Books On Books Collection – E.N. Ellis

An Alphabet (1985)

An Alphabet (1985)
E.N. Ellis
Terracotta card slipcase, casebound sewn, quarter terracotta cloth and red patterned paper covered boards with white-paper label stamped in red, colored endpapers, Velin d’Arches paper. Slipcase: H138 x W108 mm; Book: H135 x W107 mm, 32 pages. Edition of 75, of which this is #31. Acquired from David Miles Bookseller, 30 September 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

An Ashmolean exhibition called “Scene through Wood” (10 August–15 November 2020) featured the work of Edwina Ellis among others in a century overview of wood engraving. Here is the exhibition’s description of Ellis and her work

Born in Australia in 1946, Ellis is a pioneering artist responsible for ‘some of the most technically elaborate engravings ever made’. Her work is held in international collections around the world. Her treatments of mundane objects like pieces of paper are virtuoso achievements, so realistic they take on surreal dimensions.

Less concerned with realism or surreality, her wordless alphabet reveals a sly humor: U for an upside down unicorn and X for a Dodo, and animal anatomy drawing attention to letter parts (for example, tails).

With Ellis and her humor, the traditional tension between text and image in artists’ books falls into reveling with entwining letters and even hiding them with their animal associates and striking the balance just right.

Also on display is her appreciation for predecessors: a hint of Johannes Lencker on the title page while squeezing the tools of the trade in between an armadillo and zebra, and a nod toward Aldus Manutius and his dolphin and anchor trademark.

Distinguished abecedarians and typographers have an interesting history with the black and white coat of arms and title piece atop the masthead of The Times of London. In 1953, it was Reynolds Stone; in 1966, Berthold Wolpe; and in 2006, Edwina Ellis.

The last word on this work of book art belongs to the artist:

The blocks and the book are significant to me now on a number of counts. They almost began my wood-engraving career, I worked with a seminal printer and also bonded with Stanley Lawrence over the course of the engraving. The wood-blocks increased in quality over the course of their engraving as my ability and our mutual respect grew. I had no knowledge of letterpress printing, so the initial letters and animals tightly fit each rectangle: this gave Michael Mitchell of the Libanus Press enormous headaches, as he had to carefully measure and pack the blocks differently. He was, meanwhile, teaching me to print. I often still think of the dodo makeready: a revelation. (Correspondence with Books On Books, 22 October 2021)

Further Reading

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

Poster artwork; London’s new architecture, by Edwina Ellis, 1996“. London Transport Museum. Accessed 29 October 2021.

Driver, David. 20 November 2006. “After 221 years, the world’s leading newspaper shows off a fresh face“. The Times. Accessed 29 October 2021.

Stone Reynolds. 1974. An Alphabet. London: Warren Editions.

Hall, Alistair. 29 September 2017. “The Wolpe Collection.” We Made This. Accessed 29 October 2021. Wolpe was also a scholar of typography, One of the works with which he was involved is in the Books On Books Collection: Johann David Steingruber’s Architectonisches Alphabeth (1773/1972).

Books On Books Collection – Johannes Lencker

Perspectiva Literaria (1567/1972)

Perspectiva Literaria (1557/1972)
Johannes Lencker, Ed. Eberhard Fiebig
Perfect bound paperback. H235 x W197 mm. 60 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Antiquariat Bernard Richter, 11 November 2021.
Photo: Books On Books Collection.

About a dozen institutions hold copies of the 1567 original from which this 1972 facsimile was made. They list Johannes (or Hans) Lencker (German, active by 1551–died 1585) as the author and Matthias Zündt (German, probably ca. 1498–1572) as the artist, meaning engraver. Lencker’s hand lies behind the book’s images and Perspektivische Buchstaben (“Perspectival Letters“), a pen and brown ink and wash print auctioned in 2019.

Perspektivische Buchstaben
Johannes Lencker
Pen and brown ink and wash. 289 x 182 mm. From Mutual Art.

Portrait of the Nuremberg Goldsmith Hans Lencker (1523-1585) and his 9-year old son Elisius the Younger (1570)
Nicolas Neufchâtel (1533-1587)
National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen.

Lencker and Zündt’s achievements with perspective, letters and geometric shapes stand on the shoulders of Leonardo da Vinci (ca. 1490) and Albrecht Dürer (1525), just as theirs stand on those of the rediscoverers of linear perspective: Filippo Brunelleschi (1415), Leon Battista Alberti (1435) and Piero della Francesco (ca.1460). Lencker’s originality lay in designing his letters as solids leaning against geometrical solids and resting on a horizontal shelf. The shelf’s thick, grainy fore edge and the thin parallel line above it, suggesting the shelf’s intersection with a blank wall, set up a field of depth in which the geometrical models’ mass and shape set off the three-dimensionality of the foreshortened letters balanced on and against them. Some letters’ feet and edges seem to enter the viewer’s space, an effect enhanced by a hand-colored version of the original. Sadly the facsimile contains no examples of the hand-colored images.

Perspectiva literaria. Das ist ein clerliche fürreyssung wie man alle Buchstaben des gantzen Alphabets… in die Perspectif einer flachen Ebnen bringen mag (1567)
After drawings by Hans Lencker, engraved by Matthias Zündt
Limp binding in vellum. H307 x W200 mm. 21 of 22 plates.
From Bonhams auction, 19 August 2020.

From 1972 facsimile.

These are not letters for calligraphic or typographic use. They are objects the viewer wants to touch, pick up and play with — something that can also be found in works by Takenobu Igarashi, Ji Lee, Peter Vandermark and Johnson Banks.

Further Reading

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

Boeckeler Erika Mary. 2017. Playful Letters : A Study in Early Modern Alphabetics. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Fahn M. 2019. Christoph, Zacharias und Johannes Lencker: Studien zum Werk einer augsburger Goldschmiedefamilie um 1600 (dissertation). Frankfurt-am-Main: Peter Lang.

Morley, Madeleine. 4 October 2016. “Berlin’s Buchstabenmuseum is the World’s First Collection of 3D Lettering“. Eye on Design(AIGA). Accessed 31 August 2022.