Friday, June 13th, 2014...9:39 am

Proof plates printed on satin … and on vellum, India, large, and ordinary paper

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The Decameron (London: William Pickering, 1825). Typ 705.41.223Since the days of the Silk Road, silk fiber has been woven into satin, a luxurious fabric that characteristically has a lustrous and a dull side. Satin has a long history, notably in Great Britain, as a printing support: maps, theatre programs, broadsides, bookplates, and menus are just a few of the objects that have been produced on it. In the mid-eighteenth century the Glasgow publisher R. A. Foulis printed two books on silk: Anacreon’s Odes (1751) and Pindar’s Works (1754-8); a third work, The Seven Cartoons of Raphael (1773), is recorded in Philip Gaskell’s A bibliography of the Foulis Press, though no copy appears to have survived. Though the fashion for printing books and their illustrations on silk or satin was short lived, it was revived in 1825 by the London publisher William Pickering with the illustrations to his edition of Boccaccio’s The Decameron, edited by the exiled Italian writer and revolutionary Ugo Foscolo.

Printed on satin, the steel engraved frontispiece portrait of Boccaccio (by W.H. Worthington after Raphael) and ten plates (by Augustus Fox after Thomas Stothard) have been preserved as extra-illustrations to an earlier English translation of The Decameron (1741) by Charles Balguy, rather than the Pickering edition for which they were intended. A penciled note by “B G W” (as yet unidentified) on the front flyleaf reads: “with Stothard’s Illustrations on Satin – only 1 printed.” The satin’s luster creates brilliant effects when the plates are viewed in indirect light.

Pickering also issued a unique copy of The Decameron on vellum as well as copies on large, India, and ordinary paper: all four issues are held by Harvard, the first three in the Printing & Graphic Arts collection at Houghton Library. Other examples of satin printing at Houghton include a suite of 69 woodcuts after Thomas Bewick to illustrate John Gay’s Fables (London, ca. 1810-1834; 15459.615.18*) and fifty-four illustrations to Estes and Lauriat’s deluxe edition of George Eliot’s Works (Boston, 1886?; Typ 870.86.3595 F), among many other pieces of ephemera.

[Thanks to Peter Accardo, Coordinator of Public Programs, for contributing this post.]

The Decameron (London: William Pickering, 1825). Typ 705.41.223

Steel engraved illustration on satin in Boccaccio’s The Decameron (London: William Pickering, 1825): note the slight fraying along the fore edge. Typ 705.41.223 – Gift of Philip Hofer, 1942.

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