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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; small 8vo; ink & pencil name to list of contributors, a little minor spotting to extremities, ink initials and name to front free endpaper; publisher's boards with pattern to upper cover, spine slightly browned, some rubbing and marking.

    £125
  2. First edition, number 27 of 75 copies on handmade paper, from an overall limitation of 1075; 8vo; title printed in red & black, woodcut decoration and device, slight darkening to page edges; publisher's half vellum and boards, light edge wear to boards, uncut.

    £125
  3. One of 310 copies, from an overall limitation of 366; 4to; frontispiece, photographic portrait, illustrations and plates; later green crushed morocco backed green cloth by Morrell, original wrappers bound in, spine slightly sunned, t.e.g., others uncut.

    £250
  4. Number 22 of 100 copies signed by the author; narrow 8vo (c. 200 x 110 mm); printed on Japanese vellum, partly unopened, portrait frontispiece, plates, 6pp. advertisements, bookplate to front pastedown; publisher's vellum, gilt to upper cover, top edge gilt, others uncut, slight splaying but overall very good.

    £350
  5. First edition, one of 250 copies on paper; small 8vo (175 x 105 mm.); some foxing; publisher's cream cloth lettered in gilt, partly uncut, a little minor marking & bumping, but overall very good.

    £850
  6. First edition, first impression, inscribed by Betjeman to Mary Wilson; 8vo; illustrated; publisher's cream wrappers printed in blue, lower wrapper a little marked but an excellent copy.

    £325
  7. First edition, first impression, inscribed by Irvine to Mary Wilson. 8vo. Publisher's textured white wrappers printed on blue paper. An excellent copy.

    £125
  8. First edition, trade issue; 4to (280 x 280 mm.); 12 transfer lithographs by Nicholson, usual offsetting onto text leaves; publisher's cloth-backed pictorial boards, usual darkening, some marking to lower cover, but overall a very good, sharp copy.

    £1,350
  9. First collected edition; 14 volumes, 8vo; one of 80 sets printed on Japanese papier velin; publisher's cream vellum, gilt decorative devices to front panels by Charles Ricketts, yapp edges, top edges gilt, 13 volumes have the imprint of Methuen & Co., and one, The Picture of Dorian Gray, has the imprint of Charles Carrington, Paris (as called for), usual mild wrinkling to most paste-downs, covers mildly toned, some volumes with minor glue reaction (both points usual with vellum bindings), otherwise exceptionally fine internally and externally. Height: 21 cm Overall width of set: 50 cm

    [Together with], For Love of the King: A Burmese Masque. Methuen issued this work in 1922, intending it to be a supplementary volume to the above set but never issued in vellum; printed on hand-made paper and limited to 1000 copies only; publisher's cream cloth, browning to spine and edges, dust-jacket with some expert archival repairs to the interior of the folds, Ex-libris Frederick Spiegelberg (name plate on front paste-down) as well as Gertrude & Edward A. Strauss (bookplate on front paste-down), previous bookseller's label on rear paste-down, a very good copy.

    £10,000
  10. One of 600 copies; 8vo; title printed in red & black, 5 etched plates by Charles Ricketts, 1 engraved bookplate design by William Bell Scott, tissue guards; publisher's gilt-patterned green cloth, a little rubbed and bumped at corners and spine ends, but overall an attractive, clean copy.

    £120
 

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