Special collections acquisition: The Elf

The Elf: A Sequence of the Seasons is a series of four slim volumes about the seasons issued between 24 May 1902 (spring) and 6 February 1904 (winter); 250 copies were produced of each issue. Each volume comprises a mixture of prose and poetry accompanied by full-page illustrations. The artist and writer is James Guthrie (1874-1952), a Scottish-born artist, printer and bookplate designer who had founded The Elf with W.B. Macdougall as a journal in 1899. Guthrie was a leading wood engraver associated with the development of private presses and the return to romanticism in design. His art work shows the influence in its mood of Romantic visionaries William Blake, Edward Calvert and Samuel Palmer; to their mood Guthrie added his own tempestuous eddying waters, wild skies and curly trees. These issues of The Elf appeared with the Old Bourne Press, a private press founded by W. Herbert Broome in 1902 at Holborn. Guthrie later founded the Pear Tree Press in 1905, where he produced works ranging from children’s books to poetry and for which he coloured by hand the block for each print, such that every copy of every print was different; three Pear Tree Press books are held at Senate House Library.

Senate House Library has held another of Guthrie’s books with the Old Bourne Press, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s The Blessed Damozel (1903) among the private press books in the Sterling Library since Sir Louis Sterling gave his collection of first and fine editions of English literature to the University of London in 1956. The Elf is a recent acquisition, purchased late in 2014. The Library copy has been rendered individual by an inscription in the spring issue: “To J.O.B. from James Guthrie, Sept. ‘08”. Inspiration about the identity of J.O.B. is welcome.

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