A Bruce Rogers "Incunable"?
Rare books scholars tend to use the term "incunable" to refer to books that were produced during the infancy of the handpress, namely from the printing of the Gutenberg Bible around 1455 to the year 1500. Some have extended the category to refer to books printed in the earliest days of regional printing, such as "American incunables" (i.e., books printed in the American colonies in the seventeenth century). Others have appropriated the word to apply it to the first works of great printers, as Irvin Haas did in his 1936 bibliography of the great artist and book designer, Bruce Rogers.
Recently catalogued for the Fisher library is a copy of a book that may in fact be among the earliest of Rogers’ so-called incunables – Friar Jerome’s Beautiful Book, printed at the Riverside Press in Boston in 1896. Rogers is not actually credited with the design anywhere in the text, but some scholars feel that he should be. In her study, American Book Design and William Morris (1977), author Susan Otis Thompson notes that George Mifflin hired Rogers to work for the Press in 1896, and that "in the four years before he began the famous series of limited editions that brought him worldwide attention he supervised several books with Arts and Crafts influence."
First among these, she claims, is Friar Jerome, a poem written by Thomas Bailey Aldrich with decorations by W.S. Hadaway. It is clearly Gothic revival in style, with the framed text printed in Clarendon, principally on the recto side of the pages. There are several double-spread text openings, however, printed within even more elaborate borders inhabited by angels, bishops, monks, and books. The Fisher copy still retains its original ties as well as its dust jacket depicting Friar Jerome holding his beautiful book aloft. Whether it actually does or does not belong to the canon of Rogers’ books, it remains a striking example of the Arts and Crafts movement in America, exemplified by no one better than Bruce Rogers himself.