Folio Archives 250: Letterpress Shakespeare The Tempest 2008

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Folio Archives 250: Letterpress Shakespeare The Tempest 2008

joulukuu 22, 2021, 8:29 pm

Letterpress Shakespeare The Tempest 2008

The Folio Society Letterpress Shakespeare program produced magnificent solander cased books (a few early editions were available in a slipcase instead of a solander box) that were limited to between 3750 (earlier editions) and 1,000 copies.

They were individually numbered on a special limitation page, and were half-bound in goatskin leather, blocked in gold with hand-marbled paper sides, gilded top edge and ribbon marker. Set in 16pt 'Monotype' Baskerville, printed by letterpress on mould-made paper.

They were accompanied by an Oxford University Press text with extensive explanatory notes, edited by Anthony B. Dawson & Paul Yachnin under the General Editor Stanley Wells.

The series of 39 volumes started in 2007 and was completed in 2014. They were priced at £295, except for the Sonnets and Poems, which was £345 (prices are representative only and have varied from time to time).

The final title (Othello) finally sold out in the middle of 2021 after 14 years.

They were the brainchild of Joe Whitlock-Blundell, and have been described as the finest set of Shakespeare's works ever produced.

The books were coloured according to their theme:-
Green – Comedies (16)
Red – Dramas (12)
Dark-Blue – Royal Histories (10)
Mid-Blue – Sonnets (1 volume)

Hamlet (2007, 3750 copies)
King Lear (2007, 3750 copies)
Macbeth (2007, 3750 copies)
Othello (2007, 3750 copies)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2008, 3750 copies)
Antony and Cleopatra (2008, 3750 copies)
As You Like It (2008, 3750 copies)
Coriolanus (2008, 3750 copies)
Julius Caesar (2008, 3750 copies)
The Tempest (2008, 3750 copies)
Titus Andronicus (2008, 3750 copies)
Twelfth Night (2008, 3750 copies)
Henry IV part 1 (2009, 1000 copies)
Henry IV part 2 (2009, 1000 copies)
Henry V (2009, 1000 copies)
Richard III (2009, 1000 copies)
Sonnets and Poems (2009, 1980 copies)
The Merchant of Venice (2010, 1000 copies)
Much Ado About Nothing (2010, 1000 copies)
Romeo and Juliet (2010, 1000 copies)
The Taming of the Shrew (2010, 1000 copies)
All’s Well that Ends Well (2011, 1000 copies)
Measure for Measure (2011, 1000 copies)
Troilus and Cressida (2011, 1000 copies)
The Winter’s Tale (2011, 1000 copies)
King John (2012, 1000 copies)
Richard II (2012, 1000 copies)
Timon of Athens (2012, 1000 copies)
Comedy of Errors (2013, 1000 copies)
Love's Labour's Lost (2013, 1000 copies)
Merry Wives of Windsor (2013, 1000 copies)
Two Gentlemen of Verona (2013, 1000 copies)
Cymbeline (2014, 1000 copies)
Henry VI Part 1 (2014, 1000 copies)
Henry VI Part 2 (2014, 1000 copies)
Henry VI Part 3 (2014, 1000 copies)
King Henry VIII (2014, 1000 copies)
Pericles (2014, 1000 copies)
Two Noble Kinsmen (2014, 1000 copies)

I have chosen to feature The Tempest as an example of these beautiful books simply because it is my favourite Shakespearean play.


This magnificent volume has no illustrations, no footnotes, no introduction, no appendices – just the words of the play simply and sublimely printed on heavy Zerkall mould-made paper.

It has 80 pages, dark green endpapers, gilt top page edges and the other page edges are deckled. There is a dark green ribbon page marker and it measures 35.6x25.6cm. It is three-quarter bound in dark green Nigerian Goatskin with paper boards hand marbled by Ann Muir.


This is a specially bound version of the standard Oxford University Press edition which has extensive foot notes to the play as well as easily read but authoritative discussions on every imaginable aspect of the play. There are 23 monochrome illustrations of famous paintings depicting the play, characters from the play and stage productions.

The book is edited by Stephen Orgel and has 248 pages. The sections of the book, aside from the play, discuss its beginnings, the political context, the historical connections, performances and the accuracy of the depicted seamanship. There is even a section on the music in the play, and the play’s connections with cannibalism and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

The book is bound in dark green cloth with a cover title label and a gilt spine title. The endpapers are dark green, and the book is 22.1x104.6cm.


The dark green cloth Solander box is indented internally on the right side to house the smaller commentary volume. There is a loose heavy dark green divider between the letterpress volume and the commentary volume. There is no embellishment on the sides but there is a gilt printed dark green leather label on the spine. It measures 38.6x27.7x7.4cm. The Solander boxes for all the different plays are the same size and match the letterpress and commentary volumes in colour.

An index of the other illustrated reviews in the "Folio Archives" series can be viewed here.

joulukuu 23, 2021, 12:32 am

My first FS purchase.

joulukuu 23, 2021, 2:07 am

A marvel - but what I really wish is not that I had the space and funds for the full solander’d set but that I’d been around to buy the full set of companion volumes (I’ve got eight or so). I find them a lovely way to read the plays.

joulukuu 23, 2021, 4:34 am

Beautiful books and a real shame they didn't get the credit they deserve. My one lament is that I always found the paper and printing in the companion volume to be a bit sub-par. They feel like a trade book wrapped in Folio's boards rather than a genuine upgrade. But this is a minor niggle because the letterpress volumes are an absolute triumph.

joulukuu 23, 2021, 5:28 am

>4 ubiquitousuk:
(Agreed. But for me the content trumps the physical features here because I get so much more out of the plays with the extra information.)

joulukuu 23, 2021, 10:05 am

>4 ubiquitousuk: Ah, yes, of course I should have said that the Oxford companions are excellent from a content point of view.

joulukuu 23, 2021, 1:35 pm

>4 ubiquitousuk: Trade text blocks wrapped in Folio boards is exactly what they are. I expect they just ordered 1000/2750 unbound sheets from OUP's printer maybe on the exact paper they use for OUP hardbacks.

