Tuesday, 1 December 2020

The Society of Wood Engravers: A Founder’s book


This year, The Society of Wood Engravers celebrates one hundred years since its foundation in 1920. Of the small group generally acknowledged as founder members there is one woman, Gwendolen Raverat (née Darwin), granddaughter of Charles Darwin. This is her book.

Part of a mixed lot in a sale around 2011, the book entered a fine Darwin collection in Toronto, Canada. As might reasonably be expected, unlikely to be seen again. However, much later as chance would have it, an internet search found the book returned to market and offered by a relative of the collector, who it transpired, was tasked to sell the less valuable items, including Bewick’s Fables. Terms agreed, and to save the bother and cost of postage (the collector was CEO of a brokerage house), the book was brought to London in his care. In true story book style, it was handed over on the floor of a London saleroom, minutes before we watched his Darwin books and manuscripts go under the hammer. The 1st edition copy of On the Origins of Species 1859, alone fetching £162,500 (including premium).

Complete with an optional printed receipt signed by Thomas Bewick, The Fables of Aesop 1st edition 1818 is, with its association, an interesting copy. The untraced first owner, R [Robert] Charnley, is almost certainly related to the Newcastle bookseller Emerson Charnley; who subscribed for 82 Imperial paper copies such as this in 1815. In contrast to most first edition copies, within which the engravings were judged to be poorly printed, not least by Bewick, in this copy they are unusually sharp and clear. At the top of the receipt leaf, scrawled in faint but legible pencil, is the unsurprising bookseller notation: ‘This I consider the most perfect copy EC [Emerson Charnley].

Next in order of provenance is the Rev. Thomas Paley. His daughter Mary came to prominence as one of the first women to take the Cambridge Tripos examination in 1874, achieving top marks, but as the rules stood, not permitted to receive a degree on account of her gender. After sitting the examination in Professor Kennedy’s Cambridge drawing room, the only evidence of her pass with honours was a confidential letter from her examiners. Of the four men who delivered Paley’s papers, one was her future husband, Alfred Marshall. At 25, Paley in 1875, became the first woman lecturer at Cambridge. During the first years of their marriage Alfred Marshall was fully supportive of higher education for women. In later years however, he turned against the idea; supporting the university’s discrimination against women. Later still, as entrenched minds were beginning to change, he obstructed Cambridge’s move towards giving women degrees; despite the views of friends, colleagues and Mary Paley Marshall’s unacknowledged contribution to his books and papers.

Inscribed by Gwendolen, who married Jacques Raverat in June 1911, the book is almost certainly a wedding gift, perhaps given on 31st May 1911 at Newnham Grange, Cambridge; where a vast party of some 350, which surely included the cream of the Bloomsbury set, were there to celebrate the wedding that took place a week later. At the party Ralph Vaughan Williams, a Darwin cousin, gave a William de Morgan vase.

Had she lived, I wonder what Mary Marshall would have thought of Gwen’s never out of print book: Period Piece, A Cambridge Childhood, 1952. A wry smile at this passage perhaps:

'It was here, at No. 31, that I discovered Bewick, […] and wishing passionately that I could have been Mrs. Bewick […] it did not seem impossibly outrageous to think of myself as Mrs. Bewick. […] Surely, I thought, if I cooked his roast beef beautifully and mended his clothes and minded the children – surely he would, just sometimes let me draw and engrave a little tailpiece for him.'

