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The Gift of Music or Books

The Gift of Music or Books

Recently someone asked me what I wanted for my birthday gift– maybe a CD I replied and then realised I hadn’t listen to music for quite a while. Music had always been really important to me. I’d often got lost in it. It could make me happy, moved – sad even, energetic or help me get to sleep. Quite a powerful mix of spells. But without particularly noticing, I’d almost stopped listening altogether. What had happened? Had my life changed? Or shock horror, had I changed?

Then I came across an article about the latest high definition portable music players and how they play music files that aren’t compressed.

kindleI’ve always appreciated quality in all things whether I can afford them or not. Quality sound, with those high tones and deep bases we used to hear on vinyl, had disappeared from my life. It wasn’t me – it was the awful low quality music on my phone. Those compressed digital files that conveniently fit hundreds of songs onto my tiny little device at the expense of sound quality, were to blame. I’d fallen out of love with music because it no longer gave me the pleasure it once did. I just hadn’t realised it.

Reading book

I bought myself a new, albeit rather expensive portable devise and now can’t download music (high definition music) onto it quickly enough. It’s wonderful to have my ears opened again, as though they’d been blocked with wax for a decade!

There is an obvious and relevant comparison with books and e-books. Yes, e-books are convenient for say holidays but beyond that, are they really a substitute for the real thing? I’m not talking about rare and antique first editions here but any modern or classic book. For instance, sometimes I have need to flip back to check a specific detail from earlier in a book. I can generally find it because I know roughly where to look, and can even remember whether it was on a right or left hand page. I would not even try this on an e-book.

Set of A.A. Milne Pooh Books first editionsAdd to the mix the tactile experience, the cover design, the feel, the experience of reading a physical book and you’re starting to scratch at the surface of the comparison. You could even say an open book is an open expression of one’s character just as music can reflect the literature of the heart. Heinrich Heine says, “Where words leave off, music begins.” A shelf of books or music says something about a person. Not everyone would agree I’m sure but I wouldn’t mind betting there are a lot of nodding heads out there.

Getting transported by being lost in a book or music is a real gift. This Christmas, don’t forget to think about either an expensive portable music devise (costly!) or a vastly cheaper option of a book as a present. A lovely first edition book might be that special something that’s totally unique and unusual.

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Uncommon Christmas Titles – and presents

Uncommon Christmas Titles – and presents

As Christmas draws near it is interesting to see how publishers market their festive books. Consider the four “Uncommon Christmas Titles” collection illustrated by Arthur Rackham. These are four soft backed smaller books, The Night Before Christmas (1931), The King Of The Golden River (1932), Goblin Market (1933) and The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1934). Clearly not all these titles are Christmas related. It is interesting to wonder why they make such a good match.First Edition Christmas Titles Illustrated by Arthur Rackham

In the 1930’2 new techniques of printing were emerging effecting the market for Rackham’s typical limited edition books with tipped in illustrations. The financial downturn of the American and British economy was influencing consumer spending and the luxury of Rackham elaborate plate illustrations was becoming a thing of the past. A new kind of Rackham book was needed and Rackham changed publisher to Harrap & Co, London in 1928.

Harrap responded to the change in the consumer market by proposing that a slimmer book printed on thinner paper was produced. The plates would be printed on coated paper bound in at intervals within the text. Harrap did not lose sight of the need for an “upmarket” edition alongside the ordinary edition and continued to produce a number of limited edition books. As Rackham comments to Alwin Scheuer in 14 March 1931, “There is a fashion for publishing only limited editions that my books are in rather a curious position.  The ordinary editions do not sell so large a number as of old, and the limiteds are largely over applied for- whereas, formally, in one or tow cases happily, the limited editions were not immediately sold out.” (Butler Library Columbia University New York).Goblin Market Illus by Arthur Rackham: Limited, signed edition.

Rackham and Harrap agreed a successful arrangement whereby two Rackham books were published annually. One was the smaller book and the other a slightly longer and more elaborate book. The smaller ones were released for the Christmas trade.The first trial of this was in 1931 when The Complete Angler and Clement Moore’s, The Night before Christmas was released. Sales of the limited edition of the latter was particularly brisk. The following year Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson and John Ruskin’s King of the Golden River were released. In 1933 The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book with Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market was the chosen works. Rackham’s pace of work altered for the next year and the Pied Piper Of Hamelin was the only book published in 1934.

Rackham was nearing the end of his career in the 1930’s yet the quality of his illustrations remained intact with all these publications. “The style of work for a series of poems published by Harrap and Sons in the early thirties returned unashamedly to the early style.”  (Gettings, p. 161).

Christmas TitlesThe Pied Piper of Hamelin Illus by Arthur Rackham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over this time Harrap and Rackhams’ publications the four smaller books published were of the same style. Each had soft covers with four dazzling colour plates plus black and white illustrations throughout the text. Clearly the marketing strategy of Harrap was successful and sales of the books were good. The four smaller books make a good fit and it is these publications that form the “Uncommon Christmas Titles” that we recognise today. They would indeed make an ideal Christmas gift for a Rackham collector today.

Goblin Market Illus by Arthur Rackham: Limited, signed edition.

To see more books of Arthur Rackham go to here