This edition of the Sonnets is truly lovely. Color printing throughout the edition stands out from the ivory pages, and the soft pastels of the floral design remind one of Victorian postcards. While not the first example of a colored book, the Armstrong edition of the Sonnets are widely regarded as a masterpiece of this time period. This edition was printed in 1902, and it stands to reason that both Putnam and Knickerbocker Press had access to the newest tools of the trade. We are certain the preface image of a “famished pilgrim saved by miracle” created by Helen Armstrong is an example of photogravure as noted by other scholars. Yet, without a stronger grounding in the many photographic advances at the turn of the century, and what tools Putnam had at its fingertips, it is difficult to determine how exactly Armstrong’s image made their way onto the printed page. Below is a short quotation detailing many of the advancements in color printing and image transfers at the turn of the century:
“A number of processes were rapidly developed around the turn of the century-- photogravure, photolithography, photo-engraving, and others--which allowed the image to be transferred from the original drawing to the printing surface photographically. These processes, however, transferred only the outline, not the color. The invention of the trichromic halftone solved the problem of color reproduction by using film which was sensitive to color and a series of filters for the camera lens which filtered out all but either the red, yellow, or blue section of the spectrum. The result was a wide color palette with the colors appearing bright and true to the original."
The decorations in this edition are numerous. In fact, each page (with the exception of the fly leaves) feature a decoration. These decorations are always floral (with except of dragonfly colophon) and feature appropriate colors like pinks, purples, blues and greens. The decorations that adorn the text are usual contained to the verso page borders, although they will sometimes cross the gutter to decorate the top of the recto page, above the poem. Decorations include pansies, roses, wild flowers, lilies, irises and more. Gullans and Espey describe her decoration as “a range of materials largely drawn from natural forms: roots, leaves, branches, bulbs, fruits, vines and flowers – flowers of every variety, botanically accurate in their rendering, bold in outline, free of tonal modeling, and often arranged in sharply rhythmic but never quite symmetrical patterns.” (Gullans, & Espey, 1968)
This book was printed in 1902 and features no illumination within the pages of the book. However, the cover is gold stamped, and it does catch one’s eye on first glance.