In the summer of 1877, four hundred years after printer William Caxton published The Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres, the first book printed in England, the Caxton Celebration opened in the western International Exhibition Galleries on the Queen's road side of the Horticultural Society's Gardens at South Kensington in London. The exhibition was organized by its Chairman, typefounder and politician Sir Charles Reed, by printer William Clowes, by mathematician and physicist from a family of major printers, William Spottiswoode, by printer, biographer and bibliographer of Caxton and rare book collector, William Blades, and various committees. Two hundred or more people participated in some way as patrons or members of committees, representing a "who's who" of the printing industry in England and Europe at the time, along with leading scientists, scholars, librarians and collectors. A few Americans such as Richard M. Hoe were also involved in committees. The exhibition was open for two months, from June 30 to September 1, 1877.
In their issue of July 1, 1877 The Illustrated London News published a collection of images related to the exhibition called "Caxtoniana." The same newspaper in their issue of July 7 (p. 18) published an article on the opening of exhibition and on p. 17 a large image captioned, "Mr. Gladstone at the Caxton Memorial Exhibition, South Kensington, on Saturday Last." The image showed Prime Minister Gladstone watching printing done on a "Gutenberg-style" hand-press. The Illustrated London News described the opening ceremony of the exhibition as follows:
"The opening ceremony was brief and simple. The leading part was borne by the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone. He was met by Sir Charles Reed, chairman of the committee; Mr. W. Blades, the biographer of Caxton; and the other gentlemen we have named, with the Archbishop of York. A large assembly of ladies and gentlemen filled the rooms assigned for this ceremony, as well as the adjacent galleries. After a special dedicatory prayer offered by the Archbishop, Sir Charles Reed read a short statement of the occasion and the objects of the Exhibition. Mr. Hodson, secetary to the Printers' Pension Corporation, handed to Mr. Gladstone a copy of the Exhibition Catalogue. The right hon. gentleman then declared the Exhibition to be opened. This formal declaration was immediately hailed by a flourish of trumpets from the band of the Royal Horse Guards Blue. Mr. Gladstone was conducted through the exhibition, which he examined with attentive interest. Our Illustration shows him looking at the working of an old press. There was a luncheon provided by the Conservatory of the Horticultural Society's Gardens. The chair was occupied by Mr. Gladstone, at whose right hand sat his Majesty the Emperor of Brazil, but the Emperor left the table before the toasts were proposed. His Majesty's health was, of course, duly honoured next to that of our Queen and Royal family. In his principal speech, giving the memory of William Caxton for the chief toast, Mr. Gladstone commented upon the invention of printing, with his usual copiousness of thought and knowledge, and expressed his admiration of the results now attained. The other speakers were the Bishop of Bath and Wells; Dr. Joseph Parker; Mr. Hall, of the Oxford University Press; M. Chaix, of Paris; Herr Fröbel, of Stuttgart; Sir C. Reed, and Mr. G. Spottiswoode. Subscriptions and donations to the Printers' Pension Corporation fund were announced, amounting to £2000, besides which there will be the receipts from the Exhibition."
As a record of the exhibition, a catalogue was edited by George Bullen (1816-94) Keeper of the Printed Books at the British Museum, entitled Caxton Celebration, 1877. Catalogue of the Loan Collection of Antiquities, Curiosities, and Appliances Connected with the Art of Printing. In its final form this 472 page book listed, sometimes with descriptive bibliographical notes, a total of 4734 items exhibited, making this probably the largest exhibition of rare books, prints, and printing equipment ever held. It encompassed works from the Gutenberg Bible and the Mainz Psalter up to 1877, including about 190 Caxtons, classics illustrating the spread of printing, landmarks of book illustration, examples of music printing, books on papermaking, notable achievements in color printing, examples of historic, unusual or new technologies in printing, as well as printing presses and typesetting and typefounding equipment.
Notably, the catalogue contained no images. Presumably it was a sufficient challenge just to publish a non-illustrated bibliographical record of such an enormous exhibition, crediting the numerous lenders to the show. Collecting about and around this exhibition over 100 years later, in 2011 and 2012, allowed me to reconstruct some of the unusually complicated history of the publication of this exhibition catalogue. By June 2012 I identified 8 editions or states:
(1) During the early days of the exhibition a small number of preliminary "Rough Proof" copies of the catalogue were available. This I have not seen.
