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A Scottish Beauty

· Fine Book Collecting,John Blackie,Schooner Books,English History,Scottish History

On November 20, 1809, John Blackie, sr. founded Blackie, Fullerton & Co. in Glasgow. Blackie was originally in business as a weaver but was persuaded that money could be made in the “numbers trade”, a form of selling sizeable books in monthly or quarterly installments, by subscription. By 1811, the firm was already beginning to publish its own books and in 1819, he expanded the scope of his business into printing. In 1829, he purchased the firm of Andrew & J. M. Duncan, printers to the University of Glasgow, called printing . In 1821, John Blackie, jr., became a partner with his father and the firm was renamed Blackie & Son. John Blackie’s second son, Walter Graham Blackie, joined the printing side of the business in 1837, named W. G. Blackie and Co.. The two companies were amalgamated after Blackie & Son became a public limited company in 1890, changing its name to Blackie & Sons Ltd. 

In July 1978, I went into Schooner Books on Inglis Street, Halifax to browse around their stock. I will digress from my story line for a moment, to give recognition to John Townsend and Marylee MacDonald, owners of Schooner Books. I have been buying and selling books to them for over 40 years. They are extremely knowledgeable and helpful and they have provided leadership in the used and rare book community in Atlantic Canada and beyond over the time I have known them. I have learnt a lot from them. Thank you.

Now back to my story. A two-volume set of books caught my eye. Hard to miss them, large and bound in red leather, and decorated beautifully. In a jiffy, from Schooner to me, where the set will stay.

Pictures and Royal Portraits; illustrative of English and Scottish History, from the introduction of Christianity to the present time; engraved from important works by distinguished modern painters, and from authentic State Portraits; with descriptive historical sketches; by Thomas Archer; two volumes; Blackie & Son: Old Bailey: London, Glasgow and Edinburgh, 1880. 

I note that the words “Old Bailey: London” were in larger type than “Glasgow and Edinburgh”, leading one to think that the books were published in London. On the verso of the title page reads “Glasgow, W. G. Blackie and Co., printers, Villafield.” This was very much a Scottish effort, and I assume from a sales perspective the company wanted this scrumptious production to appeal to the London/English crowd! As you can see from the pictures the bindings are nothing short of marvellous. Bound in the publisher's deluxe binding of full red morocco, ribbed gilt decorated spines, covers elaborately tooled and paneled in gilt and blind stamping with various English and Scottish heraldic gilt crests on front and back boards, gilt dentelles, all edges gilt, marbled pastedowns and endpapers. 

As readers of my musings know, I write notes in pencil in books after I read them. On the first free endpaper, I have written “read 2010-11 – interesting read”. It was good but this set is all about the bindings and the illustrations. I had also inserted a written note “May 1980 – Saw a history of Blackie & Son done by that firm. They had an illustration of two fine bindings they had done, and this set was one of the two featured bindings.” 

There are a total of 69 full page engravings in the two volumes. Each has a protective blank, light gauge paper guard rather than the typical tissue guards, most commonly found in such volumes. Very high-quality printing and reproductions. 

Note, that this book is filed in the library catalogue under “illustrated books” rather than “history”.

A beautiful set – “A Scottish Beauty”!

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