Fran Durako’s Review of
On Collecting William Morris: A Memoir
by Jack Walsdorf
from Parenthesis 15, Fall 2008
published by the Fine Press Book Association
Kay Michael Kramer, the founder of the Printery, says in his online biography that he works toward a unity in each of his productions, in which the myriad possibilities for materials and format are chosen so that the end-product is “coherent, aesthetically pleasing . . . and appropriate to the text.” Mr. Kramer has more than succeeded in achieving this goal with On Collecting William Morris, a beautiful book that befits both its subject and its author. One thinks that the formidable Mr. Morris would have been pleased by this book, both for its design, which pays homage to his presswork, and for its text by Jack Walsdorf, one of the past half-century’s most ardent collectors of books and ephemera by or about Morris.
For this production, Kramer chose the Jenson and Old Style types, which were based on the late fifteenth-century types of Nicolas Jenson, the same source Morris turned to in 1890 for inspiration for his Golden Type. The green and black initials that begin each chapter and the delicate ornaments throughout are subtle references to the design and ornamentation of the Kelmscott Press. The tipped-in sepia photo reproductions of a studio portrait of Morris and a view of his study taken shortly after his death are fitting additions. It should be noted that the original pages from Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair included with some copies were from previously unbound leaves acquired by Mr. Walsdorf, not from a broken book.
The overall quality of the production reflects the same thought and care that Morris and his followers brought to their books. In fact, this book was one of two runners-up for the 2008 Carl Hertzog Award, sponsored by the Friends of the University Library at the University of Texas El Paso. The award is named for one of the United States’ most accomplished book designers and printers, and celebrates the importance of fine printing as an art and recognizes outstanding accomplishments in this field.
Jack Walsdorf, a librarian by profession, formed noteworthy Morris collections not once but three times in his life. In his foreword, Jim Carmin, the Special Collections Librarian at Portland’s Multnomah County Library, commends his efforts, saying that Jack Walsdorf “collects and assembles a previously unconnected body of wok that later becomes . . . a focused, finite collection, with a richness in splendor, diversity . . . and intellectual content.” In this book, Walsdorf recounts his delightful experiences in building each collection and subsequently selling them. He talks of the treasures he found, the prices he paid, and the reasons for deciding to sell his collections. The first was sold to the University of Maryland in College Park in 1985. The second was sold through a catalogue issued by the Colophon Book Shop in 1995 (Walsdorf states that the catalogue itself is “perhaps one of the best modern price guides to all bookish things relating to Morris.”) With the third (and one might assume not the last!) collection, Mr. Walsdorf attempted to sell the books himself by issuing short catalogues. Despite their success, he discontinued his short-lived career as a dealer in 2002 when he received an inheritance. In the last chapter, Mr. Walsdorf writes about the ten treasures he would save from his remaining collection should the proverbial disaster occur. The selections range from the Defence of Guenevere illustrated by the wonderful Jessie M. King to the 1896 Morris Memorial Issue of “The Printing Times and Lithographer,” to three of his own books.
This lovely little book conveys the joys of book collecting and provides all the pleasures of a finely printed work.