(2) A bit later during the exhibition a "Preliminary Issue" with 404pp. and 10 leaves of advertisements was issued in pale blue printed wrappers for sale at 1s. This version, which was called "Preliminary Issue" on both its printed wrapper and title page, listed 4633 entries. In it Class C was entitled "The Comparative Development of the Art of Printing in England and Foreign Countries Illustrated by Specimens of the Holy Scriptures and Liturgies." The number of entries in Class C ended at 1351, leaving a gap of 100 items between the next entry in the catalogue, No. 1451 beginning "Class D. Specimens Noticeable for Rarity or for Beauty and Excellence of Typography." This indicates that the cataloguing of Class C was incomplete at the time the Preliminary Issue was printed.
(3) Later during the exhibition a version with 456pp and 11 leaves of advertisements was issued. My copy of this is bound in original brown cloth, edges untrimmed. It lists 4734 entries. In this version pp. xiv-xviii were reset to allow the addition of several names to various committees. Also the entire Class C. was substantially rewritten and expanded, which required resetting numerous pages. In this version Class C. is headed "The History of Printing Illustrated by the Printed Bible, 1450-1877, By Henry Stevens." A new gathering M*was inserted, between gatherings M and N, its pages numbered 176a to 176q, bringing the Bibles catalogued up to No. 1450, and the Liturgies numbered 1450a-1450θ. Since Henry Stevens's introduction to Class C is dated July 25, 1877 we may presume that this version came out either very late in July or during August.
(4) Virtually at the end of the exhibition a "Revised Edition" of the catalogue was issued in tan printed wrappers, containing 472 pages and 11 leaves of advertisements at the back. The designation "Revised Edition" appeared only on the upper printed wrapper, and not the title page. This was priced 2s. 6d. My copy of this version bears the inscription of George William Reid, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, who, according to Bullen's Introduction (p. xi), catalogued the various woodcuts, copper-plates and other engravings in Class G. of the exhibition. Reid's inscription is dated September 1877. Without the printed wrappers the different versions can be determined by the number of pages. It is evident that many or all gatherings were reprinted for this edition in which the entries were renumbered in one series with continuous pagination.
(5) After the exhibition 157 hand-numbered large-paper copies of the revised edition with 472pp. were available on "superfine toned hand-made paper," edges untrimmed in a special original brown cloth binding for 1 guinea, and
(6) 12 hand-numbered copies were available on extra large thick hand-made paper at the cost of 5 guineas, likewise in an original brown cloth binding, edges untrimmed. No copies of (5) or (6) that I have seen had wrappers or ads.
(7) After the exhibition some of the copies of the catalogue printed on regular paper were bound in cloth for sale. I have a copy bound in original green cloth, edges trimmed, without ads.
(8) I also have a copy bound in original red cloth, edges trimmed, stamped "PRESENTATION COPY" on the upper cover with an inscription to British Museum Librarian, G. W. Porter, from J. S. Hodson, Honorary Secretary of the Executive Committee dated November 17, 1877. This copy contains 2 leaves of ads at the back. In his introduction to the catalogue George Bullen credits Hodson, who was Secretary of the "Printers' Pension, Almshouse and Orphan Asylum Corporation," for "having originated this celebration," the proceeds of which went to support the Printers charities that Hodson managed.
The most extensive section in the exhibition, and also the most extensively annotated portion of the catalogue, was "Class C. The History of Printing Illustrated by the Printed Bible, 1450-1877" by the American bibliographer and antiquarian bookseller Henry Stevens who lived in London. Stevens ran into conflicts with the organizers of the exhibition, who were concerned that Stevens's extensive exhibition and detailed cataloguing was unduly prominent in the exhibition. They may also have been irritated that some of Stevens's cataloguing was not finished until the middle of show. At the end of his introduction to Class C Stevens indicated that he would publish a revised edition of his portion of the catalogue after the show. This he duly published as an unillustrated 151 page book in 1878 under the following verbose title:
The Bibles in the Caxton Exhibition MDCCCLXXVII or a bibliographical description of nearly one thousand representative Bibles in various languages chronologically arranged from the first Bible printed by Gutenberg in 1450-1456 to the last Bible printed at the Oxford University Press the 30th June 1877. With an Introduction on the History of Printing as Illustrated by the printed Bible from 1450 to 1877 in which is told for the first time the true history and mystery of the Coverdale Bible of 1535 Together with bibliographical notes and collations of many rare Bibles in various languages and divers versions printed during the last four centuries.
