The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons

‘If men and women abrogate or lose the power to think you may have material welfare but you have no life, no civilisation, no soul, nothing’

A woodblock illustration from The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons, by Eric Ravilious, c.1935

The artist Eric Ravilious worked between the wars, becoming a war artist in 1939. He grew up in Sussex and returned here in the 1930s. He was part of a generation of artists taught at the Royal College of Art in London by Paul Nash. Nash would describe this group of artists as ‘an outbreak of talent’.
Edward Bawden spoke of his life-long friend, Ravilious, as being ‘humorous, easy-going…cheerful, good-natured and intelligent’, qualities which were reflected in his work.

Ravilious’ skill in carving his woodblocks was exceptional. He would first draw the image onto the block lending the images spontaneity, light and life.
The use of punches created rich textures through scratches, flecks and dots. Even in black and white their tonal variation suggests colour. The effect is to give an impression of the artist’s sheer delight in the cutting of the woodblock to create these images.

The Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935 was the first national celebration of its kind since Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. It was seen as a period of stability and change which included the emancipation of women and, despite the shadow of the First World War and Great Depression, a time of continuity and hope.

The new owners of the Golden Cockerel Press, Christopher Sandford and Owen Rutter, marked the Jubilee by publishing a brief text by LAG Strong titled ‘The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons’. Strong was a popular writer of thrillers but here the author reflects on the passing of time and the threat posed by the rise of the Nazis: ‘If men and women abrogate or lose the power to think you may have material welfare but you have no life, no civilisation, no soul, nothing…’.
The book was illustrated by the artist Eric Ravilious. At first glance Ravilious’ watercolours and woodblock illustrations seem to depict an unchanging rural England.

Frontispiece from The Hansom Cab and the Pigeons, woodblock by Eric Ravilious, c.1935

His frontispiece for the book at first appears to give a literal expression to the books title. Pigeons roost without a care under the hood of a Hansom Cab abandoned in the gardens of a Devon tea room, but as the sun rises they are unheeding of the new dawn which will propel the world to war once again. The image is demanding, questioning.
The image that marks the start of the book is amongst my favourites in Ravilious’ oeuvre. Here the past meets the future. Against the backdrop of an unchanging English landscape a train speeds towards us at full-steam, the undulations in the landscape and bridge lend it speed, mirrored by the mono-plane as it soars skywards.

The Golden Cockerel Press was part of the Private Press movement which gave a freedom of expression to authors and artists.

It seems to me that to remain questioning, open hearted and open minded about all things is essential to a good human life as it prevents us from becoming fundamental about anything. Collectors know this intuitively. They often begin collecting in the pursuit of knowledge and of course once we have learnt something our instinct is to share what we have learnt with others. It is my experience that lively minds make open and generous hearts.

Demand from collectors remains strong as the Covid-19 lockdown eases and with book and print sales scheduled as part of Toovey’s Summer of Sales there is much to look forward to. Do phone for a pre-sale valuation or check out the online catalogues at tooveys.com.

Edmund Spencer – Elizabethan Renaissance Poet

Edmund Spenser ‘The Faerie Queen: the Shepheards Calendar together with The Other Works of England's Arch-Poet, Edm. Spenser’ collected into one Volume, 1611. The general title with figurative woodcut borders with dedication to Queen Elizabeth I.
Edmund Spenser ‘The Faerie Queen: the Shepheards Calendar together with The Other Works of England’s Arch-Poet, Edm. Spenser’ collected into one Volume, 1611. The general title with figurative woodcut borders with dedication to Queen Elizabeth I.

I have long admired the work of the Elizabethan writer Edmund Spenser (1552/53 -1599) so I was delighted to see an early collection of his work, published in 1611, in Toovey’s last specialist sale of Antiquarian and Collectors’ books. . The single volume included ‘The Faerie Queen, ‘The Shepheards Calendar’ and other works.

Edmund Spenser attended Pembroke College, Cambridge from 1569. He studied the Classics in Latin and Greek as well as Italian and English literature. He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1573 and a Master of Arts degree in 1576.

Spenser’s ‘The Shepheards Calendar’ published in 1579/1580 is often described as being the first work in the 16th century English literary Renaissance and is influenced by the Roman poet Virgil’s pastoral Bucolics.

