Item #124621 Songs of Innocence and of Experience. William Blake.
Songs of Innocence and of Experience.
Songs of Innocence and of Experience.
Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

1832. [Printed by Frederick Tatham, c.1831-1832].

55 plates on 55 leaves (c.16 x 20 cm) of Whatman wove paper, printed in brick red ink on rectos only and numbered in pencil 0-54; top edge gilt, others untrimmed. Bound in full crushed red morocco by Riviere & Son circa 1900-1920, boards tooled in blind, backstrip with five raised bands, compartments with decorations and binder's title ("Songs of Innocence") in gilt; gilt dentelles, plain endpapers. Binding lightly scuffed, small stain to lower board, endpapers foxed, the plates in fine condition.

§ The finest known posthumous printing of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, unrecorded until 2021. The printing was done by Frederick Tatham from the original plates, left in his possession after the death of Catherine Blake in 1831. Tatham printed just a handful of copies of the Songs as well as several smaller collections of the plates: this is the only recorded copy that appears to have been created and preserved complete, containing all 54 plates, plus the rare plate ‘A Divine Image’, all printed alike in brick-red ink on the same Whatman paper.
 
The recent discovery of this copy—designated copy “r”—is a significant event and of especial importance for the additional evidence it will provide about the posthumous printing of the plates. Viscomi commented: "they are the finest —and consistently the finest—posthumous images that I have ever seen."
 
The 54 plates in this copy are arranged in the order that Blake settled on later in life and numbered in pencil 1-54. The additional plate, ‘A Divine Image’ (Bentley pl. b.), has been placed first, before the combined title page, and numbered ‘0’—an odd placement and unique in recorded copies. Thus, the sequence described using Bentley’s numbering is b, 1-54. Among the other known posthumous copies, only five others are complete or near complete (copies a, b, c, f/j, and h) and, of these, all either lack a plate, or do not include ‘A Divine Image’ which is known in only one lifetime impression (copy BB) and in less than a dozen posthumous impressions.
 
Blake etched the Experience plates onto the backs of the copper plates used for Innocence and fragments of the platemaker’s mark appear printed in blind on leaves 28, 29, 32, and 37. The small changes that Tatham made to four plates, the general title, the frontispiece to Songs of Innocence, and to plates 9 and 37, are evident. In addition, Essick has discovered that Tatham modified plate 40 "The Fly" very slightly at the base of the woamn's skirt (see below).
 
It seems likely that the handsome but restrained Riviere binding was done around 1900-1920. It is surprising and fortuitous that the binder chose to trim and gild only the top edge, leaving the others untrimmed, as this may well preserve evidence of how Tatham handled the Whatman paper. Though the plates were trimmed to a similar size sometime prior to binding, perhaps by Tatham, the goal was not exactitude as approximately 14 deckle edges remain, as do edges which suggest ruler tears rather than guillotine, and the dimensions of the leaves range from between 15.4 and 16.0 cm in width and 19.0 and 20.0 cm in height. Portions of the watermark “J WHATMAN / 1831” appear on the following numbered leaves: 0, 6, 19, 21, 23, 26, 32, 34, 37, 38, 47. The leaves are directly preceded and followed by two free endpapers concomitant with the binding.
 
Provenance:

Frederick Tatham, who printed this copy; acquired by the artist Isaac Faulkner Bird (1803-84) very probably directly from Frederick Tatham perhaps as early as c. 1831-32; his nephew F. Faulkner White, probably by inheritance in 1884 but no later than early 1885; sold by White 12 Feb. 1885 to the Exeter bookseller and alderman James George Commin (1857-1914); acquired at an unrecorded date by the present owner’s great-great-grandfather, probably in the 1880s or 1890s; by inheritance to the present owner.
 
The provenance to 1885 is based on a brief letter by White, addressed to Commin and dated “26th July 1886”, kept with the volume:
 
Letterhead: F. Faulkner White, Accountant, Auctioneer & Appraiser. House & Estate Agent. Arcade Chambers and 45, Bath Road, Exeter.
 
My dear Sir
 
The copy of Blakes Songs of innocence & experience which I sold you at Cowper place, Leeds on 12th Feby 1885 was the property of my Uncle I. Faulkner Bird who was an intimate friend of the Blakes.
 
Yours truly F. Faulkner White
 
Mr J.G. Commin, High St. Exeter
 
Note: I.F. Bird is very probably the “Mr Bird” who on 23 Oct. 1831 attended Catherine Blake’s funeral, according to Tatham’s “Life of Blake” (Blake Records (2) 691), and on that occasion was given copy F of Blake’s For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise by Tatham (Blake Books, 202-03). I.F. Bird may also be the “Mr Bird” who acquired a copy of Blake’s Job engravings from John Linnell on 17 Dec. 1830 (Blake Records (2) 793, 801). Other than White’s letter, there is no record of an “intimate” friendship between Bird and the Blakes.


References:

Bentley, Blake Books, [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977]. Martino Publishing: 2000.

Bentley, Blake Books Supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.

Bentley, Blake Records, 2nd ed., p. 690-91 

Joseph Viscomi, “Posthumous Blake: The Roles of Catherine Blake, C. H. Tatham,
and Frederick Tatham in Blake’s Afterlife,” The Blake Quarterly, 53.2 (fall 2019).

N.b.: "a lifetime impression clearly shows what was on the plate of "The Fly" in the area of interest (woman's skirt). However, I (Essick) suspect, on the basis of comparison with lifetime copy B, that Tatham cut through some relief plateaus. Hence, a second state in posthumous copies. I'm basing this in part on the way the cuts (creating white lines) were made, which looks more like Tatham's work (as on the Experience frontispiece) than Blake's white-line work." Item #124621

Price: $350,000.00

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