When we lived in Illinois, there were a number of used book shops that I used to frequent on a regular basis. One of them closed up shop when he retired. One day, he contacted me and said that if I would like to visit his home, he has some books that he would make available to me. This is when I first realized that the retirement funds for many of these independent and entrepreneurial booksellers were some of the better book acquisitions that were put aside during the regular course of business.
I made an appointment, and there was quite a selection of books spread out here and there. I bought as many as the book budget would allow and I still rue not buying some of the ones I had to leave behind. As regular readers of my musings know, I love illustrated books and I also love books that are in fine condition. However, sometimes you come across a very scarce and important book where condition becomes less of a factor. Especially, if it catches your fancy!
I bought Goethe’s Faust, published by J. G. Cotta’scher, Stuttgart, 1854 and 1858, two parts bound in one. The book was coming apart and the covers and pages were damp stained and discoloured and it was quite a mess. The price reflected the state of the book, of course, and I was prepared to invest in improving the condition of it. In Racine, Wisconsin lived one of the nations best book restorers and binders that I used periodically. He cleansed the pages and the leather binding and rebacked the book while keeping the original labels. Many of the pages and some of the prints still bear the damp stains but overall, it looks so much better.
Why go through all this bother, you might ask? Because this book reflected the marriage of one of the greatest literary works in the world with what I consider to be the finest steel engravings that I have ever seen, in an elephant folio, with leather boards that are themselves works of art. Everything about this volume was top class other than the condition. I consider it to be one of the highlights of the library and a “saved” treasure. The boards measure 16 3/4” X 13” and the pages are slightly smaller.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832) was a German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, critic, and amateur artist. His works include: four novels; epic and lyric poetry; prose and verse dramas; memoirs; an autobiography; literary and aesthetic criticism; and treatises on botany, anatomy, and colour. He is considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era. Faust is a tragic play in two parts, usually known in English as Faust, Part One and Faust, Part Two. Although rarely staged in its entirety, it is the play with the largest audience numbers on German-language stages. Faust is considered by many to be Goethe's magnum opus and the greatest work of German literature.
From the dawn of printing in Europe in the fifteenth century, books had been illustrated with woodcuts and copper engravings into the early part of the nineteenth century. Steel engraving was introduced in 1792 by Jacob Perkins (1766–1849), an American inventor, for banknote printing. When Perkins moved to London in 1818, the technique was adapted in 1820 by Charles Warren and especially by Charles Heath (1785–1848) for Thomas Campbell's Pleasures of Hope, which contained the first published plates engraved on steel. Steel engraving produced plates with sharper, harder, more distinct lines. Also, the harder steel plates produced much longer wearing dies that could strike thousands of copies before they would need any repair or refurbishing. The hardness of steel also allowed for much finer detail than would have been possible with copper, which would have quickly deteriorated under the resulting stress. Steel engraving did not really become prevalent until the 1860s. The prints in this book were created between 1848 and 1854, so very early days for steel engravings.
Engravings are the result of the work of two people. There is the original artist who created the painting or drawing and then you have the engraver who translates the painting into a carved steel plate. In this case two of the finest artists were involved. Engelbert Seibertz (1813-1905) was the artist and Adrian Schleich (1812-1894) was the engraver. There are 25 of these steel engravings in the book, each with its tissue guard. The book contains many other illustrations, woodcuts and possibly some copper engravings.
The 25 steel engravings are absolutely stunning – thankfully most were not damaged.
There is no information on the creator of the illustrations cut into the leather binding, but they too are magnificent.
I just hope that you can see all of the detail in the photos. The paintings were made in the 1830s and early 1840s. The engravings took at least 6 years to complete. The earliest is dated 1848 and the latest 1854. The effort was worth it. Enjoy.