But they are a delightful companion ne'ertheless.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 23, 2021, 1:59 pm

>7 jveezer: though academic press doesn't guarantee better than trade quality anymore, it still often has a higher chance of decent specs, especially on dimensions relevant to archival preservation. For example, I am certain the companion volumes have sewn bindings, and I would be surprised if the paper is not archival quality. So I think writing "trade text blocks" is somewhat misleading.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 23, 2021, 2:04 pm

My copy of the Titus companion volume says it was printed by Memminger MedienCentrum AG in Germany, so I suspect the volumes for Folio were a special batch of text blocks. It does not indicate paper, but the Folio Society product page for the As You Like It companion volume indicates Caxton Wove Off-White paper, which is higher quality than standard trade stock.

The print quality itself is definitely only mid-level offset work, but that still puts it head and shoulders above trade book standards.

Edit: looking at the image above, The Tempest companion volume was printed St Edmundsbury Press Ltd, but that's also a press that has had a long-standing relationship with Folio. I'm curious now to compare one of the Folio Society companion volumes with one published by OUP directly.

joulukuu 23, 2021, 4:23 pm

I am able to compare the companion volume to The Winter's Tale (mine) with the standard Oxford Shakespeare in the World's Classics series, belonging to the scholar in the household. The texts are identical apart from the colophon. The text block of the FS version is thicker at 27mm compared to 17mm for the Oxford. Although in general the thicker paper of the FS version is more pleasing, the photographs reproduce rather better in the Oxford, but not very well in either. The FS edition is made by the high-class Memminger/Lachenmaier combination, the Oxford by Book Print S.L. in Spain. The FS contains no marginalia...

joulukuu 23, 2021, 5:11 pm

I have the standard Oxford World's Classics paperbacks. The blurb on the back cover says they have a "durable sewn binding", and I can see binding thread deep between some pages. My copy of Pericles (which also contains a tempest!) was "Printed in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St. Ives plc."

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 21, 2022, 6:13 am

>1 wcarter: I blame this excellent post for pushing me over the edge into ordering my first Letterpress Shakespeare, followed in quick succession by a second, and a third (Othello, Macbeth, King Lear). My thanks also to >4 ubiquitousuk: for the great video and helpful information on your blog.

They really are lovely and imposing books!

tammikuu 21, 2022, 6:34 am

>12 GardenOfForkingPaths:
Always happy to be an enabler ;-)

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 21, 2022, 7:22 am

>12 GardenOfForkingPaths: Yes! Another victim enters the fly trap.

Also, excellent choices. I'm guessing Hamlet might be next on the hit list to complete the "big four"?

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 21, 2022, 7:44 am

>14 ubiquitousuk: Yes, exactly! My tentative plan is to acquire 1 or 2 others of the more easily available titles, probably Hamlet and The Tempest ,and then perhaps go down the LEC route for the other plays I am interested in owning in fine press editions.

toukokuu 10, 11:13 am

How hard is it to find these today and how large are the play books? They appear marvelous.

toukokuu 10, 11:47 am

>16 RogerReads: There are always some up on ebay, at the moment the minimum price for the larger print runs is about £250 for ones in a solander box, £200 without - get some email alerts going on ebay and abebooks and you'll see cheaper prices now and then.

That said, I've been waiting a couple of years now for a reasonably priced Tempest - caved in about 6 months back and bought one from Ardis, but turned out someone else had got it earlier that day!

toukokuu 10, 6:35 pm

Is there good buyer protection on abebooks? eBay priced higher but money back guarantee is good. Amazon doesn’t seem to have much Folio but they have good return policies.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 11, 3:57 am

Prices do look to have firmed up quite a bit since I bought my three volumes - Hamlet, Macbeth, The Tempest - all complete without defects at between £70 and £100 each. Hard to see them coming down again any time soon, as the edition seems set to remain the definitive finely printed Shakespeare for all who aren't averse to its modernised orthography. I wonder if Folio will ever release details of how many copies of each volume was actually bound and put into circulation: my guess would be that even among the 1000-limitation plays there are many for which the full limitation was never approached.

I can't testify as to ABE's buyer protection, I must have bought a couple of hundred or so books through them but none have seemed worth a complaint. A few offers over the years have seemed too good to be true: one or two were indeed fanciful, false or fraudulent, one or two others turned out perfectly real; but none of them were close to Letterpress Shakespeare prices.

toukokuu 11, 4:14 am

>18 RogerReads: I recently ordered several books on Abebooks and elsewhere. Quality varied but often extremely good condition even for very cheap copies. But sometimes an expensive copy was not in that great condition. One book didn't arrive and no contact from seller but after messaging Abebooks I did get a very prompt refund. Only problem is that seems to be no way of providing feedback on sellers so it is impossible to judge which are the better ones. Here in UK World of Books often has extremely good copies of books for only a few pounds - but not Letterpress Shakespeares unfortunately :-) (Also cheap prices means cheap packaging too but most arrive ok)

BTW I have seven of these Folios - all purchased off Ebay for £40 to £60 a few years ago - these were the unnumbered copies - just the books: no box and no commentary; Included both Hamlet and Macbeth. I am extremely pleased with them!