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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. advertisements, bookplate to front pastedown, spotting to extremities of text-block; publisher's blue cloth lettered in gilt, t.e.g., others uncut, a very good copy.

    £150
  2. First edition, first issue; 8vo; frontispiece, plates and illustrations by Harry Furniss, 2pp. advertisements, patterned endpapers; publisher's dark teal bevelled cloth blocked in gilt & black, spine a little dulled, minor rubbing to corner-tips, top edge gilt.

    £65
  3. First edition; 8vo; frontispiece, facsimiles of letters; publisher's blue cloth lettered in gilt, pictorial dust-jacket, mild dust-soiling, old conservational repairs to reverse.

    £125
  4. First edition, [ý]second issue, number 207 of 250 copies; 2 vols, large 8vo; frontispieces, publisher's autograph limitation noted to verso of first half-title, some foxing to title and early leaves; publisher's royal blue cloth decorated in gilt, partly uncut, spines very slightly dulled, but overall fine copies.

    £250
  5. First UK edition; 8vo; ink note to verso & recto of half-title, some foxing to early leaves, front free endpaper creased; publisher's blue cloth, spine slightly sunned, slightly bowed.

    £125
  6. 5 vols (the complete first series); 8vo; plates, illustrations, pictorial endpapers, advertisements; publisher's boards.

    £325
  7. First volume only, number 85 of 100 copies on hand-made paper; 8vo; printed in red & black, plates, illustrations, pictorial endpaper; publisher's pale yellow buckram cloth blocked in gilt, t.e.g., others uncut, a very good copy.

    £250
  8. First edition, one of 78 large paper copies; 8vo; unopened; original stiff card wrappers with French-folded printed dust-jacket and additional, thinner paper jacket with title printed to upper panel (spotted and lightly marked, with some loss to head of lower panel).

    £275
  9. First edition, number 36 of 95 large paper copies; 8vo; unopened, mark to foot of one page, half-title with minor paper-flaw to fore-edge; original card wrappers with publisher's French folded printed dust-jacket, a little dust-soiled but overall very good.

    £195
  10. First edition, number 133 of 300 copies on Holland paper; 4to (195 x 185 mm); 30 lithographed tonal illustrations; contemporary morocco backed marbled boards ruled in gilt, with the original wrappers bound in, the upper with a further, plain woodcut illustration by Denis.

    £6,500
 

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