This book Stevens issued both as an octavo trade edition on ordinary paper and clothbound, and on large paper printed on Whatman hand-made paper. Large paper copies were advertised for 15s in a half-roan binding or in red morocco extra by Bedford for £4.4s. My copy of the large paper edition is in an original green cloth binding matching the binding of the trade edition, and comes from the library of Henry Frowde of Oxford University Press, who became Publisher of the press in 1880. In his book Stevens explained that his efforts were the culmination of 30 years of work on Bible bibliography. For the exhibition he borrowed Bibles from sources including the British Museum, the Bodleian, Queen Victoria, Earl Spencer, the Earl of Leicester, Francis Fry, the Signet Library and its librarian, David Laing of Edinburgh and Henry J. Atkinson of Gunnersbury House in Middlesex.
In association with Henry Stevens, Henry Frowde of Oxford University Press undertook the publication of a pocket-sized Bible that would demonstrate advances in printing technology since its introduction in England by Caxton. The small bible was printed and bound by Oxford University Press in an edition of 100 numbered copies in only twelve hours on the opening day of the exhibition, June 30, 1877. Copy no. 1 was presented to Gladstone when he opened the show. In March 1878 Stevens published a small 30-page book entitled The History of the Caxton Memorial Bible printed and bound in twelve consecutive hours on June 30, 1877. In this book Stevens told the story of this remarkable achievement in which copies of the 1052-page 16mo volume were printed from standing type, on paper specially made for the edition by Oxford University Press only a few days before printing. The printed sheets were artificially dried and hand-bound in turkey morocco by 101 binders assigned to the task. Stevens calculated that had type composition been necessary it would have taken "2000 compositors and 200 readers to set up and properly read the Bible in these same twelve hours." Stevens seems to have had copies of his 16mo history bound in different styles since the copy in my library is bound in a more elaborate leather binding than that reproduced by the Internet Archive.
The remarkable exhibition of rare books on the history of printing and typography described in the exhibition catalogue for the Caxton Celebration was loaned in its entirety by William Blades, who also catalogued all the Caxtons and other early English printed books in the exhibition. In addition Blades wrote a separate 32-page pamphlet entitled A Guide to the Objects of Chief Interest in the Loan Collection of the Caxton Celebration, Queen's Gate, South Kensington that was distributed during the exhibition. Blades was also a collector of medals relating to the history of printing and hoped to have a medal struck commemorating the 1877 celebration. For the purpose he issued a prospectus with a reproduction of the proposed design; however, there were insufficient subscribers, and the medal is known only from the prospectus, the design from which was reproduced by Henry Morris in his introduction to the 2001 facsimile reprint of Bigmore & Wyman.
The superb exhibition of type specimens in the show was curated by writer, typefounder, historian of type foundries, and son of Sir Charles Reed, Talbot Baines Reed.
♦ Perhaps the most unusual Caxton Celebration item I collected is an 8-page 4to pamphlet entitled Caxton Celebration June 1877. A Biographical Notice of William Caxton The First English Printer Reprinted from the "Leisure Hour" for May, 1877 in Phonetic Spelling with a Specimen page of Caxton's Type and Woodcuts. This pamphlet, with an introduction by Isaac Pitman dated May 29, 1877, was issued by Fred. Pitman in London and offered for sale at the price of one penny, presumably at the Caxton Celebration exhibition. In his lengthy introduction Issac Pitman referred to the Elementary Education Act of 1870, requiring education of children in England and Wales, and took the opportunity to promote phonetic spelling as a way of simplifying British education and improving national literacy. In a footnote he wrote: "The Educational Blue Book for 1875-6 gives the following statistics:- 2,221,745 children were presented for examination. Of this number, 19,349 (or less than one per cent.) reached Standard VI :- and 53,587 (3 1/2 per cent, including the previous number) reached Standard V, which a pupil must pass before he is permited to leave school under 13 years of age."
Other publications issued in connection with the exhibition were a new edition of William Blades's The Biography and Typography of William Caxton England's First Printer (1877; first published 1861), William Caxton, the First English Printer. A Biography by printer Charles Knight (1877). This was a new edition of a work previously issued. Also published in 1877 was a 47-page pamphlet entitled, Who Was William Caxton? by "R[owland] H [ill] B[lades]", brother of William Blades. This was intended to fill a need for an inexpensive, relatively brief account of Caxton.
The most elaborate publication associated with the exhibition was a facsimile of Caxton's The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers. A Facsimile Reproduction of the First Book Printed in England by William Caxton in 1477. This facsimile, printed in two-color photolithography, included an introduction by William Blades printed by letterpress. The volume was offered for sale by the London publisher Elliot Stock at the price of one guinea bound in a heavy coated paper binding over boards, and blindstamped very effectively to resemble a blind-stamped calf binding of the 15th century.
Bigmore & Wyman, A Bibliography of Printing I (1880-84) 124-26. Twyman, Early Lithographed Books (1990) 258.