‘The Shepheards Calendar’ is formed of twelve short poems each named after a month in the year and is beautifully illustrated with woodblock vignettes. The elegantly constructed verse gives expression to a series of conversations between simple shepherds. Paradoxically these conversations form satirical, sophisticated commentaries on the questions and ambitions of the day.

‘Aprill’ from ‘The Shepheards Calendar’

For example ‘Aprill’ speaks in praise of the shepherdess Elisa who Spenser uses to represent Elizabeth I. Edmund Spenser was a protestant and supporter of Elizabeth I. He gave voice to the importance of upholding and protecting the national and moral purity of the Elizabethan church. The good and bad shepherds act as metaphors for reformed and catholic clergy respectively.

Spenser’s poem ‘The Faerie Queene’ is considered to be one of the greatest in the English language. It is an allegorical work in praise of Elizabeth I who is represented by the Faerie Queene, Gloriana. The poem provides a celebration and critique of the Tudor dynasty employing frequent allusions to contemporary Elizabethan politics and events.

This epic poem is written in an archaic style and takes the form of a series of books. Each book follows the adventures of a particular knight who in turn represent the virtues of holiness, temperance, chastity, friendship, justice and courtesy. The first part was published in 1590 but Spenser never completed it.

Edmund Spenser’s work brings together the influences of the Elizabethan age he inhabited, his strong Christian faith, early myth, legends and folklore which resonate with literary enthusiasts today. This volume, in its later binding, realised £2400.

Toovey’s book specialists Charlie Howe and Nick Toovey are currently preparing their next specialist auction of books which will be held on Tuesday 13th August. Whether you are seeking to sell your books or building a collection they are always delighted to offer advice and share their passion for their subject with others. You can contact them by telephoning 01903 891955.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

The West Horsley Place Collection

West Horsley Place – Photo © Richard Lewisohn

Toovey’s are pleased to announce that our forthcoming specialist sale of books on 15th May includes a collection of volumes from the library of West Horsley Place, the medieval manor house in Surrey.Lots 3001-3179 in this auction have been consigned from the library of West Horsley Place, the medieval manor house in Surrey.

The estate was inherited in 2014 by Bamber Gascoigne from his great aunt, Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe. In 2015 Bamber gave ownership of the house and estate to a newly created charitable trust: the Mary Roxburghe Trust. The Trust’s mission is to restore the Grade I listed manor house (currently on Historic England’s ‘Heritage At Risk Register’) and its estate, with the aim of creating a vibrant centre for the performing and visual arts as well as the teaching of crafts. An expert on prints and the writer of many books himself, Bamber is popularly known as the original host of University Challenge. While not living in the house itself, he has been overseeing its conservation and transformation, which has included the building within the grounds of the 700-seat Theatre in the Woods by Grange Place Opera, who hold a summer opera season at West Horsley Place. Funds raised from this sale of selected volumes from the library will be used towards the ongoing restoration work, all part of the Mary Roxburghe Trust’s long-term plan. For more information on the house and the work of the Mary Roxburghe Trust, visit www.westhorsleyplace.org.

The Library at West Horsley Place

The library was assembled by Robert Milnes-Crewe, 1st Marquess of Crewe (1858-1945) and his father Richard Monckton-Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton (1809-1885). Lord Houghton was a great man of letters, a poet, politician and patron of literature. He wrote the first biography of Keats in 1848, was a close friend of Alfred Lord Tennyson and helped to make Ralph Waldo Emerson become known in Britain. His particular interest was in French literature, especially of the revolutionary period.

Lord Houghton’s son, Lord Crewe, (bookplate above) was a Liberal statesman, who served as Secretary of State for India between 1910 and 1915. He was also Leader of the House of Lords, where he played a very significant and progressive role in removing their own veto, as well as various positions within the education sector. He was a contemporary of Winston Churchill, friend of H.H. Asquith and son-in-law to Prime Minister Lord Rosebery. The astonishing library of books, collected over generations, mainly reflects Lord Crewe’s wide interests, including his literary friendships with war-time poets, his travels to India and the East, his political career and his cultural connections. The books provide an intimate window onto the period and give the sense of a decent, moderate man who was administratively overseeing considerable change.

“Sorting through and cataloguing the books of both father and son has been an absolute pleasure. It’s been a chance to speculate on the changes England underwent from Victorian times, through the trauma of a World War and into a changed 20th century” says Toovey’s Book Specialist Charlie Howe.

The collection will be offered at Toovey’s Spring Gardens rooms on May 15th 2018. View the collection via the online catalogue here.

