Tag Archives: covers

Illustrated Gold Leaf – the art of fore-edge painting. By Jim Leggett

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From time to time the HV Morton blog has featured articles of general literary interest, not necessarily directly connected with Morton himself. There follows one such piece from high-flying, motorbike riding, whiskey drinking, international photo journalist Jim Leggett, a long-standing member of the HV Morton Society formerly of Glasgow (a Scottish city to the west of Edinburgh), now resident in the US of A!

In all seriousness, we are privileged to have this contribution from such an experienced and accomplished journalist on a fascinating, little known subject.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England.

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I was in the remarkable old Tennessee town of Franklin covering the Southern Whiskey Society annual event. During my explorations I discovered this historic building, a survivor of the historic Battle of Franklin, one of the most decisive in Civil War history, more details of which are covered on an adjacent plaque:

Old Factory Store

In 1799 Franklin founder Abram Maury sold lot 20 to Joseph McBride. By 1825 Dyer Pearl, Thomas Parkes and Joseph L Campbell operated a steam powered cotton and grist mill on East Margin and owned lot 20 upon which was built a brick store in the Greek revival style, complete with 4 distinctive Doric columns supporting a Grecian pediment. Other antebellum owners included Anderson and Baldwin (1833), Plunkett & Parkes (1843). On December 12 1862 U.S. Brig. Gen. David Stanley ordered the machinery at the factory and the stones of the grist mill destroyed but he spared the factory store after taking four wagon loads of flour and a wagon full of whiskey.

Williamson County Historical Society 2005

I was delighted when bookseller Joel Tomlin introduced me to the magic of gold leaf hidden images, not the least of which are said to have been of erotic subject matter in some ancient volumes! You can find detailed history on the art, legend, and prolific usage of fore-edge painting on the internet, so I will not try to explain better than you will find there.

 

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One can imagine relaxing, secluded in this comfortable chair, a glass of Tennessee whiskey in hand, with unlimited time to pursue literary inspiration among the vast collection of mostly Southern history books Joel Tomlin has accumulated in this modern-day Old Curiosity Shop. I even pulled out three volumes entitled “Old and New Edinburgh”, 1863, by James Grant of which I possess numbers two and three, volume one having been presented to acquaintance Sean Connery, who has it at his Bahamian home!

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As in the steps of Morton, I always seek the untold story, this being the kind of discovery Morton himself would have elaborated on in great detail. Indeed, I plan to get it into my next yarn for American Whiskey Magazine.

I am sending other photographs of similar gold leaf images trusting Mortonites may be as enchanted by the discovery as I was!

Indeed something new every day!

Glasgow Jim

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“Ghosts of London”, by HV Morton, a review.

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Ghosts of London”, by HV Morton, First published by Methuen, London, 16th November 1939

This little known work of Morton’s comprises 30 chapters including the explanatory introduction and twelve gravure plates illustrating some of the subjects. Each chapter is an essay in its own right (although two sets of two chapters are conjoined by closely related subjects) describing the Ghosts of the title, namely the ancient customs and rituals of London which even at the time of writing were well on their way to becoming endangered species that Morton felt moved to preserve in print before they disappeared altogether.

According to the introduction, they were compiled in 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, having been written some time in the late twenties and thirties, presumably as Daily Express articles. The theme, according to the author is ‘the continuity of London’s existence’ and to ‘remind us of certain permanent values’ which even at that time Morton seems to have realised were changing and slipping away from the country, and from him.

img427 Yeomen with the Royal Maundy, Westminster Abbey GoL smallYeomen with the Royal Maundy, Westminster Abbey

This work is a testament to what London and by extension Britain stood to lose in the coming conflict, particularly (and remarkably prophetically) with the new threat of war in the air and the mass aerial bombardments which had already seen Madrid, Barcelona and Warsaw brought low. This book is a rallying cry not to arms but to the past, an invocation of the nation’s ‘spiritual reserves’ at a time of dire need.

After an introduction stark with contemporary intrusions as the capital prepares for war – gas masks and barrage balloons, empty streets and sandbagged buildings – the reader is plunged as it were into ‘deep-time’ in a series of chapters which invoke a reassuring sense of solidity, permanence and order. Even though the reason for their existence may be obscure or even, in some cases, non-existent, at least the Ghosts endure.

