The Edwards of Halifax

William was the head of the Edwards family. He and his five sons were successful binders as well as booksellers and publishers. They had three specialties, examples of which are still highly popular with today's rare book collectors. William Edwards is believed to have developed, or at least was a master, of the Etruscan style of decorating books bound in leather made from the hide of a calf. This decorative technique used acid to stain classical ornaments ( e.g. Greek vases or palmettes) on the calf bindings. Their second specialty was a process for making vellum transparent (patented by James in 1785), allowing an artist to paint or draw a design on the underside of the skin ( Jackson 5). After the vellum binding was completed the image was safely protected from everyday wear. Their third specialty was fore-edge painting, a technique that was revived by William and perfected by Thomas.

William Edwards worked in Halifax for 30 years and then in 1783 he bought up the libraries of three or four collectors. He realized he could not profitably sell his recently acquired inventory in Halifax , and in 1784 he opened a new bookshop for his sons James and John in London ( Pall Mall ), then in 1792 Richard opened another shop in Bond Street . (A few years after their Pall Mall bookshop opened John died in France . It is rumored that he was guillotined, but this is uncertain. However, he would not have been the first man to have been executed during the French Revolution for being identified as an educated man, and therefore an aristocrat (Weber 28-29).) The Edwards family executed all three of their specialties in their Halifax and London bookshops. Today's collectors tend to attribute any binding of the period that imitates any of the three specialties to the Edwards of Halifax (Carter 87).

James Edwards became a celebrity of sorts when he outbid King George III for a Book of Hours known as the Bedford Missal at an auction in London in 1786. Queen Charlotte was scandalized when the King's librarian informed them that the book might go for as much as 200 guineas. To keep his wife happy he told his librarian, George Nichol, not to bid higher than 200 guineas. James won the book for 203 guineas (Weber 4).

When William Edwards died in 1808, his son Thomas inherited his Halifax shop and maintained the business in Halifax until 1826. It is not entirely clear why Thomas focused on fore-edge paintings but he was the biggest proponent of this technique in the Edwards family. When Thomas died in 1834, it marked the end of a thirty year period (1774-1834) in the era of fore-edge paintings.


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