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Heath Robinson on Leather

“It is an old proverb that there is nothing quite like leather, and the opinion is equally widely held, though of more recent date, that there is nobody quite likeHeath Robinson.”

So begins the Preface to this remarkable Collected Edition of illustrated essays crafted by W. Heath Robinson in which 'the difficult and recondite subject of Leather' may be 'illumined by such moonbeams from the larger lunacy'.

W. Heath Robinson (1872-1944) had initially sought to make a living as a landscape painter. However, he was forced to turn to more lucrative forms of illustration and joined his older brothers, Charles and Tom, who were already book illustrators. By 1900 he had become one of the country's leading book illustrators, receiving acclaim for his Art Nouveau inspired line drawings to accompany an edition of The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. He received further recognition in 1902 for the children's book The Adventures of Uncle Lubin, which he wrote as well as illustrated.

Despite his skill as an artist, Heath Robinson is remembered as the 'Gadget King', the creator of makeshift and ridiculously complicated machines by whose agency earnest individuals go to extreme lengths to complete the simplest of tasks. Perhaps less well known are his associations with companies for which he producedadvertising works.

His longest association was with Connolly Brothers (curriers) Ltd, producers of leather for upholstery and more importantly the motor trade. Between 1920 – 1939 Heath Robinson was commissioned to produce 12 booklets that were circulated to clients at the Motor Show.

Above, left to right:
Leather Catchers on the banks of the Wandle;
The Connolly Brothers at work, taking care to ensure their materials arrive in perfect condition;
Feeding time for a herd of Cushion Cows.

This edition features several essays in which Heath Robinson depicts the work of “those worthy and much respected men, the Brothers Connolly” as they seek “by diligent nurture of their kine to produce in those accommodating beasts just those sorts of hides which the several purposes of the trade in leather shall require.”

The topics of the work include 'The Training of Leather', 'The Treatment of Leather', 'The Application of Science' and 'Doing Without Leather: Some Reflections'. All are accompanied by Heath Robinson's charmingly idiosyncratic illustrations - a complete delight from start to finish!

Above, left to right: Removing the wag from the tail; Shearing time for Braces Bulls; The End.

In such a collection, which includes so many gems, it is hard to pick out favourite illustrations – but I love the depiction of 'Cushion and Squab Cows in the Connolly stock yards by the upper reaches of the River Wandle'. These fine creatures are, of course, fed a diet of.... button mushrooms! Other favourites include 'Shearing Day at one of Connolly's braces bull ranches' and 'Removing the wag from the tail':- “this seems advisable, for waggishness is a thing to be suppressed, as most people who have suffered from it will readily agree”.

Words can only convey some of the appeal of this book – so here are a couple more of Heath Robinson's splendid illustrations!

I have enjoyed every minute of my association with this instructive text, and hope that I have conveyed something of its wit and artistic beauty.

Contributed by Tim

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