The reader gets the distinct impression of Morton in his element as he describes his various chosen topics. Chapter one opens with an account of ‘Charlie’s day’ where the restoration of Charles II after the fall of the English commonwealth is celebrated by schoolboys wielding oak apples and attacking one another with bunches of stinging nettles, something which would in all likelihood be an arrestable offence these days!

Later Ghosts are even older. The traditional horn-blowers of the temple, for example, keep alive a tradition dating back to the crusades while the curfew bell may date as far back as Alfred the Great. The shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostella, Maundy Money and the Lambeth dole where elderly ladies receive half a crown from an ex-quartermaster-sergeant by virtue of an act of generosity by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 13th century are all discussed in lively detail while en route Morton stops off to celebrate snuff and herbs, leeches and eye lotion and narrowly avoids an encounter with a red dragon.

Harking back to his account of the history of Mayfair which appeared in a detailed pamphlet in 1927 to celebrate the building of the Hotel of the same name, Morton casts a new light on Shepherd Market, the last surviving remnant of the original May Fair before it was hemmed in by houses and eventually banned.

The Tower of London features in several chapters and, in a modern twist on an ancient tradition, Morton gives an account of the Ceremony of the Keys from the point of view of the radio broadcasts which he himself gave to the nation every year for several years at the request of the broadcaster 2LO, later known as the more familiar British Broadcasting Corporation.

He shares a beer with the bell ringers of St Paul’s after hearing how Big Ben had to be recast following a disastrous trip down from York and lends a sympathetic ear to Hansom Cab drivers, night-watchmen and some of the few remaining lamplighters of London, who he refers to as ‘leeries’, from the Robert Louis Stevenson poem ‘The Lamplighter’.

img428 The Lamplighter GoL mod small ‘There’s not many of us stick lighters left… but here and there a few of us still muster for the evening

By the end of the account the reader is left with an insight, not only into some of the ancient history of London but also into HV Morton’s mindset too. In selecting his subject matter he has given us a tantalising glimpse into the mental world he inhabited and the things he valued, many of which were destined to be swept away not just by the aerial bombardment he predicted but afterwards too, by misguided urban planners and a changing political and social landscape.

Whether Morton liked it or not society was evolving, in many ways for the better, becoming more inclusive, more egalitarian, but also more centralised, and committee led. Old-fashioned respect came to count for little and the ‘ruling classes’ were obliged to find new roles for themselves in a weakened, post-war Britain as the nation itself adjusted to a new, more subordinate role in a post-imperial world.

It is sad to consider that less than ten years after publication of “Ghosts of London”, as the old ways gave way to the new, Morton, finding it impossible to reconcile his views with what was happening around him in his native country, had left it for good, finally settling with his family in South Africa.

Niall Taylor

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HV Morton and the American Tourist

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HV Morton was in the habit of using caricatures of certain groups of individuals as foils for his carefree narrator, enabling him to make a point in a lighthearted way, in keeping with the nature of his travelogues. The travelling salesman came in for a bit of stick on occasions, as did the ‘yokel’. But one of his favourites was the hapless American Tourist. Morton would paint him as naive and well-meaning, camera in hand, shutter clicking and uttering phrases such as ‘gee’ and ‘say, mister’. He would generally have daughters with names like Maisie, who would refer to him as ‘Dad!’ Well, that’s the male version certainly; of the female version, HVM was generally more complimentary. These unsuspecting individuals would provide ample opportunity for Morton’s traveller to expound fulsomely on a variety of topics as the reader pictures with amusement his assumed look of Old World superiority, the Tourist looking on, basking in his erudition.

However, in the years between the wars when Morton was writing about the British Isles, the world was growing steadily smaller. His books were such great successes in his mother-country, inevitably the lure of the even more lucrative American market began to exert its pull in a way that must have been difficult to resist. Morton was approached by North American publishers, with a view to expanding his readership (and his bank-balance) on the other side of the pond and the first US edition of “In Search of England” appeared as early as 1928 from publishers including the National Travel Club, and McBride, both of New York, and later Dodd, Mead and Co., also of New York.

