Printed on Vellum, Illuminated by the Poet's Daughter, a Star Pupil of Ruskin, And Apparently Offered for Sale at the Breathtaking Price of 100 Guineas


([London: Privately printed by the Chiswick Press, 1878). 250 x 202 mm. (9 7/8 x 7 7/8"). [6] leaves (original printed title replaced by an illuminated calligraphic title; the imprint suppressed). ONE OF THREE KNOWN COPIES ON VELLUM WITH ILLUMINATIONS BY BERTHA PATMORE (SIGNED and dated 2 June 1897 on final page).

Early 20th century green crushed morocco by Riviere & Son (stamp-signed at foot of verso of front free endpaper), raised bands, gilt titling, GREEN MOROCCO DOUBLURES bordered by gilt fillet and dots, green watered silk endleaves, all edges gilt. BEAUTIFULLY PAINTED AND ILLUMINATED: calligraphed TITLE PAGE with two initials, one historiated, on a burnished gold ground, and one burnished gold initial, FULL BORDER featuring seascape vignette at head, floral sides, and much gold, enclosed on two sides by curling vines bearing red, blue, and gilt leaves; opening of text with large gilt initial containing a seascape, gilt extensions forming three-quarter border of swirling leafy vine and delicate penwork; EVERY PAGE WITH A GRACEFUL BORDER: four of these comprising panel borders (one of gilt penwork, one replicating Medieval Book of Hours designs, one featuring a pussywillow, one a tendril of honeysuckle), one full border of intricate red penwork, one three-quarter burnished gold bar border terminating at head in an effusion of Medieval-style vines, final page with half border of gilt leaves punctuated at corner by a dandelion, AND NINE LARGE DECORATIVE INITIALS in colors and gold. Bookplate of Lewis Kennedy Morse on front free endpaper. See Derek Patmore, "Portrait of my Family" (1935). Spine and edges sunned to nut brown, a breath of rubbing to joints and extremities, two pages with mild offsetting from the small gilt leaves on facing page, but A FINE SPECIMEN, the vellum clean, smooth, and bright, the colors rich, the gold glimmering, and the binding with none of the splaying that frequently affects works on vellum.

Victorian poet Coventry Patmore's favorite of his own verses, "Amelia" was printed in a very small edition in 1878 (20 or 25 copies on paper, three or five copies on vellum) and later illuminated by his daughter Bertha (b. 1856), a star pupil of John Ruskin. Bertha's brother Derek records in his memoir of the family that Ruskin "would ride over from Denmark Hill to give her lessons in perspective. When he was away at Coniston he would send the young girl pieces of stone and moss to copy. . . . Ruskin even wished [Bertha] to go to stay at Coniston so that he could give her more lessons." The great art critic even went so far as to tell proud father Coventry Patmore (1823-96) that "William Hunt's things were coarse, and had nothing like the exquisite sense of beauty shown in Bertha's work." One of the illuminated vellum copies of "Amelia" was exhibited at the Arts & Crafts Exhibition, prompting "The Saturday Review" to declare it "illuminated with a genius worthy of the monastic masters of the fourteenth century." This positive review emboldened Bertha to place an advertisement in the 1 November 1890 edition of "The Tablet," offering illuminated vellum copies of "Amelia" for 100 guineas and paper copies for 20 to 40 guineas. (For comparison, the Kelmscott Press offered vellum copies of "A Dream of John Ball" in 1892 for 10 guineas.) Customers could also commission illuminated vellum title pages for Missals or Presentations books from Bertha at the rate of 10 to 40 guineas. She seems to have fulfilled Ruskin's hope, expressed in his 1875 paper "Basis of Social Policy," that her artistic talents would save her from "the vulgar career of wives and mothers" to which society would condemn her--and which her father's best-known poem, "The Angel of the House" so idealized. The other two known illuminated vellum copies of "Amelia" are held by the British Library (shelfmark Ashley3736) and the John J. Burns Library in Boston.