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TALWIN MORRIS

 

 

A SELECTION OF BLACKIE BINDINGS

 

 

 

NAMED

THE RED LETTER POETS
THE RED LETTER RELIGIOUS TEXTS I
THE RED LETTER RELIGIOUS TEXTS II
THE RED LETTER SHAKESPEARE
THE RED LETTER LITERATURE
THE CROWN SERIES
LITTLE FRENCH CLASSICS (SINGLE)
STORIES OLD AND NEW
BLACKIE'S LIBRARY OF FAMOUS BOOKS
THE PALMERSTON READERS
THE PLAIN TEXT POETS
THE PLAIN TEXT SHAKESPEARE
BLACKIE ANNUALS FOR CHILDREN
COMMISSIONS FOR THE SILVER STUDIO ; HARRY NAPPER AND OTHERS

BY SHAPE

TENDRIL AND ROSE
ASSYMETRY AND SPIKES
THE RIBBON MOTIF
SYMMETRY AND COLOUR
BIRDS MOTIF, BLACKIE'S POETRY
BUDS AND BADGES, LITERATURE
DENSE FOLIAGE

GENERAL

CINAMON'S SOTHEBY'S SALE
STUDIO SPECIAL, MODERN BOOKBINDING 1899/1900
MY FIRST SCREENS

 

INDIVIDUAL TITLES

MENU

WORK FOR CASSELL

BATTLES OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY 1901

 

DESIGNING FOR GRESHAM

MAIN MENU (SEVERAL GROUPS)
FROM A SPECIMEN BOOK

VERE FOSTER SERIES ( a source of wealth for Blackie's)

VERE FOSTER COPY BOOK, BOLD WRITING
VERE FOSTER DRAWING BOOK, LANDSCAPE AND MARINE

 

 

SOME BINDINGS - INFLUENCE ON THE UK BOOK TRADE AFTER 1895

 

ARTICLES, THE GLASGOW SCHOOL AND BOOK DESIGN

GERALD CINAMON, THE PRIVATE LIBRARY 1987
 
 

 

 

BLACKIE AND GRESHAM CATALOGUES

BLACKIE ONE TO FIVE
GRESHAM

 

 

Talwin Morris

“Art Manager wanted for a publishing house in Scotland: should be a competent draughtsman, well versed in art matters, of some taste in literature, fitted to take charge of the scheming and production of book illustrations and decorations, and able to carry on the correspondence connected therewith – Apply, by letter only, stating age, particulars of qualifications and salary required to R.B. care of Blackie and Son Limited, 17, Stanhope-street, Glasgow.” February 1893. R.B was Robert Blackie, the OPrganising force behind the firm, and in his ‘Seventies..

The successful candidate was a sub-Art Editor and illustrator on the rather dreary London Magazine, Black and White Budget, one Talwin Morris who until his death in 1911 was responsible for the first integrated and visually homogenised approach to the mass production of easily affordable books.  He left London with an average command of the Art Nouveau working languages that would have been revealed to any reader of the Studio magazine, but once in Glasgow made immediate contact with the burgeoning Glasgow Group of artists and designers. His career would have so much different if the advertisement had been placed by a firm in Norfolk.

Blackie’s commercial fortunes were dependant on  some of the most earnest and dull books on the market, almanacks and de Vere Foster’s Handwriting Exemplar books for example . They sold a wide range of technical and educational books with a large proportion of Gift Books, worthy tomes presented to hardworking and dutiful schoolkids – a wide range of products in terms of cost and age. Many of the Gift Books in my own collection are unread, difficult to love and sometimes bearing the winner’s rage and disenchantment.  Morris’ achievement was to make them sing and shine on the shelf and in the catalogue. One title, say What Katy did at School, might appear in a number of guises, according to price in the shop, and be reprinted over and over again. Some of the authors were giants in their day, Henty, Herbert Strang and Bessie Marchant and Sarah Tytler.  Some are names justly forgotten.

Morris arrived and began to give Blackie books a face-lift, not only incorporating the work of the young designers in Glasgow but also directly employing them. He also refashioned the office with decorative features and a splendid set of swing doors, announcing his intentions to everybody. He lived at Dunglass Castle in Bowling, lowering himself into the artistic life of Glasgow and shaping much of what it was to achieve. The Castle allowed him to expand his decorative work in furniture and metalwork.