But what to do about all those references to the American Tourist? All very amusing to a homespun readership certainly, but how would his irreverence be taken in the United States, already well on its way to supplanting the British Empire as the global superpower to be reckoned with? One can only imagine the mental gymnastics which must have gone on and the negotiations which must have been had prior to the publication of the first US edition.

We can get an insight into the thought process from the introduction Morton wrote to a 1935 revised US edition of “In Search of England”, published by Dodd, Mead and Co. and featured below for your interest. It seems at one point he considered expunging the offending references altogether but in the end decided that a bit of ‘context’ in the introduction might do the job instead. This introduction makes fascinating reading – never has back-pedalling been undertaken so elegantly. As you read it you will see that Morton has apparently always thought of the American Tourist as ‘loveable’ and ‘part of the English scene’ and he explains how he really misses them, now that the post-First World War travel boom was over.

And well might Maisie’s ‘Dad’ have responded, ‘Pull the other one, Limey!’

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The cover of my Dodd, Mead and Co. edition of “In Search of England

‘Introduction to the Revised Edition

‘WHEN Messrs. Dodd, Mead and Company asked me to revise for the United States this new edition of “In Search of England”, I was faced with the task of reading the book. I had no idea, when I wrote it some years ago, that the book would become a best-seller.

In fact, I never thought of such things. I just wanted to put down on paper the day-to-day impressions of a high-spirited journey over the roads and through the lanes of England. But, in the inexplicable way these things happen, “In Search of England”, with no assistance from the critics, began to sell all over the English-speaking world.

‘Reading it again at the request of Mr. Dodd, I am delighted to discover that it possesses two of the qualities by which I judge a book of travel: it deals sincerely with the unchanging and abiding things, and it is flavoured, but not too highly, by the time in which it was written.

‘This brings me to the only serious criticism I have received from readers in the United States. These criticisms are always the same. “Why,” I am asked, “do you draw such revolting Americans? All Americans are not vulgar. All Americans are not Babbitts. No Americans talk the kind of slang you put into their mouths.” And so forth.

‘I have received so many letters in this strain that my first reaction to Mr. Dodd’s revised edition was the desire to cut out every American in the book. But, as my pen hovered over these “guys,” I could not bring myself to do it. They are part of the English scene as it was when the book was written.

‘I went in search of England during that brief, golden age after the War when the Rue de Rivoli was an American possession, and when every English cathedral city received its daily quota of visiting Americans. These travellers were drawn very largely from a type that had never before strayed so far from home. Money had suddenly come their way and they were out to see the world. They did talk slang, and they did observe a lovable naivete which is faithfully reproduced here and there in these pages. For instance, the man encountered in Peterborough, who was making a cultural tour of Europe, could not be met with anywhere to-day, but he was an interesting phenomenon during the post-war travel boom. Therefore I ask my readers to understand that I am not setting up characters in any way typical of a nation, and if I were writing this book to-day not one of these people would appear in it, because they have ceased to brighten the rural life of England; much, I confess, to England’s regret.

‘But the England of these pages is still the England of to-day. The changes that have taken place are purely superficial. No Cornish farmer now listens to radio from London with a primitive valve set, and the old Mauretania has ceased to slip into Plymouth Sound.

‘Nevertheless the ancient background of the picture is unaltered. Jack Blandiver still kicks up his heels against the bell in Wells Cathedral, and Hadrian’s Wall still runs its solitary course into the mists of the northern fells.’

H. V. M., London, 1935.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

(this article was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.195 on 3rd December 2015)

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HV Morton’s Minerva Editions

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Anyone with an interest in HV Morton who has spent even a short time in second-hand-book shops or browsing their web-sites will have come across the so-called Minerva Editions of his works, with their distinctive faux-leather bindings and gold-leaf trim. The origins of these special editions are somewhat of a mystery although thanks to the interest of one or two Mortonites who specialise in collecting them and several HVM Society bulletins over the years we now know a bit more than we did. With apologies in advance for length, I thought it would be helpful to set out what is known about them.

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Sulis Minerva, the Romano-Celtic fusion of Minerva with her British counterpart, Sulis, currently residing in the English city of Bath.

