Those of you who have been on a tour of the Library’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room will be familiar with our collection of fore-edge books. We always include one of these on tours as the lovely paintings hidden on their edges, and visible only when the pages are fanned, never fail to impress. These paintings were added after the book was published and typically the artist is unknown. Very often we display a copy of the Bible, published in 1839, that shows a hawking scene when its pages are fanned.
Recently I made a connection between this fore-edge painting and another item in the Library’s collection which reveals the artist’s inspiration if not their identity. Compare the image above with this one by Henry Alken…
While the fore-edge painting has been simplified, it is clearly the same image. Henry Alken’s version was published in The National Sports of Great Britain in 1821. The Bible with the corresponding fore-edge painting wasn’t published until 1839, and the fore-edge painting would have been added after that date. The artist must have been a fan of Alken’s work. They wouldn’t have been alone.
Henry Alken (1785 – 1851) was a prolific painter and illustrator. The Library holds upwards of 60 volumes of his work. His subjects included all varieties of sporting topics as well as coaching scenes. He created numerous sets of etchings, often hand colored, depicting sporting scenes.
He also specialized in comical vignettes or satirical illustrations such as this image from Hunting or Six Hours Sport (1823), titled Breaking Covert.
One of the things I love the most about Alken’s work isn’t actually any part of his images but rather the publisher that he frequently partnered with to produce his books. Thomas McLean, a publisher based in London, used the added sobriquet, Repository of Wit and Humour. Now this is a person I would love to meet at a party! I really must come up with a similar tagline myself. Perhaps, Keeper of Curiosities and Wonders?
In addition to extensive holdings of Alken’s published works, the Library has two items containing his original work. The first gives an interesting insight into Alken’s process. It’s titled Cartoons and is a collection of preliminary stick figure sketches that would eventually be fleshed out into the finished images in his published works.
Here’s a close up of two images, both of which were destined to be part of Alken’s comical works.
The other volume of original works is a collection of drawings, paintings, and watercolors. It’s called Horses: Original Drawings. Here are two examples. The first is a watercolor.
The second is a drawing.
If you would like to explore the Library’s holdings of Alken’s work, I would be happy to oblige. Nearly all of it is housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room so please contact us to make an appointment before you visit.
Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail