Books On Books Collection – Christopher Wormell

An Alphabet of Animals (1990)

An Alphabet of Animals (1990)
Christopher Wormell
Casebound in cloth, sewn, title label on front cover. 272 x 272 mm. 64 pages. Acquired from MacKellar Art & Books, 14 March 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

An Alphabet of Animals has several distinguishing features. Its art and lettering come from handcut lino block prints. Each picture would require multiple blocks. To produce the images and color, each block would be inked and printed separately by hand.

Another distinguishing feature is how Wormell’s art and lettering recall that of William Nicholson’s The Square Book of Animals (1899), Carton Moore Park’s Alphabet of Animals (1899) and C.B. Falls’ ABC Book (1923).

A century after the heyday of Nicholson, Park and Falls, Wormell found himself in an entirely different tradition of alphabet books and style of art: the world of The Sesame Street Storybook Alphabet (1980), the Little Golden Books (1970s/80s) and the Ladybird alphabet of the 1960s.

Alphabets from Sesame Street, Golden Books and Ladybird.

Wormell’s range of color across the animals is also a distinguishing feature as is the color gradient technique. The alligator’s colors are almost murky, the lobster’s electric, and the xenops’ soft in comparison.

Lino printing a color gradient is tricky. More than one color of ink has to be applied to the same block. The gradients achieved by Wormell are genius. In some of the images, the gradation benefits from the texture of the paper showing through, captured in the color separation by scanner and offset printing of the book and demonstrating Wormell’s touch.

Note how the grain of the paper on which the print was made peeks through.

Another distinction — unintentional and for this particular copy only — is the endpaper treatment. The front endpapers — a doublure, one leaf of the end paper pasted to the board and one leaf free — present vintage images of animals, and the back doublure presents the same of birds. The free leaf is not actually free though.

At the front and back, these wallpaper-like leaves are glued to an original separate plain flyleaf in each case, which is detectable at the edges where one slightly overlaps the other.

The style of the decorated endpapers harks back to works like The Child’s Picture Book of Alphabets, published by Thomas Nelson & Sons in 1880 (see below). While the previous owner may have had good reason for adding these endpapers (and did or received a pretty good job of it), the contrast with Wormell’s book block is jarring.

From A Child’s Picture Book of Alphabets (1880), in the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Toronto Public Library.

The upside is that this copy inadvertently provides the student of alphabet books and illustration with a handy juxtaposition of the style of illustration against which Nicholson, Moore Park and Falls were reacting with Wormell’s distinctive revival of their approach, which in turn set his book apart from the late 20th century’s crowd.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

C.B. Falls“. 14 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Enid Marx“. 1 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Miarko“. Books On Books Collection. In progress.

Carton Moore Park“. 28 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

William Nicholson“. 26 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Nick Wonham“. 24 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

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