Minerva, described by Ovid as ‘goddess of a thousand works’, was the Roman goddess of wisdom and science aswell as war, art and poetry. Her Greek counterpart was Athena and she is generally depicted carrying a spear and shield and wearing a golden breastplate. Her symbols were the owl, the snake and the olive tree.

So, as names go, Minerva is a pretty good choice if you are in the book publishing business, evoking an image of strength, wisdom and learned studiousness and generally lending an air of gravitas to your product.

This means unfortunately there is a confusing plethora of Minerva publishing houses to be found. From producing copious amounts of gothic horror by women authors in 1790, to odious racist propaganda in 1888, up to present day textbooks relating to Middle Eastern language and culture, and magazines which cover diverse subjects from ancient art and archaeology to Ipswich Lifestyle and Solihull Living, dozens of different Minervas have and still do exist which have nothing to do with our Morton collecion yet persist in popping up during searches of the internet to confuse the armchair researcher.

The Morton Minervas:

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An unusual promotional copy (courtesy of JB)

Until recently there was little explanation as to who had actually produced the Morton Minervas. Examination of the individual volumes themselves gives no clue since, apart from their distinctive livery, between the covers they are simply rebound copies of standard editions.

Now, however, thanks to the vigilance of Mortonite JB, we have discovered two unusual sales and promotional copies with fold-out sections, depicting the spines of many of the books in the collection. These have really cast a light on things and we now know the Morton volumes were issued by the Library Press of 36 Russell Square, London, WC 1.

In addition we have the Library Press’s own description of them as being bound in ‘special leather-cloth’, each volume measuring 7 ¾ inches by 5, with an initial price of £2.2s.0d, later amended (by hand on the promotional copies) to £3.10s.6d.

These copies are fascinating in themselves and give a real flavour of the times. They extol the merits of Morton’s words and reveal the personal touch of their original owner who has carefully updated details of prices and the number of titles in the series as they changed.

As an exercise for myself I transcribed some of the ‘sales patter’, and it’s pretty florid stuff, to say the least!

The smell of English Meadows

‘As a final effort to convey to the reader the exceptional quality and enduring charm of these remarkable books, permit us to quote from the Author’s own note to the Ninth Edition of “In Search of England”:

‘“If you find in these pages the smell of English meadows, if they bring back to you the smooth movement of English rivers, the stately somnolence of cathedral cities and the sound of bells among elm trees on cool summer mornings I am happy because–well; the pain will not really hurt you. You may even enjoy it.

‘For ourselves we are sure you will revel in each one of these entrancing volumes. There is nothing to choose between them. Each is as humorous, as full of information, as crammed with little-known legends and facts, anecdotes and wayfaring “characters” as its companion volumes. No book-lover will be content with less than the set of four [amended by hand to five, Ed.] delightful volumes.

The Illustrations

‘Each book (except “In Search of England” which has 18) has 16 plates delightfully depicting the country through which the author passes, or the people he meets. “The Call of England” has 8 plates in colour. Each book has an interesting end-paper map, specially drawn by A. E. Taylor, showing the route covered in the book.’

They are all hardback, with embossed brown boards, gilt lettering and upper edge paper and featuring a single, central motif on the front cover, also in gilt, depicting a tree, possibly the deity’s olive tree. Initially issued as a series of four, the number of titles grew and there are now at least nine that we know of:

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The full set (with a duplicate): “In Search of England”; “The Call of England”; “In Search of Scotland”; “In Scotland Again”; “In Search of Ireland”; “In Search of Wales”; “A London Year”; “In The Steps of St Paul” and “In the Steps of the Master” (courtesy of OH)

The earliest edition we know of is dated 1931, the latest is 1936.

Slightly earlier, during the 1920s and 1930s, the Library Press also published another series, known as the Minerva Editions of Modern Authors. These are similar, but by no means identical to the Morton editions.

