Blowfish and Sycamore Seeds, Part One

During my trip to Pennsylvania in May one of the places I visited in Doylestown was the Bucks Country Bookshop, a used bookstore in a charming old Victorian house.  I rarely buy books because years of packing and moving them has turned me off to the idea of a vast personal library, but I still enjoy perusing bookstores.

The shop I visited. Image courtesy of

While I was looking the antique books section, I came across a package of vintage endpapers from dismantled books.

A quick preliminary examination revealed that it was chain-laid paper, with the watermark CSS.

Some pages had gold bordering around the edges, while others were still bound together with loose threads. Such details suggested the book that these pages had come out of was fairly high quality. The printmaker in me thought they would make for good intaglio prints, so I bought the whole package. After all, it only cost $6, what did I have to lose? It was certainly easier to pack in my carry-on than an actual book.

I became curious about the paper's origins and decided to do a little research. Fortuitously enough, one of the sheets had the title page information printed on it, so after a couple of quick Google searches I had found some answers. The Internet really is quite inspiring for the amount of information in can yield within such a short time.

Image courtesy of

As it turns out, the pages were from from an edition of the works of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), and was printed by Charles Scribner's Sons in twenty four volumes between 1895 and 1899. Volumes 25-27 were printed a few years later in 1911 and 1912. This particular printing is often referred to as the Thistle edition due to the Arts and Crafts-inspired thistle design on the covers.

My pages appear to have belonged to volume III, based on this title page.

I then became interested in learning more about the stories themselves. The pages I had, or at least the title page, were from volume III, which consisted of two works: More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter, and The Story of a Lie. I was familiar Stevenson's more famous titles like Treasure Island (illustrated spectacularly by none other than Peter Hurd's mentor, N.C. Wyeth) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but the works listed on the title page were new to me.

Robert Louis Stevenson. Image courtesy of

The Story of a Lie was first published in 1879, and tells about a young couple and the threat that a misunderstanding between them poses to their burgeoning relationship. More New Arabian Nights, published in 1885, was actually written by Stevenson and his wife, Fanny Van De Grift Stevenson (1840-1914), and is a series of loosely connected stories inspired in format by The Thousand and One Nights. The setting for these stories, however, is 1880s London, with themes of terrorism, intrigue, and the appeal of the exotic being primary themes. I found it especially interesting that Fanny also worked on these stories, giving the work a collaborative nature (plus she led a rather interesting life in her own right, which is worth checking out). In any case, I'll have to see whether I get a copy of them from the library, as they sounded interesting enough.

Fanny Stevenson. Image courtesy of

So that appears to be the story behind my paper, but while I found all of this extremely interesting, it didn't actually influence my own work. This is because I did the research after I had printed my edition. I was so excited to try the paper that I put off looking up the watermarks and works listed until afterwards. In retrospect I probably would have adapted my prints to suit the papers' history if I had known that information beforehand, but then again, I might have felt paralyzed by ideas and not printed anything at all. By just diving in and working on my own subject matter, I was able to complete an entire edition within a few days, something I rarely accomplish.

What did I print? The title you give you a good idea, but regardless, find out next week...