I’ve had a love affair with the work of Charles Van Sandwyk for a long, long time. Ever since I found one of his postcards at Courtyards in Tiverton. It was an eerily perfect illustration of Toad, from the Wind in the Willows, and I was in love pretty much immediately. The shop had a pile of his books, most of which come out in limited editions. Like, seriously limited. Like a couple of hundred ever. And Van Sandwyk was sort of obviously going to be a hit with me, given my well-known obsession with books as works of art, and my less well-known obsessions with art nouveau, letterpress, illustration art (Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland are my favorite thing ever) and fairies (not Disney fairies, I might add, the sinister Arthur Rackam type. Think the Wee Free men). So when I ran across Van Sandwyk it was like cold fusion of all my interests. These are some of my favorite books:
You can also get the two frogs as a card and I may or may not have a copy framed. I meant to give it to my parents as an anniversary card, but I couldn’t bear to part with it. But Van Sandwyk’s crowing glory, according to both him and me, is his fantastic edition of the Wind in the Willows, which is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
Van Sandwyk describes pitching his idea for the Folio Society’s edition of The Wind in the Willows: “I sat down in his (the editor’s) office and he said, ‘Right, we’d like another fairly modest version, because we’d like children to be able to buy it, maybe eight or 10 paintings.’ I thought to myself, Oh dear, I want to do so many things here. I said, ‘Please listen.’ He looked at the door, and then at me, and said, ‘Right, what do you want?’ And in a great rush I said, ‘I want two-colour gold blocking on the cover. I want lots of green cloth that looks like willow leaves. Inside, the flyleaf paper should smell and taste completely different than what’s in the middle, and there should be the smell of very expensive glue. And there should be at least 100 paintings or drawings—one for every year I’ve missed doing The Willows, which is almost 100 years. And I think we should have a little engraved tipped-on label for the cover.’ He agreed to take it to the board, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so relieved when I left their office.” From an interview here.
Those are the endpapers. It’s an architectural plan of Toad Hall. I mean come on, could you get more perfecter? And look at this. This is what those Penguin classics editions wish they looked like. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Penguins, in fact I kind of love them. But this…. this is the real deal.
The Centenary Edition goes for $1800 Canadian. And you know why? This is why. “In my mind’s eye, I saw each illustration already finished in the medium it was going to be in, and I think that also comes from having thought this book through for 30 years. Etchings are certainly more work, but they’re a lot more fun. I think my favourite images are the ones I decided to do as etchings, because etching is one of my favourite mediums” (Via.)