Like the Morton editions, many (but not all) Minerva Editions of Modern Authors also have leather-like covers with gilt lettering and a central solitary motif on the front cover. The details however are quite distinct. The front cover motif varies from author to author but none of the Editions of Modern Authors to be found on the websites of second-hand book dealers depict the olive tree of Minerva found on the Morton volumes. Furthermore they are markedly smaller than the Morton editions, measuring approximately 6 ¾ inches by 4 ¾ and, most importantly, the opening pages (at least of the copies I posess – AA Milne’s “Once a Week” and “Possible Worlds” by JBS Haldane) declare them quite clearly to be Minerva Editions of Modern Authors, which the Morton Minervas do not.

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A Morton Minerva next to two Minerva Editions of Modern Authors, roughly to scale, showing the size difference.

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The initial pages from the Minerva Editions of Modern Authors clearly announcing their origins.

Authors in the Minerva Editions of Modern Authors include:

Hilaire Belloc, AA Milne, JB Priestley, EV Knox, John Masefield, EV Lucas, RH Mottram, Arnold Bennett, J. B. S. Haldane and Aldous Huxley all of whose works were presented in brown leatherette boards with a central Minerva bust in gilt and green.

In a variation on this theme AA Milne, EV Lucas and Arnold Bennet also had editions with brown leatherette boards but with a central hexagonal motif in gilt and blue containing their initials. GK Chesterton was published with marbled blue boards and a central hexagonal motif containing his initials, GKC. Hilaire Belloc also had his works produced in blue and in black boards, both with a simple central rectangular motif containing the initials HB.

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Details of the central motifs on the front covers – the Morton olive tree is on the left, followed by AA Milne’s initials and the bust of Minerva from my copy of “Possible Worlds” by JBS Haldane. Note the use of colour in the motifs from the Modern Authors editions which is absent from the Morton editions.

In conclusion, what we know so far is the intriguing HV Morton Minerva Editions were (at least) nine in number and possibly a later addition to or sub-set of a similar, yet quite distinct and wider ranging series known as the Minerva Editions of Modern Authors. They were presumably co-editions of Morton’s works, marketed in conjunction with their original publishers as striking and collectible matching sets in the 1930s and issued by the (now non-existent) Library Press of Russell Square, London in the same way, for example, the Folio Society does today. They seem not to have been new editions or reprints but were simply specially re-bound versions of existing editions.

If anyone reading this has any information which might cast further light on the matter I would be most grateful if they would like to get in touch either by leaving a comment at the bottom of the article or via the email link here.

My grateful thanks go to JB, SB, JB, OH, JH and RM.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, England,

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The Father of the Dog

A vocation as a veterinary surgeon has its fair share of highs and lows. It is a privilege to be able to assist animals and those who care for them but there are also those occasions when sadly the time comes when it is no longer possible to do more. At this point it is both a blessing and a painful duty sometimes to be able to offer help by means of a final act of kindness.

Here is an account by HV Morton of just such a heart rending situation as he illustrates both the pleasure and the pain which we willingly enjoy and endure when we take an animal into our hearts.

It is from Chapter 8 of “In The Steps of the Master”, first published in 1934. Early in the chapter Morton describes how he came across a dog, a Saluki, lying in the dust in the village of Banias, dying of hunger. Unable to walk, she was covered in flies. Morton writes “… her eyes were lost in a world of unutterable pain… I had never in my life seen an animal in such a ghastly condition”.

Angered and profoundly moved but unable to help her himself Morton instead prevails upon “a nice, gentle Arab in an old suit of khaki” whose job it was to sweep out the shrine at El Kedir, and gives him ten shillings to look after the dog and try to restore her to health. He promises to return then departs to continue his travels with mixed feelings as to whether he has acted for the best.

Sometime later, having thought of the starving Saluki of Banias every day since, to the bewilderment of his driver, he disrupts his intended route and makes a return visit, desperate for news of her:

In the Steps of the Master

… as soon as I appeared the whole village gathered round, but not with the grim, hard expression which terrifies nervous tourists: they were all laughing and smiling, and a cry went up “Abu kelb, Abu kelb!” which means “Father of the dog.”

The Arab is a great hand-shaker. I went round the group shaking hands, telling the driver to ask them how the dog was.

“Come and see, O Abu Kelb!” was the reply.

And a crowd of bare-legged little children went running up between the mud walls announcing the great and spectacular news that “Abu kelb, the father of the dog,” had returned.

