THE PHOENIX AND TURTLE
Gruffyground Press, 1976
Designed and printed by Sem Hartz at De Tuinwijkpers for Anthony Baker at Gruffyground Press.
Printed in an edition of about 150 copies (despite the lesser figures stated in the colophon and prospectus, both of which were different).
This is a wonderful little rarity that has recently joined my shelves after a decade or so.
Anyone who knows me, or has spent any amount of time on this website, will know that I am an avid collector of the Gruffyground Press. Well, about a decade or so back, I was shown a version of a highly sought-after rejected edition of Shakespeare’s The Phoenix and Turtle, printed in the mid-seventies by Sem Hartz (see Shakespeare and Civilité in my Books of the Moment for a little further information). Being an item I didn’t own, it was instantly on my wants list. As luck would have it I didn’t have to wait too long before I managed to track down a copy and add it to my collection. However, this would never quite fill my need for collection completeness as it was only one of a couple of different variants. Mine was a copy of one of the fifty or so on Japanese handmade paper with scarlet as the second print colour, but I knew there were other variants to be had; mainly copies on Barcham Green, and particularly ones that featured grey-blue as the second colour. The hunt was on, but years passed without even coming across any such copies in the collections of others, let alone for sale. Finally, after years of looking, one such copy came up for sale in an auction in the Netherlands (the exact same auction house where I obtained my first copy). Fortunately I won the item, and it has now joined the pride and joy that is my all-but-complete Gruffyground Press collection.
So that’s the background, but what is it that makes it special? On first glance this booklet doesn’t look to be anything to write home about, but then looks can be deceiving, plus looks aren’t, as they say, necessarily everything! It is, despite being a relatively plain, slight little item that hasn’t been printed particularly well (unusual for a Sem Hartz production), quite handsome. The papers are fine, the restrained design well judged, and the touches of muted grey blue as the second colour very pleasing. But what makes this edition really interesting is the choice of type. It was set entirely using centuries-old historic typefaces held in the museum of the Enschedé printing house, with the bulk being a very peculiar, yet beautiful, sixteenth-century Civilité font based on a style of handwriting from the period. It took me quite a while to get used to the letterforms, but once I had I found them charming rather than perplexing!
As I said at in the last paragraph, looks don't necessarily have to be everything, and this is a good example. Even if its positive aesthetic merits were taken out of the equation, this edition would still be enjoyable purely on the strength of its entertaining background story (see Shakespeare and Civilité in my Books of the Moment). It wouldn’t be as enjoyable, I grant you, but it would be enjoyable nonetheless.
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