On Monday, St Bride Foundation hosted a special event to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the death of William Blades.
Blades was a printer, author and bibliographer. His involvement with printing started at the age of 15 after becoming an apprentice at his father’s company, Blades, East and Blades. He went onto enjoy a very successful career, vastly improving the firm as a partner.
Although he was an adept businessman, he is also known for his written work. In fact, his obituary in The Printers’ Register (May 1890) suggests that his ‘industry and research’ would have led him to great fame had he devoted himself to a purely literary career, except ‘he was, and preferred to remain, above all things a printer’. Regardless of these notions, he was still recognised as one of the leading authorities on Caxton in his time and remains to this day a hugely important figure in the history of printing.
Blades’ personal library was purchased by the Foundation after his death. This collection of books, research notes and personal correspondences firmly established St Bride Library’s collection.
Various guests from the print, design and publishing industry were given the opportunity to see numerous items in our collection. One of these items was The Enemies of Books (2nd. ed. 1888), which was written by William Blades in order to warn people of the various potential threats to the printed page. Within the book, Blades recalls an interesting tale of a bookworm which he kept for three weeks, very much like his own pet. Blades apparently fed the insect fragments of The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.
Boethius’ work is likely to be quite an expensive delicacy for the modern day bookworm. Nevertheless, we have so far refrained from selling any folios the work for such purposes.
Another item out in the library was The Pentateuch of printing (1891). The copy on display was previously owned by Talbot Baines Reed. A note of appreciation from Blades’ widow, Eliza, was pasted into the front endpapers. She thanks Reed for completing the work, which was published after his death. These personal elements added to the evening’s retrospective narrative.
The reception was also a reason for celebration, as it marked the refurbishment of the William Blades Library. This space, which is located inside the original reading room of the library, is a close replica of Blades’ study in Surrey. Improvements have been made on both a functional and aesthetic level, ultimately enabling us to offer a new historic location for our visitors to use. Conveniently, it also helps towards our central mission to preserve the heritage of print – The Blades Library, after all, is another lasting relic of the man who filled the surrounding bookcases.
Before departure, guests were invited to print their own keepsakes on an Adana printing press. These small commemorative cards were a physical reminder of the work achieved by members of the team, as well as what was a very enjoyable evening for all in attendance.
Congratulations also goes to Theatre Manager, Mikey Palmer, who celebrated his 10th anniversary of work at the Foundation on the same night.