Graham Carlisle

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Cherryburn by J.W. Carmichael

Cherryburn Cottage by J W Carmichael

James John Wilson Carmichael (1799-1868) prolific landscape painter, is today mostly admired for his large dramatic seascapes. Born in Newcastle, married at Ryton not far from Cherryburn, examples of his pictures in oil and watercolour are held in major institutions here and abroad. The Laing Art Gallery and Trinity House have fine early examples.
Emulating his father, a shipwright, Carmichael was fortunate to secure an apprenticeship with Farrington Brothers as a carpenter; during the period they established a boat and shipbuilding business, sometime between 1810 and1820. Recognising his abilities, the Farringtons, who by one account are said to have given Carmichael his first box of water-colour paints, occasionally gave him the opportunity to assist in the drawing office.
In this enlightened atmosphere, Carmichael was exposed to a wide range of wood working skills: The firm's label, c. 1810, headed by a grand engraving of putti carving classical busts, reads: ‘FARRINGTONS, SHIP & HOUSE CARVERS, CABINET MAKERS, JOINERS, Looking Glass & Picture Frame Manufacturers & Gilders in General.’
Carmichael’s sweet little picture of Cherryburn dated 1838, although with larger trees and with additional detail, is much like John Bewick’s engraving dated 1781, found as a frontispiece to Thomas Bewick’s Memoir, 1862. 
The drawing, which measures 16cm x 23cm, is now conserved on acid free board; it still retains the original title, perhaps by the artist, inset below. A charming homage to TB ten years after his death, perhaps just a snapshot from times past.
In 1827 Carmichael, twice an exhibitor, and with a growing reputation – he had been painting in oils for about five years by then – joined Thomas and Robert Bewick on the committee of the Northumberland Institution for the Promotion of the Fine Arts. By the following year this grandiose Institution was wound up; and Thomas Bewick had died.
The original solid wood frame, (who knows, perhaps made by Carmichael), with gilded slip measures 27.5cm x 34cm. It has to its edge an intriguing, partially polished away, and only guessable contemporary ink inscription:‘Frame made of Thorne from old ….. ick’ [?] 
'near the House [Cherryburn] were two large Ash trees, from one Root but the top of one of them was blown away in high Wind, & another one, of the same kind, at a little distance from them – at the south end of the Premisses, was the spring Well, overhung by a large Hawthorne bush'
(A Memoir of Thomas Bewick, Written by Himself. 1862. Iain Bain edn. 1975)
Graham Carlisle

Friday, 20 November 2020

An Ex-library copy of Fables by the Late Mr. Gay


In the normal course of events the Bewick Society would have held an Enthusiasms event at this time of year. This year's meetings have all been cancelled as we continue to fight the pandemic. Enthusiasms events allow us to share recent finds, often highlighting out of the ordinary publications, artworks or manuscripts. 

Here Graham Carlisle shares a rare item from an unlikely source.


Fables | by the Late | Mr. Gay. | […] EDINBURGH: PRINTED FOR W. COKE, LEITH. | 1792.

Ex-Libris, nice to consider; thoughts of a fine armorial bookplate, and a good family association perhaps. But Ex-Library? That is a less than enticing addition to any book description. Short of funds, even to maintain existing stocks, public libraries in recent years have made large scale disposals. 

The Times, February 28, 2009 reported:
“Rush for Free Books. Thousands of second-hand books were given away free at a warehouse in Bristol. […] Visitors brought crates and even prams to collect the books. The
warehouse will remain open this week.”

Best known for his prize winning ‘Hound and Huntsman’ engraving printed within the book, Thomas Bewick’s edition of Fables by the Late Mr. Gay, sourced from the
Bristol warehouse, had an interesting life. 

Central Library, Brixton; Westminster Public Library and Kent County Library are among the stamps gracing this buckram
bound volume.

Tattersfield: TB 2.163, vol. 3 p.46, note 4. ‘nearly the whole [of the remaining sheets] … was sold to an Edinburgh bookseller, who printed a new title page and inserted his own name as the printer of the work’. 

Coke’s edn is elusive and the only 2 copies examined (coll. Iain Bain, coll. The writer) each bear Glasgow Grammar School prize labels (1801, 1802), suggesting the sheets were
purchased by Coke for the purpose of supplying scholastic premia

Graham Carlisle

Thursday, 12 November 2020

'My Dear Mother's ' Book of Common Prayer

In the normal course of events the Bewick Society would have held an Enthusiasms event at this time of year. This year's meetings have all been cancelled as we continue to fight the pandemic. Enthusiasms events allow us to share recent finds, often highlighting out of the ordinary publications, artworks or manuscripts. 

