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Stella & Rose's Books

Specialists in Rare & collectable books

The Folio Society

One of the most popular sections within Stella Books is the one that contains our collection of Folio Society editions, and when you look at the rows of handsome slipcased volumes it is not hard to see why this is the case.

The London based publishing company was founded by Charles Ede in 1947 with the aim to produce “editions of the world's great literature, in a format worthy of the content, at a price within the reach of everyman.” When you hold a Folio Society edition in your hands there can surely be little doubt that they have successfully fulfilled their ambition “to create books that are unique in their aesthetic and in their quality.”

Handsomely illustrated and presented, Folio Society books make perfect gifts. Beautiful editions of classic childrens titles, for example Andrew Lang's collections of Fairy Tales, are likely to be prized as much by adults as by the younger generation. The quality of the binding is impressive: pages are sewn in small collections (16 pages) so that the book may open flat with minimal straining. The woven head and tail bands are particularly nice touches. Any author picked by the Folio Society can be sure that their work will be given the deluxe treatment.

When the company started, the Folio Society was a membership-based organisation and in later years there was an obligation to purchase four books a year. However, since 2011 customers have been able to buy Folio Society editions without committing to an on-going membership, and the membership structure of the company was dropped in 2016. Customers generally purchase Folio Society editions direct from the company website, or by phone or post – although some editions can be found in independent bookstores.

The first volume published by the Folio Society, Tolstoy's Tales, appeared in 1947 with a further two titles following the same year. However, booksellers were not entirely convinced by the idea of “poor man's fine editions” and the company struggled at first. However, the financial health of the business improved after the Folio Society started their own advertising campaigns, and it became clear that their customers had a taste for little known historical documents, such as the record of the trial of Joan of Arc. The society now publishes more than 60 titles a year, including multi-volume sets. A landmark project to publish all of Shakespeare's plays, as well as the Poems and Sonnets, in large format editions was started in 2007 and completed in 2014.

The early Folio Society publications generally had printed dust jackets but since the second half of the 1950s the familiar slipcases have been issued. Limited Edition volumes are normally protected in Solander boxes. Volumes have been produced in a range of bindings, most commonly buckram cloth but also marbled papers, leathermoire silk and even aluminium foil (Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, published in 1971). Folio Society editions have been illustrated by many notable artists, including Edward ArdizzoneQuentin Blake and Harry Brockway, while distinguished authors such as Peter Ackroyd, Irvine Welsh and Margaret Attwood have been chosen to produce Introductions to the texts.

As Stephen Fry observed: “A Folio Society edition is, I reckon, as excellent an accolade as any author can achieve these days.”

Contributed by Tim

(Published 14th May 2019)

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