Cheloniidae: Sea Turtles

The Richard Lee Callaway Collection of Alan James Robinson & the Cheloniidae Press


The collection of the late Richard Lee Callaway forms the cornerstone of the fine printing and private press section of our Fine Illustrated Books & Graphics sale on January 29.

Callaway was a longtime friend and admirer of artist Alan James Robinson. Through their relationship, Callaway became involved in The Press of the Sea Turtle and collaborated on numerous publications with Robinson as his representative on the West Coast under his business: Richard Lee Callaway Rare Books and Autographs. Several of the books featured in our sale were specially presented to Callaway and assembled for him with additional suites and original works of art.

Specialist Christine von der Linn recalls Callaway fondly, as he was an avid collector and friend of Swann:

“In addition to fine press, he loved the extra-illustrated editions of nineteenth-century authors, namely Dickens, Thackeray and Trollope. Richard was also an eager collector of Civil War and African Americana, and had amassed an impressive collection of works on Sojourner Truth. He had a great, mellifluous radio voice that greeted you whenever you picked up the phone, and I’ll miss him every time I see a sea turtle or a copy of Little Dorrit.” 

Sketch of the head of a turtle by Alan James Robinson published by the Cheloniidae Press.

Lot 24: Alan James Robinson, Tortoises, artist’s proof copy, Cheloniidae Press, 1983.


Robinson established his professional press in 1980 with the ABCedary Press. Through various partnerships and patrons, the press has experienced several incarnations including the most well-known version, the Cheloniidae Press, and the final iteration, The Press of the Sea Turtle.

The selection of books below represent some of the highlights of Callaway’s collection, and reflect the exceptional talents of the northwest Massachusetts book arts community:


The ABCedary Letterpress

The inaugural work of the ABCedary Letterpress was Ancient Needs by Mark Philip Carol, which tells the tale of the Harp seals of the Magdalen Islands in Canada and their vulnerability to hunters, illustrated by Robinson.


Water color images of seals by Alan James Robinson alongside an image of the bindings of the books from ABCendary Letterpress.

Lot 21: Alan James Robinson, Ancient Needs, deluxe edition and publisher’s mock-up, ABCedary Letterpress, 1989. Estimate $1,500 to $2,500.


Present in the sale is B of only 26 lettered deluxe copies which includes an additional original watercolor drawing on vellum of a Harp seal. The work is offered with a complete mock-up of the publication and features an autograph letter signed by Robinson to Callaway.


An autograph letter signed from Alan James Robinson to Richard Lee Callaway shown on the title page of the book.

Lot 21: Alan James Robinson, Ancient Needs, autograph letter signed, ABCendary Letterpress, 1989.


Cheloniidae Press

Robinson took on D. H. Lawrence’s Tortoises in 1983. The artist’s proof copy–in spectacular sculptural leather binding by Daniel E. Kelm of the Wide Awake Garage–comes across the block with an etched frontispiece portrait of the author, seven wood engravings by Robinson and two separate suites of original pencil drawings.



Tortoises by D. H. Lawrence with illustrations by Alan James Robinson, published by the Cheloniidae Press. Image of the binding with features a small turtle shell sculpture as well as the texture of a turtle shell on the back, and a sketch of three turtles.

Lot 24: Alan James Robinson, Tortoises, artist’s proof copy, Cheloniidae Press, 1983. Estimate $3,000 to $4,000.



Two page spread featuring an engraving of three turtles by Alan James Robinson on the left and the poem "Tortoise Family Connections" by D.H. Lawrence on the right. Published by the Cheloniidae Press

Lot 24: Alan James Robinson, Tortoises, artist’s proof copy, Cheloniidae Press, 1983. Estimate $3,000 to $4,000.


The artist’s proof copy of the special deluxe edition of Cheloniidae: Sea Turtle is number three of only four copies with the beautiful bronze cover sculpture of the titular animal (also bound by Kelm). Laid into the book is a watercolor of the turtle inscribed and signed for Callaway, and seven etchings and wood engravings.


Cheloniidae: Sea Turtles by Alan James Robinson. Image includes a watercolor of a sea turtle, the cover with a small sculpture of a sea turtle, and a woodcut of a sea turtle.

Lot 23: Alan James Robinson, Cheloniidae: Sea Turtles, artist’s proof copy of the special deluxe edition, Cheloniidae Press, 1987. Estimate $3,000 to $5,000.


Edgar Allan Poe

The first book of the Cheloniidae Press was the 1980 printing of The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. The Publisher’s Proof copy for Robinson in deluxe binding is offered with seven original pencil drawings, proofs of the title and colophon illustrations on Japan paper, 12 titled and signed state proofs and an artist’s proof of the portrait depicting Poe with the raven emerging from behind his head.


Alan James Robinson's The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe from the Cheloniidae Press with an image of the colophon with an image of a Raven's head, an image of the bindings and a sketch of Poe with a Raven on top of his head.

Lot 28: Alan James Robinson, The Raven, publisher’s copy, Cheloniidae Press, 1980. Estimate $2,500 to $3,500.


A unique artist’s personal copy of The Black Cat by Poe is available with a full set of watercolors based on the original wood engravings, plus additional proofs and plates selected by Robinson for this edition. The binding is done by Gray Parrot with an original bas relief paper sculpture of the titular cat.


The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe with illustrations by Alan James Robinson, published by the Cheloniidae Press. Image of the bindings of the book and an illustration of the black cat.

Lot 27: Alan James Robinson, The Black Cat, artist’s personal proof, Cheloniidae Press, 1984. Estimate $2,000 to $3,000.


Works from Robinson and the Cheloniidae Press have performed well at auction in recent years: Cetacea, the Great Whales, 1981, sold in 2014 for $1,750.


Robinson on Callaway:

“I met Callaway at the California Book Fair, the first time I was represented there by dealers in the 1980s. He became a stalwart collector and friend, and amassed one of the most complete collections of my work. He often asked to add extra illustrations to his books and several times had beautiful unique full leather bindings on his favorite titels. He went so far as to have an actual cross-section medallion of a Narwhale tusk on the cover for his copy of Of Unicornes. He offered many suggestions for titles and talked often about the printed word and illustration in book form. He loved books and the bookarts, and opened his home to me and very generously spread the word of my work to all that would listen. He will be missed!” 

Recently Robinson has been working on his first publication in over 20 years: a series of new letterpress broadsides, If There Were No Books, in collaboration with Charles E. Roberts of Wonder Book Editions. Additionally, Robinson is preparing to launch a History of the Cheloniidae Press, as well as a website and social media channels.


For more in our January 29 sale, browse the full catalogue.