The Four Gospels: One of the Most Important Fine Press Books of the Last Century

title pages
The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ According to the authorized version of King James I, Illustrated by Eric Gill. One of 12 rare copies on Roman Vellum. Inscribed by Gill to Leonard Woolf, 1931. Estimate: $60,000 to $75,000.

The 1931 Golden Cockerel Press edition of the Four Gospels set the text of the King James Gospels into a masterly example of book design and is considered one of the most important fine press books of the last century. This copy, one of only 12 printed on Roman Vellum, is the only known inscribed copy to appear at auction, which it will do on Thursday, April 7th in the Fine Books & Manuscripts auction at Swann. Eric Gill integrated the text and 65 wood-engraved illustrations into a modern homage to the tradition of illuminated text. It is inscribed by him and signed with his monogram to Leonard Woolf.   

printing edition limitation details with illustration of binding and signatures

The close friendship between Gill and Leonard Woolf is well documented, and 1931 was a particularly active year of collaboration between them. That winter, the Woolfs asked Gill to design and cut initials for the Hogarth Press limited edition of a translation by Vita Sackville-West of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duineser Elegien. Gill designed and hand-cut the initials in an Italic type designed by Edward Johnston. Additionally, the colophon bears an inscription to California socialite Babette Clayburgh. She and her husband Herbert Eugene Clayburgh, a San Francisco silk magnate, were prominent book collectors in the Bay area and joined the Book Club of San Francisco in 1920. It is less clear when and how the volume was inscribed to her and when the book passed hands from Woolf to Clayburgh. 

According to Golden Cockerel Press bibliographer Christopher Sandford Chanticleer, “Conceived in the fruitful mind of Robert Gibbings, this is the Golden Cockerel book usually compared with the Doves Bible and the Kelmscott Chaucer. A flower among the best products of English romantic genius, it is also surely, thanks to its illustrator, Eric Gill, the book among all books in which Roman type has been best mated with any kind of illustration.”