Here Nigel Tattersfield shares a rare item complete with a poem and an interesting inscription.


The Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church of England. Also, the Companion to the Altar. With Notes and Annotations. Newcastle: Printed by M. Brown, at the Bible, Flesh-Market. M.DCC.XCII. 8vo, no pagination provided, as is customary. Page size 203 x 127mm. Contemporary full diced calf, replacement spine to match (c.1850) with raised bands and contrasting label, covers with broad gilt and blind-stamped borders.

TB’s family copy with his signature. ‘Thoˢ. Bewick, Forth’. 

TB’s beloved ‘cot at the Forth’ lay just outside Newcastle’s town wall; he had moved there in 1781, taking over the tenancy from the mathematician Charles Hutton, whose Treatise on Mensuration he had illustrated ten years earlier. Below TB’s signature of ownership is a later inscription in the hand of his daughter Jane, ‘My Dear Mother’s’, to the head of the title-page. Pasted to one of the front flyleaves is a contemporary MS ‘true copy’, signed by the vicar Joseph Middleton, 13 September 1759, of an extract from the register of the parish of Long Horsley recording the baptism of Robert, son of Edward Elliot of Lincolmfield, 17 October 1706. (Robert was later a farmer at Bill Quay on the Tyne near Heworth; he was TB’s wife Isabella’s father and the source for the naming of their only son, Robert Elliot Bewick. The family of Robert Ward, printer and publisher of Newcastle from 1845, could also claim descent from the Elliots.)
This prayer book, a staple in every respectable home at the end of the eighteenth century, with three copper engravings by TB’s erstwhile apprentice Abraham Hunter, was probably purchased on publication in 1792; a second edition appeared two years later.

This volume is not noticed by David Gardner-Medwin in his meticulously researched ‘Provisional Checklist of the Library of Thomas Bewick’ of 2010 (available on the Bewick Society’s website) suggesting it remained in TB’s immediate family after his death and with the Bewick Ward family thereafter (although it cannot be traced in any of the recent auction sales enacted on their behalf). The sole sighting of the volume in the last two centuries came in 1903 when it was exhibited as entry 159 at the Academy of Arts, Newcastle, as part of the 150th anniversary of TB’s birth and described as being in the possession of the Ward family.


Laid down on the front endpaper is an original MS poem by Richard Routledge Wingate (1779-1857), ‘Lines on the highly gifted Mr. Thomas Bewick, celebrated Inventor, Draughtsman and Cutter on Wood’. Dated 10 December 1851, it concludes with a brief obituary of TB and the recollection, ‘I had the solemn office to assist at his funeral’. Wingate  was a renowned bird anatomist and taxidermist, a close friend and neighbour of TB’s at the Forth, and acknowledged in TB’s Memoir for greatly assisting in the preparation of the 1826 edition of the Birds by advising on the difference between ‘doubtful Genera, species & varieties of Birds’. Wingate’s poem may have been presented to TB’s daughters in homage to their father and tucked by them into the volume for safe keeping; he was only eight years older than Jane, TB’s oldest daughter, and would have known them since they were infants.

Nigel Tattersfield

Thursday, 14 May 2020

A Matter of Convenience

Graham Carlisle's puzzle

Two friends, and apprentices of the master were almost certainly tempted to an act of sacrilege by this image (I like to think). Who were they and why?

1. A particular northern view; of Newcastle high church
2. Within weeks of this TINY, but defiant act of sacrilege - which has gone unnoticed for 200 years - the two good friends were parted. One died under tragic circumstances, the other: achieved fame and fortune in London.

3. Each by different means, left this undiscovered sacrilegious joke; against a more substantial northern wall...

Robert Johnson, who tragically died under horrible circumstances, was a great pal of Charlton Nesbit; each of whom were bound to their master at the Beilby and Bewick workshop.

