Folio Society  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Paula Rego

The Folio Society is a publisher of fine books based in London.



The Folio Society was conceived by Charles Ede (1921–2002), who had been inspired by private press publishers, including Golden Cockerel Press and Nonesuch Press. Indeed, Ede persuaded Christopher Sandford, then partner in the Golden Cockerel Press, to become a founding partner in Folio with Ede and Alan Bott, and several early publications (including the 1952 publication of Thomas Jefferson Hogg's Memoirs of Prince Alexey Haimatoff) were realisations of projected GCP publications. Folio and the Golden Cockerel Press shared premises in Poland Street until 1955. The Folio Society was, however, never intended to compete in the very exclusive private press market and Ede aimed instead to produce 'a poor man's fine edition' – a well-designed, printed and bound book which the common man could aspire to.

The Folio Society issued its first three titles in 1947. In October of that year Tolstoy's Tales went on sale for sixteen shillings, and it was followed in November and December by George du Maurier's Trilby and a translation of Aucassin and Nicolette, establishing a pattern of monthly publication that was retained for many years.

In 1971 Folio was purchased by John Letts and Halfdan Lynner, although editorial continuity was ensured by the retention of Brian Rawson, Editorial Director from 1956. In the subsequent decades, the Society developed the technique of publishing series such as the collected novels of Dickens, Trollope, Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell and Conrad, over several years as a means of attracting and retaining members.

Between 1987 and 1991, Folio produced a number of 'Folio Fine Editions', printed by letterpress, and subsequently it has introduced a series of deluxe, limited edition publications at substantially higher prices, often facsimiles published in conjunction with The British Library. These are priced on a volume-by-volume basis, but at least one publication per year is made in the £500–£900 range. In 2007 the Society began publishing a new letterpress limited-edition of Shakespeare's plays in the same price-range.

In 1994 Folio moved to its current offices at 44 Eagle Street, Holborn. The current chairman and owner of the Society is Lord Gavron.

Production trends, bindings and illustrators

Until 1954 most Folio books were issued with printed dust jackets, but during the latter half of the 1950s coloured card slip cases were introduced, to protect the books and retain focus on the decorative bindings. Solander boxes are generally used to protect the deluxe editions.

Folio publications are printed in a range of formats (in 1951, for example, these included Royal Octavo, Medium Octavo, Crown Octavo and Demy Octavo) and custom sizes are also common. Use of materials also varies greatly, with occasional innovations such as the use of aluminium foil for Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in 1971 and vegetable parchment for Voltaire's The Calas Affair in 1994. Marbled papers (often produced by hand by Ann Muir) have been used for several volumes in recent years, either for endleaves or the board-papers of quarter bindings. Moiré silk (usually artificial) has also been used sporadically over the years as a binding material, but the most common material is buckram or a similar book-cloth. Leathers – vellum and goatskin – are sometimes used, latterly chiefly for the deluxe editions.

Since his first binding design in 1981, David Eccles has gradually established himself as the most prolific of Folio’s designers. Amongst his many projects for Folio has been the series (sometimes known as "Victorian Epics of Exploration") beginning with Richard Burton's The Source of the Nile in 1993 and still in progress in 2008.

Amongst the illustrators, many have made an impact on the history of Folio. Charles Keeping is notable for his drawings for the complete novels of Dickens, while Francis Mosley illustrated the works of both Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad. Paul Cox has contributed comic illustrations for, among others, seventeen volumes of novels by P. G. Wodehouse. A major publication was Paula Rego's Nursery Rhymes, in which the artist controlled many aspects of the design and illustration, but this was an exceptional case. Some illustrators have been called upon for a small but significant contribution, such as Neil Packer, who contributed striking full-colour illustrations to I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves. The Society is notable for its support for younger artists, and for contemporary wood-engravers, especially Frank Martin, Peter Forster, Richard Shirley Smith, Peter Reddick, George Tute, Joan Hassall, Simon Brett and John Lawrence.

Membership and publication programme

Offers to join the Folio Society are regularly made in press advertisements worldwide. Usually the offer is a set of books free in return for which one buys four books at full price from the Society's catalogue. In early Autumn the Society publishes a prospectus including the books for the forthcoming year and existing volumes in print. Members are required to buy four volumes per year to maintain membership, and a "presentation volume" (sometimes with other incentives) is produced and given to renewing members.

In addition to the monthly volume, Folio publishes an increasingly large number of extra volumes and additional publications announced irregularly throughout the year. Deluxe editions, often targeted at a segment of the membership, are produced from time to time: these are often facsimiles either of famous books (Johnson's Dictionary and the Kelmscott Chaucer) or of notable manuscripts (such as the Luttrell Psalter and William Blake's complete illustrations to Edward Young's Night Thoughts).

Long-running series still in publication include those on The English Poets, Victorian Epics of Exploration, Medieval History and Myths & Legends.

Membership levels have waxed and waned in the decades since the foundation of the Folio Society, and the number of members is generally not advertised by the Society. However, it is clear that membership levels began in the hundreds and stood at the tens-of-thousands by 2000.


  • Nash, Paul W. (Compiler), Folio 50: a bibliography of The Folio Society, 1947-1996. London: Folio Press in association with The British Library, 1997.
  • Cave, Roderick & Sarah Mason, A history of the Golden Cockerel Press, 1920-1960. London: British Library & Oak Knoll Press, 2002.
  • Nash, Paul W. (Compiler), Folio 60: a bibliography of The Folio Society, 1947-2006 with essays by Sue Bradbury, Joseph Connolly and David McKitterick. London: Folio Society, 2007.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Folio Society" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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