COBURN, Alvin Langdon. London. London: Duckworth & Co.; and Brentano’s, New York, [1909].

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COBURN, Alvin Langdon.
London. With an Introduction by Hilaire Belloc.
London: Duckworth & Co.; and Brentano’s, New York, [1909].

Folio (405 × 305 mm), pp.24, 20 hand-pulled gravure plates tipped in on heavy grey marbled paper. Grey endpapers. Brown paper-covered boards, dark green calf spine; spotting to text leaves, occasional very light spotting to a few of the plates as often, boards a little rubbed and slightly bowed, minor repair to the spine. Without the very rare dust-jacket. Early owner’s signature to front free endpaper. A very good copy of a vulnerable and important book.

First edition. Around the turn of the century cities were emblems of a modernist future, and books which explored various aspects of them were of great interest to the public. Alvin Langdon Coburn envisaged a series of individual publications on London, New York, Edinburgh, Paris, Venice, Liverpool, Birmingham, Boston, and Pittsburgh. He eventually realised maquettes for the first three cities, but only London and New York (1910) were published at the time, and in an identical design. Coburn was committed to having absolute control over the production of his books, and between 1906 and 1909 he learnt and mastered the process of photogravure printing. He made proofs of all the gravures for London himself at his press in Hammersmith, pulling the proofs on various papers until he got the print he wanted, and then supervising the entire print run himself. ‘A member of the Photo-Secession (along with Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Clarence H. White, and Gertrude Käsebier) and friend of the Cubists, Vorticists, and imagists, Coburn had one foot in the nineteenth century and one foot in the twentieth. At their best, his photographs straddled the divide’ (David Levi Strauss in The Book of 101 Books p.38).

Sinibaldi, A. and Couturier, J-L., Regards sur un siècle de photographie à travers Le Livre (6); Roth A., The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century pp.38-9; Roth, A., The Open Book: A History of the Photographic Book from 1878 to the Present pp.50-1; Auer, M. and M., 802 photo books from the M + M Auer collection p.100; Foster, S. J.; Heiting, M; Stuhlman, R., Imagining Paradise: The Richard and Ronay Menschel Library at George Eastman House, Rochester pp.224-225.

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