DODGSON, Charles Lutwidge (‘Lewis Carroll’) (1832-1898) and TENNIEL, John (1820-1914) — A collection of original printing blocks for the first editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (London: R. Clay, Son, and Taylor for Macmillan and Co., 1865), and for the first edition of Through the Looking-Glass, and what Alice found there (London: R. Clay, Son, and Taylor for Macmillan and Co., 1871).
A superb collection of original printing plates for Tenniel’s celebrated illustrations to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, used in the production of the early editions including the legendarily rare first edition.
Together 49 copper-plated lead printing blocks [38 for Adventures, and 11 for Looking Glass] electrotyped from the wooden blocks all after John Tenniel and cut by Dalziel Brothers, except one block with the title and text of ‘Jabberwocky’ in reverse. Provenance: R. Clay, Son, and Taylor (printers) — the estate of Donald William Barber of Bungay, Suffolk (Clay employee, indentured 25 March 1938, retired c. 1986-7; sold, Christie’s, 28 November 2001, lot 60).
John Tenniel's drawings to illustrate Alice's Adventures in Wonderland had been transferred to woodcut blocks by the well-known London firm of engravers Dalziel Brothers, and electrotype blocks had been prepared from these wooden blocks for the printers. The first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was printed by The Clarendon Press for Macmillan in 1865 using these blocks; however, when Tenniel saw the first copies, he was not pleased with the reproduction of his illustrations, and persuaded Dodgson to recall all the copies that had been printed. Dodgson's diary entry for 20 July 1865 states: ‘Called on Macmillan, and showed him Tenniel's letter about the fairy-tale – he is entirely dissatisfied with the printing of the pictures, and I suppose we shall have to do it all again’ (R.L. Green, ed., The Diaries (London: 1953), p.234). Only about 20 copies of that first edition survive; it is one of the rarest and most valuable books in English literature. R. Clay, Son, and Taylor were chosen to print a new edition (which was to be the second, first published, edition), and on 11 August 1865, Dodgson received the first proof sheet from Clay. Macmillan probably suggested Clay because they were 'expert in [the electrotype block] medium' (J. Moran, Clays of Bungay. Bungay, Suffolk: 1984, p.91), and they could be trusted to print the illustrations to Tenniel's exacting standards. The finished book was issued later in the year, and on 9 November 1865, Dodgson described the finished book thus: 'Received from Macmillan a copy of the new impression of Alice – very far superior to the old, and in fact a perfect piece of artistic printing' (R.L. Green, ed., op. cit., p.236). The present set of electrotype blocks was presumably prepared for the book's first printing in June 1865 by The Clarendon Press, and were then transferred to Clay for use in the first published edition (with letterpress text and electrotype illustrations). It is certainly unlikely that they were employed for the sixth edition of October 1868 (or subsequent editions), which were printed from electrotype plates of the text and illustrations. In 1876, Clay bought Charles Child of Bungay's printing business, to supplement the capacity of their London presses in Bread Street Hill, and the present electrotype blocks were taken there at some point after this date (cf. Moran op. cit. p.76). The Alice blocks correspond to 36 illustrations of 42 in this first edition, including 4 duplicates; and the Looking Glass blocks relate to 10 illustrations of 50 in this first edition, including 1 duplicate. Cf. Williams-Madan-Green-Crutch 42, 46, and 84.