Wednesday, July 23, 2014
The double-page spreads above are from The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye, an English translation by William Caxton printed in 1473-74. Caxton presented his translation of this chivalric French text to Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy. She was English, sister of the Yorkist King, Edward IV. The sources do not record whether or not the Duchess of Burgundy was aware that she was receiving the first book to be printed in the English language, but of course it subsequently became famous for that reason. Eighteen copies are known to survive. This copy was purchased in 1948 by the 10th Duke of Northumberland for £15,000. The 12th Duke of Northumberland consigned the book to auction just this summer. He must have been happy with the profit realized when the book sold at Sotheby's in London on July 15th (with buyer's premium included) for £1,082,500.*
More than 400 years after the original printing of this text, William Morris reprinted it in the 1890s at his highly regarded Kelmscott Press. As is apparent in the opening below, Morris intended to model his page designs on early English printed books – and earlier manuscripts – except that somehow his pages always came out looking like the pieces of high Victoriana that they really were.
*Of course any price that exceeds one million pounds sounds like a large sum of money, yet even the most expensive books are cheap compared to the deeply perverted prices paid for current-days art – a Jeff Koons balloon-dog sculpture, for example, recently sold at auction for $58 million.