Tales of a Traveller

C. 1879 Engraving by James S. King - Library of Congress
C. 1879 Engraving by James S. King – Library of Congress

For the purposes of this project, we have isolated a small amount of works of literature from John Ringling’s personal library and from the Ringling Rare Book Collection, acquired after his death. The books acquired after his death aim to grow the original library’s holdings in art books. They feature ornate character, illustrations, and finely inked pages. From these books, I have selected the 1895 Buckthorne Edition of Washington Irving’s Tales of a Traveller. Originally published in 1924 in New York, London, and Paris, Washington Irving’s Tales of a Traveller: The Buckthorne Edition is Irving’s third collection of short stories after The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., and Bracebridge Hall. Well known for his stories Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow, Irving is credited with being the first American author to gain international acclaim, much of his works finding early publication in London and Paris.


An American Writer

Publishing under his own name and the pseudonyms Jonathan Oldstyle, Launcelot Langstaff, Will Wizard, Diedrich Knickerbocker, and Geoffrey Crayon, Irving is responsible for eighteen works of short fiction, biography, history, essays, and satire. Largely written based on his travels throughout Europe and America, these collections portray a certain wit and humor, indicative of Irving’s notoriety as a conversationalist that propelled him throughout his travels. Many of his stories are imaginative, featuring wild adventures and mild humor, sometimes bordering on the fantastical. For much of his life, Irving would travel in person to the locales his works were based on, immersing himself in the local people and their folk stories. He would complete his last book The Life of George Washington, the man he was named after, just eight months before his death on November 28, 1859 at the age of 76, cementing his place as the first “American writer” to write popular stories featuring American settings and characters.

Tales of a Traveller, like Irving’s previous collections, consist of loosely tied narratives, themes, and characters, largely based on his own travels. Arguably the most well known story of this collection is “The Devil and Tom Walker,” following the  exploits of a man named Tom Walker who meets the devil (referred to as “Old  Scratch”) and is offered the buried treasure of Captain Kidd (detailed in the story  “Kidd the Pirate”), in exchange for his soul. Walker agrees to the deal following his wife’s subsequent betrayal and demise, inevitably succumbing to a similar fate and is  taken away by the devil some years later. Various publishing companies have printed  copies whose titles have reflected various elements of the book’s narrative or  publication history, such as The Knickerbocker Edition and The Holly Edition. The  Buckthorne Edition, of which this project is concerned, takes its name from another  of Irving’s characters, Buckthorne, a young man whose adventures dominate part  two of the collection.


Popularity And Printings

While Tales of a Traveller received much criticism and was criticized by the press with not living up to Irving’s previous works, the collection rose in popularity as the 1800’s progressed. According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, Tales of Traveller peaked in popularity in the ten years following Irving’s death, evidenced by the title’s appearance in print sources (See. below). Similarly, the graph spikes reflect various printing runs Tales of a Traveller underwent, peaking slightly in the 1880’s when The Buckthorne Edition was published and again around 1900 when The Twentieth Century Edition of Irving’s works were published.

Occurrence of "Tales of a Traveller" in print media from 1800- 2008
Occurrence of “Tales of a Traveller” in print media from 1800- 2008, Jean-Baptiste Michel* et al. 2010

Over the course of its publication history, the book has had numerous printings almost continuously from various publishers and printers, save a 14 year period following a 1927 printing by Hooper, Clarke & Co.. Tales of a Traveller saw no new editions until nearly a century after their first printing of the book (1848) when G.P. Putnam’s Sons released in 1941 a 14 volume collection of Washington Irving’s works. The 1848 edition of Irving’s collected works, including Tales of a Traveller, featured the author’s revised manuscripts, a task Irving fulfilled exclusively for G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Subsequent editions have either been printed with the original “flawed” editions or the updated revised edition depending on the publisher’s sensibilities. Parts of Tales of a Traveller have been widely printed in numerous collections of Irving’s stories along with selections from Bracebridge Hall and Tales of the Alhambra as well as in singular editions. Until Irving’s death, copies of the book were released under the pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon, making them exceptionally rare (if in fine condition). Under the name Washington Irving, the book is still in print today, of which multiple copies have been released by various publishers consecutively over the last five years, the most recent of which printed in January of 2015.  The Buckthorne Edition of Tales of a Traveller, however, remains its most lavishly decorated copy, making it one of the rarer copies apart from the first edition published in 1924, attributed to Geoffrey Crayon.


