Friday, July 20, 2012

The Beautiful Trade Bindings Of Ibsen First Editions

By Stephen J. Gertz

IBSEN, Henrik. Hedda Gabler.
Kobenhavn: Gyyldendalske Boghandels Forlag, 1890.

Considered to be amongst the most important plays and Henrik Ibsen the most influential playwright since Shakespeare, the first editions of Ibsen's dramas in the original Norwegian, were bound by the publisher in splendid cloth trade bindings with, ultimately, a uniform design in varying colors.

IBSEN, Henrik. Nar Vi Dode Vagner (When We Dead Awaken).
Kobenhavn: Gyyldendalske Boghandels Forlag, 1899.

"More than anyone, he gave theatrical art a new vitality by bringing into European bourgeois drama an ethical gravity, a psychological depth, and a social significance which the theater had lacked since the days of Shakespeare. In this manner, Ibsen strongly contributed to giving European drama a vitality and artistic quality comparable to the ancient Greek tragedies" (Bjorn Hemmer, University of Oslo).

IBSEN, Henrik. John Gabriel Borkman.
Kobenhavn: Gyyldendalske Boghandels Forlag, 1892.

Gyldendalske Boghandels Forlag, of Copenhagen, was founded in 1770 by Søren Gyldendal. It is the oldest and largest publishing house in Denmark, and, prior to 1925, it was also the leading publishing house in Norway,  publishing all of Henrik Ibsen's works under arrangement with his counselor  and friend, publisher Frederik Hegel, who, in 1850, had assumed control of Gldendal and for twenty-two years published Ibsen's work until his death in 1889, at which point his son, Jacob, assumed the responsibility and honor.

IBSEN, Henrik. Et Dukkenhjem (A Doll's House).
Kobenhavn: Gyyldendalske Boghandels Forlag, 1879.

Brand, released in 1866, was Ibsen's breakthrough and the first of Ibsen's works to be published by Frederik Hegel, who had his doubts. Only 1275 copies were printed. But the book went through at least three more printings by the end of the year. Ibsen's reputation was made, and he was recognized as the greatest of all Scandinavian writers.

From that point on his books were issued in first printings of 8,000-10,000 copies in attractive cloth trade bindings whose style evolved into the uniform design seen here.

IBSEN. Henrik. Bygmester Solness (The Master Builder).
Kobenhavn: Gyyldendalske Boghandels Forlag, 1896.

These first editions in their attractive trade bindings were, however, expensive for the average individual, and so Jacob Hegel, in 1898, suggested to Ibsen that they reissue all of his works in inexpensive editions.

"It gave me great pleasure to receive your proposal for the publication of a low-priced popular edition of my books," Ibsen replied to Hegel. "For a considerable time I had been wishing for such an event in order to make it possible for my collected works to be distributed among social strata to which it is difficult for the more expensive editions to gain entry. And now the moment is undoubtedly the most favourable that could be chosen. It is therefore with great satisfaction and gratitude that I have received your excellent offer and I consequently consider the matter decided in respect thereof" (Letter to Hegel, January 16, 1898).

IBSEN, Henrik. Vildanden (The Wild Duck).
Kobenhavn: Gyyldendalske Boghandels Forlag, 1884.

When John  Carter and Percy H. Muir organized Printing and the Mind of Man, the classic 1963 exhibition with its now standard and indispensable reference catalog (1967), on the impact of 424 books on five centuries of Western civilization, they included the works of Henrik Ibsen.

"Choosing one of his plays above all others was difficult. It is virtually impossible to select any one play as 'typical' of Ibsen's choose between his attacks on social corruption...and his critical studies of the subjection of women, such as A Doll's House (1879) or The Wild Duck (1887) is not easy. Hedda Gabler has been selected here as possibly his most frequently performed play in the modern theater.

Publisher's blindstamp to rear boards, as called for.

"Ibsen's influence on the whole course of modern drama may be indicated by the inclusion of his plays in the repertoire of every avant-garde theater of his day... Ibsen's revolutionary technique has now become firmly established... As to the social message of his plays, it should be remembered that his purpose was analytic not didactic. He was concerned with the exploration of social problems rather than with moral preaching" (Printing and the Mind of Man 375).

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