I was led to the squalid little hovel behind the mud walls. The crowd was so great that we had to shut the gate, but the children climbed up on the wall to watch. A white mare was tethered in the yard. A douanier, whom I had not seen before, came out of the house, dressed in a pair of khaki breeches and a grey army shirt. He shook me warmly by the hand, explaining in French that he was a lodger in the house, but had unfortunately been out on duty when I had been there before. Now, however, how happy he was to make my acquaintance! How glad he was that I had come back…

All the time the douanier bubbled with affability and I gazed round for the dog, but could not see her. My heart sank. So she was dead! Perhaps it was just as well. But I was too familiar with the habits of the Arabs to ask any questions. All would be known in time.

The douanier, it appeared, was an Armenian from Aleppo. He had a great affection for England. He had learnt English from a priest at a mission school in Aleppo. Ah, if some day he could go to London! He would like that very much… So he rattled on. Then the crowd parted and the man who sweeps out the shrine of El Kedir came up with the Saluki.

I could hardly believe my eyes. She could stand! Her hind legs trembled woefully and her tail, bare and mangy, was still well down. But her eyes had lost the fear of death, although they were still full of pain.

The Arab had made her a little coat from a pair of khaki trousers and he had bound up the wounds on her forelegs with pieces of rag. The Armenian explained that he had bathed her wounds with wine and oil the remedy which the Good Samaritan used on the wounded traveller.

The dog seemed to know in some way that I was the cause of her present well-being and she did something which completely finished me. She walked up to me and just rested her bruised muzzle on my knee. I decided at that moment that, grotesque and blown out with starvation as she was, wounded, mangy and sore, I would somehow take her home with me to England.

I thought how extraordinary it is that a show of interest and a little money can make so much difference to any living thing. The poor creature that a week ago had been stoned and kicked about was now a feature of the village. She was the protege of the rich, mad, Englishman.

I asked the Armenian what would happen if I did not take her away.

“This man,” he replied, pointing to the Arab; “will look after her as long as you pay, but when you stop paying he will turn her loose, because he is too poor to buy food for her.”

I told him of my intention of taking the dog to Jerusalem. He shook his head. The Palestine Customs would not allow her to enter in her present condition. But if I got an order from the Government? I suggested. Yes, it might be done.

So we agreed that they should continue the feeding and the bathing of the dog, and I handed out some more baksheesh.

“That is the name of the dog,” I explained. “I shall call her ‘Baksheesh’ ”

This was a joke that everybody understood!

I went off, promising that I would either call again at Banias or send someone in my name to take “Baksheesh” into Palestine. And as I went off I heard the children shout ing “Abu kelb!”

Weeks later I got a letter which read:

My dear friend, Mr. Morton, I am verry glade I get a great satisfaction by this relation which commenced with a dog. You can be able for its hospitality. I brought a big jar of sea water from Sidon by which I wash it evry day, morning and evening. Now it is better than bifore. I hope that we will not forget ourselves, and I am allways redy to execute your commissions. Excuse me for my mistakes, be cause the last war of Turkey in 1930 wich resulted after two years with all Christchen immegration has destroyed our futur and high life. God be with you till we meet.

JOHN.”

It was from the excellent Customs Officer at Banias. So he was bathing the dog with water from Sidon.

That sounded excellent.

In a few days I was able, through the kindness of the Palestine Government, to get poor “Baksheesh” through the Customs and into the kennels of the S.P.C.A. in Jerusalem, an organization that, although dying for lack of money, is striving hard to make the Arab understand that animals can feel and suffer.

The report was encouraging. I saw myself taking “Baksheesh” for walks in Hyde Park and for long tramps over the Sussex Downs. Then one day I received a letter saying that she was dead. She was too weak to stand treatment.

“Knowing how much you cared,” wrote Mrs. Reynolds, a member of the Society, “I have buried her in my own garden, where you can think of her sleeping among the rock flowers.”

When I was near Banias again I made a detour to thank John for all his kindness. The Arabs and the children crowded round my car with cries of “Abu kelb!” looking and peering into the car for “Baksheesh.” I told them she was dead.

“It is the will of Allah!” they said.