“Tales of a Traveller,” Book as Object

Cover of "The Buckthorne Edition" of "Tales of a Traveller,"
Cover of “The Buckthorne Edition” of “Tales of a Traveller,”

The exterior of The Buckthorne Edition, published in two volumes, is covered in blue  and green cloth over board, measuring 7¾ inches wide and  9¾ inches tall,  originally sold with a red dust jacket. A similar, rarer print of The  Buckthorne Edition is covered in ivory cloth in place of the more common blue-  green, both versions identical otherwise. The cover features gilt design of a shield  held by thread entwined around two trees with title and author in the center, as well  as gilt lettering and a ribbon/thread design along the spine. The interior pages  feature a glued binding and are formatted from the standard octavo sizing, eight  leaves (or pages) folded from one sheet. The page numbers, captions, and body of the  text are set in a serif font under the “oldstyle” classification, most closely resembling  the Caslon typeface group which was in common use during the 19th century. The  headers appear in the gothic style, a complement often appearing in books from this  period.

Owing to its rarity, the work includes twenty-five illustrations from notable illustrators of the period, five from prolific artist Arthur Rackham whose works featured prominently in the works of Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, and Jonathan Swift. The illustrations employ gravure printing, a method where the medium is pressed by an inked intaglio plate, and are lined with captioned tissue guards. The frontispiece, drawn by Frederick Dielman in volume one and by Arthur Rackham in volume two, is printed opposite the title page which contains the epigraph, a quote by Ben Folsom which reads, “I am neither your minotaur, nor your centaur, nor your satyr, nor your hyena, nor your baein, but your mere traveller, believe me” (Irving, Tales). Initials, the first letter at the beginning of chapters or other sections, were designed by Walter C. Greenough. The page borders were illustrated by George Wharton Edwards, and feature an ornate blue-grey frame design, orange illustrations between the corners portray images such as skulls, animals, guitars, boats, clothing, and other objects relating to the sections.


The Archive Speaks

In its totality, The Buckthorne Edition of Tales of a Traveller is an extravagantly decorated book that questions the nature of books as objects. As artifacts. Is this book meant to be read or to be seen? The evidence points to the latter. Its gilt pages are unscratched, the face of each page a near immaculate white. Inked letters and drawings show little age. It’s clear this copy was little read, spending large parts of its existence tucked away on a shelf. In this sense, this 1895 edition of Washington Irving’s work reflects at least a part of the total Ringling archive. Objects not as utility, but merely shown. Seen, not touched or used. Making up a collection that shows us its brilliance through its grandiose and gilted appearance, stunning us with its outward signs and questioning us over its contents.  Tales of a Traveller sits well on the shelves that the Ringling archive place it. And in the end, the archive speaks for itself.

-Corey Culbertson


Works Consulted

“ArchBook: Architectures of the Book.” ArchBook: Architectures of the Book. Ed. Alan Galey. University of Saskatchewan Humanities and Fine Arts Digital Research Centre, 2009-2012. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.

Biblio, Inc. “Uncommonly Good Books Found Here.” Biblio.com. Brendan Sherar, 2000-2015. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.

Boynton, Henry W. Washington Irving. Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1901. Print.

Irving, Washington. Tales of a Traveller. Buckthorne ed. Vol. 1, 2. New York & London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1895. Print.

Jean-Baptiste Michel*, Yuan Kui Shen, Aviva Presser Aiden, Adrian Veres, Matthew K. Gray, William Brockman, The Google Books Team, Joseph P. Pickett, Dale Hoiberg, Dan Clancy, Peter Norvig, Jon Orwant, Steven Pinker, Martin A. Nowak, and Erez Lieberman Aiden*. Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books. Science (Published online ahead of print: 12/16/2010)

Monotype. “Learn About Fonts & Typography.” Fonts.com. Monotype, 2011~. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.

Spokane Falls Graphic Design Dept. “Introduction to Type.” Introduction to Type. Spokane Falls Community College, n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.

The Glossary of Book Trade. “Glossary of Publishing Terminology.”Glossary of Publishing Terminology. The Publisher’s Association (UK), 1997. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.

Washington Irving. Digital image. Library of Congress. Pollard & Morse, n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2015. <http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91732409/&gt;. Image of c.1879 Engraving by James S. King

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