Johnson, a precocious talent, made one of best ever watercolour drawings of the North View of St. Nicholas' Church, Newcastle. Now within the collection of the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, and not often on public view, it can be accessed online and is well worth a look.
But that's not all: The young Robert made two versions of this view, one of which is intended for those of a genteel disposition; the other, pleasingly full of social commentary. The second version has in the far distance, perhaps to the consternation of those shown lingering near the church wall, a tiny figure making a convenience of Newcastle's 'high church'.

The message is clear, and would not have been missed by Bewick who, around this time, to the displeasure of his daughters, cut on wood the Pigsty Netty and Peeing Pedlar.
TB is traditionally said to have drawn the two young boys hitching a lift on the carriage; maybe he did, and they are intended to represent Johnson and Nesbit?
Nesbit, within weeks of Johnson's death, and for the benefit of his family, engraved on wood the most extraordinary copy of Johnson's view, on twelve joined blocks full of exquisite detail; the print is now rarely to be found, the joke unrecognised.
The print version is available on the British Museum site here 

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Dealing in Deceit.

Dealing in Deceit. Edwin Pearson of the 'Bewick Repository' Bookshop 1838-1901.

A new book by Nigel Tattersfield.

The story of an unscrupulous book-dealer who conspired to foist specious publications, doctored woodblocks and “original drawings” onto collectors of the work of the superlative wood engraver Thomas Bewick. Pearson’s speciality was using genuine Bewick cuts to illustrate pastiche works, which he offered at high prices to Bewickiana enthusiasts. Tattersfield is the greatest living authority on the work of Thomas Bewick and this volume chronicles Pearson’s life and career, telling the story of the Bewick “rarities” along the way.

Limited Edition of 125 copies. Quarto, pp. 92. 20 monochrome plates, several multi-image, plus colour frontispiece; Bewick head-and tail-pieces. Olive green cloth with gilt titles to spine in grey and green pictorial dust-jacket.

Sole Distributor: Keel Row Books. Copies available now. 

A Question of Squirrels

The Little Ground Squirrel of 1790

Gill Hollinshead writes:
I have a large number of wood cuts taken from books (by someone else) and pasted into a scrapbook many many years ago. These include a quantity from Bewick’s Quadrupeds. I have an 1811 edition but have only been able to read 1790, 1791 and 1792 editions on line.
For the reasons I have set out below the cuts which are not complete appear to come from the 1790 edition.
a. There is ‘The Common Bull and Cow’ while later editions named them ‘The Holstein or Dutch Breed’
b. There is ‘The Bouti-Bok, or Pied Goat’ later named as ‘The Pied Goat’
c. There is ‘The Thick-Nosed Tapir’ later ‘Capibara’
d. There is ‘The New South-Wales Dog’ later ‘The New South-Wales Wolf’
e. What appears to be the early picture of ‘The Spotted Hyena’

It is possible to read what appears on the back and this in every case corresponds with the 1790 edition. However, I have an image of ‘The Ground Squirrel’ which is shown below.


 Yet, in the 1790 edition this is referred to on Page 336 as ‘The Little Ground Squirrel’ although in every other respect, including the text on the back, it is correct.

The 1791 edition refers to the same image but on Page 356 as ‘The Ground Squirrel’ but the text on back though similar does not correspond.

Please can someone clarify. Am I missing something? Does someone have a 1790 edition that is different? The idiosyncrasies of 18th century publishing are beyond me!

Many thanks for any help
Gill White

We have this reply:

Dear Gill,
The answer to your query can be explained by your bringing to light an unrecorded variant of the first edition 1790, of Thomas Bewick's A General History of Quadrupeds!
The images attached are from two first editions in my collection. From these, it can be seen the word 'little' has been dropped from the animal's title, as printing of the first edition progressed.

This seems not to have been noted in Sidney Roscoe's 'Thomas Bewick A Bibliography Raisonné', 1953.
Yours sincerely,
Graham Carlisle