The Home and Haunts of Shakespeare

At Shottery Brook - James Leon WilliamsI’ve been hunting down examples of photogravures published around 1900. I’ve been using as a guide the descriptions of examples on the wonderful site photogravure.com. One book came up at a reasonable price on Biblio.com, The Homes and Haunts of Shakespeare, by James Leon Williams. What would I do without Wikipedia? While perhaps more known now for his book published in 1892, he was – as Wikipedia notes – the discoverer of dental plaque. How cool is that!

I was first steered towards this book based on my interest in examples of photogravures by John Taylor, who mentioned the work as one done by a compatriot of mine (an American, John being based in the UK – it’s all relative). Unfortunately, my memory being what it is, I ended up buying the very heavy book from a dealer in the US in a first American edition with 45 photogravure plates.

Abbey Gateway at Stoneleigh - James Leon WilliamsThe book condition is overall fair. It is somewhat fragile (the front cover has detached further since it has come in my possession – at 17 1/4 x 13 inches and 2 1/2 inches thick, it is a ponderous book indeed). The text pages are printed on a glossy stock that has gotten very brittle. This is in sharp contrast to the fine overall condition of Camera Work XXVI I purchased around the same time. But one thing I am seeing is that the photogravures in all of these books are printed separately, usually on a finer paper, and often are in better condition than the surrounding book. As opposed to the tissue photogravures in Camera Work, the photogravures in this book are printed on a heavy stock with a deep embossing of the gravure plate into the paper. Each photogravure is protected by a sheet of tissue imprinted with the title of the image.

Williams photographed the images printed in the book. Quite pastoral. I am primarily interested in portraits, figures still lives and perhaps architectural images – there is a good assortment in this book. The images are richly printed, warm in tone, with the depth that seems to exist in a photogravure. Deep detailed shadows, smoothly toned highlights.

Beauchamp Chapel - James Leon WilliamsThe first image above is from Shottery, home to Anne Hathaway later Mrs. Shakespeare, and notorious for having inherited their second-best bed on the playwright’s death. Other images show village scenes, landscapes, and buildings as they stood in 1892 from areas where Shakespeare was known to haunt.

The copy I have is missing one of the photogravures, Holy Trinity Church – Stratford, which may explain in part the rather reasonable price.

Given the 1892 publication date, Williams was one of the first accomplished American photographers to use the photogravure process to produce fine print work. A follower of Emerson’s Naturalistic School of photography, the images are graceful and nostalgic today. While impractical today due to production costs, it is with a certain sadness that I view the quality of the reproduction of a photograph achieved with the photogravure process.

2 Comments

  1. Posted Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    Interesting article and blog. I’m sure I can seek some inspirartion for my canvas prints business here.

    • ellen amicarelli
      Posted Monday, April 25, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      I have the book. Do you know anyone who wants to buy it?


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