There is much arid discussion of authorship. He employed a bright young thing whose work won prizes in the Studio magazine, Ethel Larcombe. His assistant was A.A.Campbell (Archie) to whom is granted the design of many productions by Blackie’s subsidiary, Greshams. Morris was to commission designs from the great Glasgow designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh whose characteristic hard abstract designs could still be found well after Morris’ death, into the late Twenties. Blackie books are notoriously difficult to date (without the Cinamon Handlist drawn from the company archives).

The impact was extraordinary and news of his accomplishments quickly reached London and the Studio magazine. He received the imprimatur of Gleeson White, that astute arbiter of ‘Nineties taste. Morris’ work appeared in the prestigious German periodical  Decorativ Kunst and in 1899 was afforded the distinction of a dedicated article in the Studio, E.B.S. “Mr. Talwin Morris’ designs for  Cloth Bindings”. Our knowledge of Morris’ work has been much enhanced by the scholarly work of the designer Gerald Cinamon and the art historian Robin Gibbs. Many collectors have photographed ranks and rows of the series of Morris’ families of designs. It was clearly one of the intentions from the start that they looked great together on the shelf, encouraging a bit of glamour in the School Library. There were even decorative boxes in which the entire run of say the Red Letter Shakespeare were to be held, whetting the collector’s urge to acquire more. The Blackie Archives are held at the Glasgow University Archives.

Let’s ignore how dull and wearisome were the innards of these books, the most conservative of historical illustration, dull typography, poor titlepages and feeble paper stock. At his best (the Red Letter Library, the Red Letter Shakespeares, Ravensworth and English Pastorals, the formulae of line and dot were capable of almost infinite variations. It is clear from a letter about the symbolism of the Cruciform shapes he was using, that there were thoughtful and erudite programmes of thought and research behind the choice of decorative elements.

Morris’s work is collectible because everybody can find the stuff in various degrees of condition . Even the tatty ones reveal their rich but tortured lives in the school room or on Christmas morning. So much of Art Nouveau design in the ‘Nineties is glimpsed in the sad state of melt, that holding the book up to read will allow the strands of  decoration to congeal at the finger tips. Morris’ designs hang fire, whiplash taut, defying gravity. His design for English Pastorals, board and spine are about as exuberant as he gets (cf the classical balance of a Red Letter Shakespeare. If you read the flow of the lines from bottom to top, he is all flourish and a cheerful dispersion at the summit. Read it in reverse, and the flow descends only to intensify.  The spine takes the dynamicsof the front and compresses it into a vertical picture space. The side panel on the front board of errant sperms shows a controlled version of the main front motif . Much of his liveliness as a designer is in the use of an ambiguity that unsettles your expectations. Is that a line, of the edge of a panel? The assymetrical disposition of globules are always a delight, aberrant yes but always establishing a balance. Perhaps in choosing his signature as a balance between “TM” and the Morse Code equivalents – a dash and two dots, we have a key to it all.

Morris’ attitude to text is also characteristic. Here the philosophy is in an infancy, the risers and the descenders lark about but no more. Later experiments use a wilful fracturing of the words, initially perhaps to fit in restricted space on the spine, but also in a blocky sans-serif way where punctuation takes its turn with intrusive decorative beads, tears and blobs. Whatever he uses on the boards and spines, he achieves a perfect balance, with elements held in suspension with assyemetric spatterings that delight the eye without causing the flan to subside.

One useful quick comparison might be to compare the cover designs of Pouchet’s universe by the house designer before Morris and by Morris himself. I am happy for the comparison to make its own points about the nature of representation, the varieties of pattern, the role of wit in the totality.

In assembling this website I  wanted to challenge the computer screen as a window onto a world with invisible forces of gravity, where things shimmer down to settle in a pile. Morris’ designs inspired me early to explore a heavy weighting of shape at the top with side attachments and a diminishing assemblage of shapes hanging beneath, almost in an heraldic way. Talwin Morris’s work was always behind this.

 

 

 

 

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