An occasional newsletter about forthcoming books and events

July 2022

In this newsletter . . .

a new book (we hope): Plates from a herbal

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prospects for:
Plates from a herbal

A new book we hope to be able to start work on this year

Planned for later in 2022

Our regular readers and customers will know that one of the themes of our output has been the early and twentieth-century history of Oxford University Press. Plates from a herbal will, we hope, be our tenth - and perhaps grandest - title in the series.

OUP has a history going back into the fifteenth century but its history as a corporate body begins in the 1670s when John Fell and three partners took over its management, funding the purchase of equipment and establishing it in its first (though short-lived) home in the Sheldonian Theatre. One of their earliest publications was Robert Morison's herbal, properly titled Plantarum historiae universalis Oxoniensis, a fine folio edition intended to be in three volumes. The first published was volume two in 1680, on herbaceous plants, a volume containing 126 copper-engraved plates of botanical drawings, almost half by Michael Burghers, some of whose work for OUP we showed in Michael Burghers, Oxford engraver. The herbal has been the subject of extensive research and much background can be found here. The plates still exist.

The title page of Morison's Herbal:

We have been given permission in principle to print from twelve of the plates, subject to satisfactory tests of the effect of printing from them. The printing will be done by Jim Nottingham, who so expertly pulled prints from the seventeenth-century plates engraved by Michael Burghers shown in Michael Burghers, Oxford engraver. One of the Morison plates has been digitally 3D-scanned and will be rescanned after a single pull from it to determine whether printing from it causes any damage. We hope this will be done this month. If the test shows that the pates can be safely printed from we hope to get permission for the edition to go ahead.

They are large plates on average about 358 mm by 243 mm in size, or about 14 in by 10 in so this will be a correspondingly large book. To complement the plates, five of which will appear in each copy, we are planning a number of short essays. Scott Mandelbrote will provide an introduction to the original Historia; Professor Stephen Harris of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford will address the twelve plates from a botanical perspective; and Jim Nottingham will describe the plates themselves, how they have been prepared for use, and the process of printing from them. We also anticipate photographs of the plates and of the printing process.

A sample opening from the Herbal showing two plates:

In the 1680s OUP sourced its paper principally from France, the standard of paper-making in England being so poor. For type it had at its disposal the matrices purchased in Holland by John Fell for similar reasons. For this twenty-first-century book we are planning to use an antique Rives BFK laid paper for the text, and Monotype Van Dijck for the type; a heavy Somerset paper will be used for the plates. Precise details will be announced as soon as permission to print from the plates has been granted.

To limit the use of these precious artefacts this will be a small edition - perhaps 75 copies of which just sixty will be for sale. Expressions of interest are welcome now.

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Copyright Martyn Ould 2022