When you are searching for books, good ones tend to jump out for you. So it was last week when I spied an oversized volume entitled The Loyalists of Massachusetts: Their Memorials, Petitions and Claims. It turned out to be a very good book and important, not so much for people living in Massachusetts, but rather for people living in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Flipping through the book the word “Halifax” is often seen. Yes, the content of this book is behind the $200 price tag. But, sometimes the physical book itself is intriguing and such is the case here.
The Loyalists of Massachusetts: Their Memorials, Petitions, and claims; by E. Alfred Jones, M.A., F.S.A., author of “The Old Silver of the American Churches”, American Members of the Inns of Court”, and of “The Loyalists of New Jersey”; with 63 Portraits in Photogravure; The Saint Catherine Press, Stamford Street, S.E., London, 1930. And on the verso all that is stated is “Made and printed in Great Britain.
I have heard of the publisher. And the book had the look and feel of a Private Press effort. Private Presses very seldom call themselves “publishers” they call themselves “presses”. Nothing on this press in Wikipedia and little info when googled. But there are some 950 of their books listed in Abebooks. They have quite a few titles over a few decades in the twentieth century, with many from the 1930s. Good looking books.
So, I am thinking this is a private press book. This is an unusual topic for a private press. The majority of private presses print famous books, or titles by famous authors or illustrators. The book is well illustrated though – but contemporary portraits. Here is a list of the portraits including an example – Governor John Wentworth. Today, you see the Wentworth name throughout Nova Scotia.
I wrote a musing Private Press Books back on June 6, 2020 and on a private press book just
last month The Riccardi Press & The Medici Society. The earlier musing had quotes from John Carter’s “ABC for Book Collectors” on Colophons, and this was reproduced in the more recent musing. Well, I am going to reproduce it again:
“The finishing stroke (from the Greek word meaning summit): a note at the end of a book (sometimes accompanied by a device or mark) giving all or some of the following particulars: name of work, author, printer, place of printing, date. In very early books most of these particulars may not be found elsewhere, and when inspecting the credentials of an INCUNABLE it follows that one begins by turning to the last page, not the first.”
“In its elementary function of identifying the edition, the colophon has been generally superseded, since the early 16th century, by the title-page. The colophon has persisted to the present day in books whose printer is thought by the publisher (or thinks himself) important enough to justify the formality.”
In my description of this book, in bold up above, I noted that there was little on the title page verso. This had me look in the back of the book to see if there was a colophon. Yes – see the photo below.
“The Arden Press; W.H. Smith & Son, Stamford Street, London, S.E. 1”. It would appear that the Saint Catherine Press, also on Stamford Street, is an offshoot of The Arden Press, and W. H. Smith. Let’s start with W. H. Smith, which many of us remember as a British book retailer with a significant Canadian presence, now long gone in this country.
In 1792, Henry Walton Smith and his wife Anna established the business as a news vendor in Little Grosvenor Street, London. After their deaths, the business — valued in 1812 at £1,280 (equivalent to £90,700 in 2021) — was taken over by their youngest son William Henry Smith, and in 1846 the firm became W. H. Smith & Son when his only son, also named William Henry, became a partner. In 1904, Bernard Newdigate founded, or took over, the Arden Press. W.H. Smith bought The Arden Press in 1908, which signalled their move into publishing. Meanwhile, in 1920, Newdigate joined with publisher Basil Blackwood to buy The Shakespeare Head Press – definitely a private press. W. H. Smith & Son is no longer in the publishing business, which must have been jettisoned along the way.
Let’s see if there are other private press indicators. Well – there is an errata slip, tipped in. But it is not called that. See the photo below.
A bookish mystery. So, what does John Carter have to say about Errata slips. Here is the first part of his explanation: Mistakes and misprints discovered after the book has been printed; also called corrigenda, and in some early books by the homely name of “faults escaped”. If the errors are noticed before the PRELIMS have been completed (these being customarily printed last), there is sometimes a spare page or part of a page to accommodate them. If not, they may be printed on a slip, or on an extra leaf, to be TIPPED IN when the book is bound. The same method is used for dealing with addenda (things to be added). Only private press people use fancy names for errata slips!
So, what happens when you discover errors after the ADDENDA ET CORRIGENDA has been printed and tipped into the book? You write the correction by hand in each book. This means there cannot be too many of them, a la a private press output. Look at the two photos below.
Whoops, got father and son mixed up! And guess what, it happened twice in this book! All fixed with a pen and ink.
Another sign of a private press book is the use of handmade paper. And the paper in this book is soft and high quality for sure. But, handmade sheets of paper often vary in size, so you have to be very precise when guillotining the leaves of paper prior to binding. It is easy to miss slightly smaller leaves, resulting in unopened pages. See the photo below.
Well folks, there you have it. W.H. Smith was once in the private press business!
Don’t get the idea that this book is amateurish. It is a beautiful volume, well made with high quality material and portrait reproductions. I can only assume that the quality of the research
matches the book. But good books like good people all have little blemishes.
Handling some books can be so much fun.