And they looked at me with the respectful sympathy due to any man who tries to defy the inscrutable will of God. Even John, the Good Samaritan, said it was a good thing, and that when I went to Aleppo he would give me two much finer dogs. Even he did not understand that the crucified eyes of poor “Baksheesh” had marked her out from all the other dogs upon this earth.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor,
Glastonbury, Somerset, England (Originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.217).

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Judging a book by its cover

Middle EastMiddle East” – a challenging example of photogravure
(or so I am reliably informed!), before and after restoration.

Over a year ago, during one of my HV Morton internet trawls I stumbled across a website called “Reprojackets” which immediately grabbed my attention, as I was whisked, courtesy of google, to their HV Morton section.

I discovered the website offered high quality reproductions of classic book jackets. At the time, in the gallery, there were two HV Morton jackets – C W Bacon’s 1964 “A Traveller in Italy” and Fred E Taylor’s jacket for the eariest editions of “In Search of England” – both of which amazed me. I have always loved much of the artwork associated with HVM’s publications, and the idea of having them restored and refreshed to their original vibrancy quite took my breath away (you can tell I don’t get out much!).

1949 Morton CallEngland smallGregory Brown’s “railway-poster”-style cover to “The Call of England
– now restored to its original vibrancy.

I decided I would like to have one for myself and, after prizing up the loose floorboard under my bed, I was in the process of dusting off my wallet and wondering whether groats were still legal tender when, to my surprise, I received an email from John Whythe, the proprietor of the Reprojackets website himself!

John, it turns out, is a very pleasant and learnéd man who hails from Abergavenny, in Wales. The reason he had got in touch was regarding his recent purchase of a very early copy of “In Search of England” which he suspected was something special. I was able to help by putting him in touch with Peter Devenish and Kenneth Fields and it was quickly confirmed that John had in fact bagged that holy of holies, a first edition “In Search of England”. After that, our correspondence continued and, on realising my interest in his project, John enlisted me as a willing recruit, to help by scanning some HVM jackets for him. This was a bit of an experiment as up to that point he had done all the scanning himself, from his own copies.

iSoEBefore and after – Brian Cook’s 1939 cover to “In Search of England
– radiant colours once again

Since then I have sent John a steady trickle of scanned jackets – enormous, highly detailed 600dpi TIFF pictures – and have watched in amazement as he has restored them to the condition they were in when new, whole layers of colour and detail, previously obscured, are revealed – and his gallery has expanded.

John has an real eye for detail as he painstakingly strips the digital image of each jacket down to its component shapes and colours and then carefully builds them back up again anew after patching and repairing any defects caused by the passing of years. The final touch is to add a Reprojackets identifier logo – unobtrusive but unmissable – to ensure there is no confusion between copy and original. John has been kind enough to send me a couple of examples of his finished work; they are quite exquisite and I intend to frame them.

1941-4 Morton London smallAF Kersting’s atmospheric waterscape from the cover of the 1946 edition of “HV Morton’s London

You can see the process in action as John has presented a restoration sequence on his website here, and an animation here.

John is also very knowledgeable in all things bibliographic and has educated me on such things as the difference between a “printing” and an “edition” and also on various types of fonts – it was he who supplied the information about the unusual ligatures in the Caslon font employed in some of HVM’s early works (see HVM Literary Notes – No.124).

1928 Morton Land Vikings 1560 smallOne of my favourites – the highly collectible cover to “Land of the Vikings

So, if you have a spare moment, I would urge you to hop along and have a look at John Whythe’s meticulous and sympathetic restorations of, not just Morton’s works, but those of other authors too, from Hugh Lofting to PG Wodehouse and Arthur Ransome to JRR Tolkien.

The artwork for me is a significant part of the “Morton experience”, if you will, and it is a delight to be able to view it in something like the condition it must have been when it first appeared on book sellers’ shelves in the 1920’s and 30’s. I have several covers ready “in the pipeline” ready to send to John, including the “Scotland…” covers; AE Cox’s series for Morton’s middle east travelogues and “Our Fellow Men“; and the minimalist “Land of the Vikings” – and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing resored them to their original glory in future projects.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
23 June 2014
This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.168

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