Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Francis Edwin Murray's Uranian Books

Francis Edwin Murray was a successful bookdealer and a pillar of the Book Trade establishment in the early 20th Century He was also at the centre of a trade in gay literature that flourished from the turn of the century to about the mid 1920s. As well as trading in other people's books, he was also a publisher of Uranian poetry. In my recent review of Lad's Love by Michael Matthew Kaylor in the Dutch magazine Gay News I mentioned his books and the fact that, when they turn up on the market today, they are often not in the best condition. At the time, an American writer, trying to whip up interest in a volume he was publishing himself, described them as "the flimsy glue paper affairs that Murray gets out". Because nothing else has been written about these books as physical objects, this little nugget has become like received wisdom. However, I'm not sure it was entirely fair. It is true that paper covered boards on a book and paper labels are not the most structurally solid ways of binding a book but it was a fairly standard way of proceeding at the time when one needed to produce books in small runs at an economic cost. The technical understanding wasn't there to enable Murray to choose papers which wouldn't degrade over time and a little imagination applied to these examples in the photos surely suggests that they could have been rather attractive in their day.

Of the books pictured, the Leaves From Love's Rose by H. Allen Mair is something of the odd one out. I don't think there's really any evidence that it's a gay text, let alone a Uranian one. I have not been able to track down any information about the author and he or she doesn't appear in any of the histories of gay literature. The other books are very firmly in the Uranian canon. Generally Murray was producing limited editions of about 200. Some of these, about twenty to thirty depending on the title, were 'large paper' editions. That is, the same printing plates were used to print onto slightly larger sheets (i.e. more white space around the text.) Of the books pictured here, the two Newman titles are large paper copies as are the Rydal Mount Plays (which is signed), but the Fantasies by Philebus is the standard size. It is not clear that there was ever a second state of the Leaves from Love's Rose.

As you can see from these copies, the paper they were covered in, and the paper labels in some cases, degrade and scuff very easily - in fact I managed to chip the paper on one of them just in the process of taking the photos (doh!) - the hinges over the spines are particularly vulnerable. Having said that, the paper inside was usually of a very good quality and in nearly all the copies I have ever seen of Murray's books it remains very white and free from foxing.

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