9 September 2016: The Nonesuch Press
'Don't judge a book by its cover' is an English idiom of which most are familiar. Its earliest reference in literature is in George Eliot's The Mill on The Floss. Here at Rooke Books we have just added some books to our website which are easily judged by their beauty; both in design and content.
The Nonesuch Press was founded in London in 1922 by Francis Meynell, his second wife Vera Mendel and their friend Davit Garnett. The press began in the basement of Garnett's co-owned bookshop Birrell & Garnett. Their aims and aspirations were simple: for their publications to be aligned with the same aesthetic standards as the private press movement. They wanted their publications to convey a love for the book, from its design to every last detail, including the cover, paper, type and in some cases even a chemise and/or slipcase.
Nonesuch were unusual in their work as they designed their publications by hand, using a small Albion press, but had their work printed by commercial printers. This method meant that books with the quality of a fine, hand press were produced but readily available to a wider audience at a fraction of the cost. Nonesuch wanted to emphasize that beautifully designed books could be produced on a larger scale, unlike the previously set example established by private press, notably William Morris' Kelmscott Press.
The Nonesuch Press thrived and produced more than 140 books, the vast majority of which were limited edition. Here at Rooke Books we have recently added dozens to our website. The attention to detail of these works is exquisite. There is a single page, usually to the rear of each book, explaining who designed the cover, the artwork, the type used, the paper used, and which printer(s) created the final product. Some of the titles we have include first editions, such as Romer Wilson's Latterday Symphony and George Moore's A Communication to my Friends and his Ulick and Soracha which is signed by the man himself. Two of the Nonesuch editions we have, the first edition of Havelock Ellis' Chapman and Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella, are held in an exquisite chemise in addition to their slipcases. The designs and attention to detail from the Nonesuch Press are works of art to be marvelled at, making each work just that little bit more special to read. When it comes to the Nonesuch press, maybe you can judge a book by its cover - as part of a consequential judgement and admiration for its overall design.