The Life and Collection of an Eclectic Bookworm

The Michael Gilkes Collection of Travel and Exploration Books
The Michael Gilkes Collection of Travel and Exploration Books

Toovey’s are pleased to be offering the Travel and Exploration Book Collection of Michael Gilkes FRCS, FRCOphth., FRGS (1923-2014).  This wonderful set of books, including one of the best private collections of polar-related books in the UK, form part of a Gilkes family collective memory. Michael’s daughter, Hester Gilkes, recalls: ‘The imposing and mysterious spines, many with beautiful gold-embossed images on them, lined the bookshelves of Dad’s study – as intriguing and mysterious as the countries and exploits concealed within their pages. All the family recall the books. Our lives were almost dominated by them; tomes on almost every conceivable subject were available for consultation.’

Michael Transporting Foggy Dew
Michael Transporting the 'Foggy Dew', a yacht he built in his back garden

The books go back further than just him, of course. His grandfather, or one of them, was A.H. Gilkes, headmaster of Dulwich College. His library survived, in part, to be passed on to Michael – erudite books in mass-produced Victorian editions, the mark of a prolific reader. At some point the books had been stored on newly painted shelves, and some had spots of black paint adhering to the bottom edges. One of his children recalls reading The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, each page of the enormous work having to be carefully separated from the rest as it was turned. His mother, Denne Parker, an accomplished classical singer, had married Martin Gilkes, a poet and lecturer at Birmingham University, adding other elements to the family library. There are even books belonging to William Gilkes, who back in the early 19th century had married Mary Hemming of the Showers in Herefordshire. This Quaker ancestor had assembled a collection of those books ‘it was most needful for men to know’: Homer, Virgil and the Bible.

Michael at Shackletons Grave, South Georgia
Michael at Shackletons Grave, South Georgia

It really began, though, with books on the Antarctic, which Michael started to acquire prior to his posting as a newly qualified doctor to the whaling station on South Georgia in 1946, mainly based at Leith, but also at Grytviken. Upon qualification as a doctor, a gift from his great uncle, Michael Parker, an Oxford don and expert on the Roman army, permitted the acquisition of the three volumes of The South Polar Times. Over the next sixty-odd years, the collection expanded to reflect his growing range of subject-related interests, and now includes – in addition to the general Antarctic section – named Antarctic expeditions, whales and whaling, works on the great explorers Columbus, Cook, Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, a fine section on cartography, islands and North and South America, including an extensive section on Patagonia.

During a long and rich life, this passion for adventure would see Michael crewing on an America’s Cup Race, living and working for a time researching glaucoma in both Jerusalem and the Gambia, building his own thirty-foot yacht in his back garden and sailing her around Britain and over to Europe, and traveling extensively, particularly in South America. On his retirement from his career as an ophthalmic surgeon, he made a number of voyages back to Antarctica – the region which fascinated and drew him the most.

Like Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child, the books in this catalogue reflect a ‘satiable curiosity’ for exploration, and an inspirational hunger for the new and undiscovered.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Comet resembling a spaceship over Arabia in 1479 © Toovey's
Comet resembling a spaceship over Arabia in 1479

With the second teaser trailer coming out for the forthcoming Star Wars movie we couldn’t resist a tenuously-linked blog post!

The above woodblock illustration is not from a galaxy far, far away but in fact from a copy of Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon by Conrad Wolffhart (1518-1561). The book was printed in Basel by Heinrich Petri circa August 1557 – so still a long time ago! According to the text it actually depicts a comet flying over Arabia in 1479, but conspiracy theorists could argue this is the earliest printed  image of a spaceship. The resemblance is beyond doubt.

Wolffhart’s work includes a number of woodcut illustrations and is an encyclopaedic anthology of weird and wonderful curiosities and natural wonders. Represented are other comets, including Halley’s comet, but also prodigies, portents and monsters. The scene of frogs raining down from the sky gracing the front cover of the printed catalogue is also from this volume. The book is offered as Lot 3134 in Toovey’s Specialist Book Auction on 21st April 2015 and carries a pre-sale estimate of £400-600 and specialist Nicholas Toovey states “due to the condition we have rightly been cautious with the estimate but expectations could be exceeded due to the interesting nature of the book.” Perhaps the Force will be strong with this one!

Here at Toovey’s we are all eagerly awaiting the release of the movie in December but until then this will have to do…