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Rhymes Of Ye Olde Sign Boards By F.G. Lewin

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Without doubt, due to its unusual format, this is a book that immediately catches the eye, being 16 inches tall but only seven inches wide! It is written and illustrated by the artist Frederick George Lewin, the son of a sea captain. Lewin was born in Bristol in 1860 and lived and worked in the Bristol suburb of Redland for most of his life. He is one of the best known pen and ink artists Bristol has produced.

Lewin started his career as a journalist for the Western Daily Press but soon decided to focus on becoming a freelance artist. He contributed to many local magazines and newspapers and his work made regular appearances in Punch magazine. As his career developed he made a significant contribution to the wartime humorous postcard genre, producing around 750 postcard designs.

Lewin’s whimsical sense of humour is evident in the Rhymes Of Ye Olde Sign Boards, not only in the drawings but also in the accompanying verses. While some are inn signs we are familiar with today, others are more obscure. We have Ye Bird In Hand:

A Bird in ye Hand
Is worth two in ye Bush
Is a very good Proverb they tell,
But A Thorn in ye Bush
Is worth two in ye Hand
Points a Moral to many as well.

and Sir Walter Raleigh:

To England good Sir Walter brought
A Weed with Fragrance ripe
Tobacco was unknown before, and no one used a Pipe.
To see ye Smoke arise in Fumes
Ye Varlet stood amazed,
“Surely my Master is on fire”
He muttered as he gazed,
And so, to save him, runs and throws
Cold Water o’er his Master’s Clothes.

Others include Ye Quiet Woman (she has no head!), Ye Swan With Two Necks, Ye Cow and Snuffers, and (my favourite) Ye Two Sneezing Cats!

Published by E.H. Savory, a printing and fine art publishing company founded in 1899 in Bristol, the book is printed on thick uncut paper, adding to its antiquarian feel. Although the book was published in 1911, it has a production and style reminiscent of the 17th century chapbooks and is certainly worth a second look.

Information sources:

Dictionary of British Book Illustrators (Peppin & Micklethwait)
The Humorous Postcard in World War I (James Taylor)

Contributed by Chris

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