when in the smallest, special limitations (Kelmscott's Chaucer on vellum for example, a $1,000,000 book these days in theory). But there are often larger limitations more readily findable. 

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  1. First edition; 8vo; 2pp. facsimile of the ms. 'The Toys' by Coventry Patmore as frontispiece, title vignette, further decorations; publisher's near-black cloth with yapp fore-edges, gilt decoration to one corner, printed spine label (browned), a little bumped & rubbed, top edge gilt, partly uncut.

    £125
  2. First edition; 8vo; woodcut decoration to title-page, 20pp. advertisements, bookplates to front pastedown; publisher's black buckram stamped in gilt replicating the title-page design, very slight rubbing, partly uncut, very good.

    £85
  3. First edition; small 8vo; frontispiece portrait, 14pp. advertisements woodcut device at end; publisher's grey boards with printed spine label, some spotting, label browned, superficial wear to lower joint, slight edge wear.

    £85
  4. First edition, first issue, with Smithers' imprint uncancelled; 8vo; Beardsley's Puck on Pegasus title-page device, browning to free endpapers, bookplates to front pastedown; publisher's dark blue cloth, lettered in gilt to spine with 'Leonard Smithers 1898' to foot, a little rubbed at extremities, uncut.

    £150
  5. First edition, inscribed presentation copy from the compiler; 8vo; title vignette by Beardsley, minor spotting; publisher's yellow cloth-backed pictorial boards with further design by Beardsley, a little rubbed and scuffed.

    £200
  6. First edition; 8vo; mild browning to free endpapers, spare printed spine label tipped in at end; publisher's yellow cloth with printed spine label, spine slightly lightened, printed dust-jacket, slightly tanned at spine, but otherwise very good.

    £175
  7. First UK edition; 8vo; 16pp. advertisements, browning to endpapers, two additional title labels tipped-in at end; publisher's red cloth (browned) printed spine label, spine darkened, slight shelf-lean, otherwise very good.

    £150
  8. First edition; small 4to (c. 225 x 175 mm); title-page printed in black & red, 48 monotone plates mounted onto captioned heavy paper, 2 further printed illustrations, 2pp. advertisements; publisher's green cloth pictorially blocked in gilt, some dulling to gilt, a little light damp speckling toward fore-edge of upper board.

    £175
  9. First edition, one of 650 copies; 8vo; 15pp. advertisements dated May 1894, some marginal toning; publisher's brown buckram lettered in gilt to spine, partly uncut.

    £275
  10. First edition; 8vo (200 x 155 mm); frontispiece by Laurence Housman with tissue guard, decorative title printed in orange, 16pp. advertisements; publisher's bevelled buckram with gilt leaf motif reminiscent of Charles Shannon, a little sunned, partly uncut.

    £225
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The Bond Street Experience