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Rigby Graham was a prolific artist who died a year ago next month. Although primarily a landscape painter he also illustrated hundreds books using a variety of media; woodcuts, linocuts, lithographs, etchings, screen-prints and line drawings. This breadth of printing techniques is matched by the range of work, from single page broadsheets to the most expensive publication by Gwas Gregynog (Pennant & His Welsh Landscapes). I was lucky to interview him in 2010 and will add some extracts below in due course.
An immediate problem for the collector of Rigby Graham books is the scarcity of some books. One of the rarest books, The Casquets…The Most Dangerous Channel Islands, describes the hazardous journey that he made with Trevor Hickman to the small group of islands off the main Channel islands. The book is a lavish treasure, bound in quarter leather with an engraved block inset onto the front board, and marbled endpapers (which also cover the slip-case) specially made for the edition. Published by Brewhouse Press in 1972 in a large-format edition of only 30 copies, the illustrations include original linocuts, lithographs and photographs that only exist in this book. Each copy is signed by all seven of the contributors (author / illustrator; publisher / binder; typesetters and printers):
JS: It’s a magnificent book; why were so few made?
RG: We were running on an absolute shoestring…and at that time, everything we produced we lost money on. We asked the Admiralty if we could reproduce the nautical map for the Casquets, and they wouldn’t let us… so he [Trevor Hickman] bought 30 maps for the endpapers, I think they were about £10 each including the postage…that was the reason. [Various copies were given away]…The Harbourmaster at Guernsey helped us get in touch with the naval people… the Captain of the Burhou, the boat we took from Alderney. There were a lot of conditions, we couldn’t be insured….you’re not allowed to go the Casquets, it’s altogether too dangerous. There were 3 lighthouse keepers, the only people on there; they weren’t allowed to have a boat, because it would be tempting to them to use it if there was somebody in distress.
For the collector, this is an extremely desirable book, but one that seldom appears on the market. Of the 30 copies produced at least half of the edition is in libraries, mostly in the UK, US and Ireland.
Here are some of images of the book:
Alan Tucker, in his Introduction to the 2001 Manchester Metropolitan University Library exhibition catalogue of the The Book Illustrations of Rigby Graham, describes some of the illustrations as
“linocuts that challenge comparison with Picasso’s in inventive exuberance. The cuts in the surface of the lino re-enact the process which create the landscape and seascape they depict, the formation of rocks and waves and their instant transformation and destruction, a timescale captured in images on the page that relive the process of discovery” (Alan Tucker, 2001: Vi-Vii).
Here are some of them:
Rigby Graham also used linocuts in another Channel island book: An Alderney Afternoon. Here are some of the images of the book:
Two other Rigby Graham publications from the Brewhouse Press are worthy of note, because of the very long gestation that affected them. Commenced in 1962, Deserted Cornish Tin Mines was published in 1975, and Seriatim was eventually published in 1978.
JS: Is it correct that Seriatim and The Cornish Tin Mines were the two first books started, [by Brewhouse] but among the last published?
RG: Yes, I think that’s right. They’re the same size, because they were printed at the same time, or roughly at the same time. While we were doing printing…producing books that others had asked us to do, we thought we would do some prints off our own back. And we never thought much more about it, but while we were printing linocuts, we could print a linocut for somebody else’s production, at the same time as we had the ink and everything out, we might as well try and do something for ourselves. And very quickly, we produced a title page, I think it was 1965, that was produced within a few weeks of starting, and when Cornish Tin Mines came out, we had to do another title page, because it was now 14 years later! But we were only concerned really with doing the prints, we didn’t know if they’d go in a book, or in a box. Eventually, we were then doing the Cornish Tin Mines, which was going to be a one- volume thing, and I wrote the text for Deserted Cornish Tin Mines, but had by that time, far too many illustrations. So Hickman approached David Tew, and he wrote the companion volume called The Cornish Scene, and my illustrations, which were too many for one book, went happily into both volumes.
These companion volumes are bound in black cloth with a gold-blocked design on the boards that is reproduced on the slip-case. In addition to the linocuts and lithographs there are photographs by Rigby Graham, Trevor Hickman and John Piper. Interestingly, Deserted Cornish Tin Mines retains the two tile pages.
Deserted Cornish Tin mines:
RG: We had a heap of prints – if you stacked them up, you know the pile would have been eight feet high because some of it was on thick paper, some of the paper was the wrong way of the grain, printers off-cuts, sometimes brown paper, all sorts of stuff. Then we produced Seriatim, which was a hotch potch, and I think you’ll find there’s some Tin Mine pictures in Seriatim, because we’d got some spares. And then when things were being produced commercially, like diaries and Christmas cards, we’d have a stack of overs, so we included some of those. Seriatim was merely because it was a series of prints and pictures.
At nearly 350 pages of original prints in various media this is a sumptuously bound volume in full leather with decorated on-lays, all-edges gilt and a slipcase. Only 28 copies of Seriatim were published in 1978: