London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1905. Limited, numbered, finely-bound deluxe, signed edition. Vellum. This exceptional 1905 edition of Washington Irving’s classic tale was notably and lavishly illustrated by Arthur Rackham. This is not just an aesthetically arresting and highly collectable edition on its own merits, but represents both a stylistic and professional turning point for the celebrated illustrator who contributed his art and his signature to this edition. Rip van Winkle was the first book entirely illustrated by Rackham to be issued in a limited edition format and “established him as the leading decorative illustrator of the Edwardian period.” Indeed, it was owing to exhibit of Rackham’s Rip van Winkle illustrations in Leicester Galleries, London, that “J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, commissioned Rackham to illustrate the first edition of his classic children's tale Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906)”.
This edition’s 250 copies were bound in illustrated vellum, lettered in gilt on the front cover and spine, the front cover featuring a pictorial image blocked in gilt, the center fore edges fitted with gold silk ties. The contents are printed on watermarked paper with untrimmed fore and bottom edges and gilt top edges. As frontispiece and then following the text are 50 color plates tipped onto brown paper, each with captioned tissue guards The volume is protected within a slipcase featuring a curved, beveled, and white Morocco-trimmed opening, purple velvet-lined interior, and tan buckram sides.
This copy is in very good condition. The half-title verso limitation is hand-numbered “22” above the illustrator’s signature, “Arthur Rackham”. The vellum binding is square and tight with sharp corners. The original gold silk ties remain intact. The binding shows moderate overall soiling and natural toning, tiny splits starting at the lower joints, and light wear to the corners, upper edges, and joints, presumably from contact with the slipcase. The contents are beautifully clean and bright. We find no reportable spotting. All illustrations and captioned tissue guards appear intact. The top edge gilt remains bright, though with mild abrasions. The heavy, rigid slipcase is fully intact and clean, apart from a hint of soiling to the white leather-trimmed opening.
The reputation and fortunes of gifted painter and illustrator Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) rose along with the fashion for lavishly produced gift books at the end of the 19th century. By the beginning of the 20th century, “His name and reliability for delivery and content became known to publishers and public alike, and he was increasingly in demand.”
Rackham’s style both evolved over time and has since informed numerous imitators. “In the earlier books Rackham's style tended to take on the appearance of woodcuts, with the main features being drawn in thick pen and brush. From 1905 (when he produced and signed this edition) to 1910, as printing techniques improved, his line became sharper and likewise his detail more intense.” Notably in Rip Van Winkle  and A Midsummer Night's Dream (1908) he developed his gift for drawing witches, gnomes, fairies, and anthropomorphized trees and brought them to a pitch of vivid characterization.” As evidenced by his illustrations for Rip van Winkle, “Rackham was not a bold colourist. He tended to restrict his palette to soft blues, greens, and reds, in local highlights or in several layers of transparent watercolour wash, over a yellowy-buff tone which gives to the whole a quality of vellum, or age.
“The First World War effectively destroyed the illustrated gift-book market, and this brought Rackham a financial and professional reverse.” Rackham was, however, “enough of a celebrity” to continue to be commissioned for his work, the principal market for which shifted to the United States. As a child, Rackham “won prizes for drawing, and made many visits to the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, where he painted from the exhibits.” Now his own works are in the British Museum, among many others. (Reference: ODNB). Item #007811