Obituary: Charles Ede ; Antiquities Dealer and Founder of the Folio Society

By Barker, Nicolas | The Independent (London, England), June 7, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: Charles Ede ; Antiquities Dealer and Founder of the Folio Society


Barker, Nicolas, The Independent (London, England)


THE FOLIO Society came into being in 1947, one of a number of new ventures in publishing born after the Second World War to meet a sense of idealism in a world starved of books. Its objective was "to produce editions of the world's great literature in a format worthy of the contents, at a price within the reach of everyman". The society not only survived but prospered to become a major book club, producing a wide variety of texts in handsome format for a membership that has grown far beyond that imagined by its founders.

The three original directors were Alan Bott, the creator of Pan Books, Christopher Sandford, then owner of the Golden Cockerel Press, one of the great private presses of the Thirties, and Charles Ede, whose inspiration it was and whose inventive mind gave it the character it has had ever since.

Ede was born in 1921, the son of the legendary Colonel Bertram Ede of MI6 and Alice Warde. His parents were divorced when he was quite young, and after prep school he was sent to the Imperial Service College, Haileybury. There he came under the influence of a remarkable master, John Nind, who introduced him to the life and work of William Morris.

Soon after, on a school expedition to Dorset, he found his way to Commin's bookshop in Bournemouth, where Alan Thomas, ever anxious to encourage the young, showed him a quantity of proof-sheets and ephemera from Morris's Kelmscott Press that he had just bought. Over the next two years, as pocket money permitted, Ede put together a small but representative collection, including an original drawing for an initial. This chance encounter and its consequence coloured the whole of his subsequent career.

In 1939 he was due to go up to Oxford with a scholarship, but this was overtaken by the war. He volunteered immediately, and had an eventful time, in which his father and his work had an influence. He escaped from France after Dunkirk, commanded tanks in the Middle East, and ended in intelligence, interrogating suspected traitors. But meanwhile the idea that germinated in the Folio Society was forming in his mind.

Rather than Oxford, he chose to go to the London College of Printing. The task ahead was to devise the means of making books that would live up to Morris's standards, and of putting them into the hands that would appreciate them. He was lucky to find Bott and Sandford, who had sympathy as well as experience to offer. Space for an office was found in the Golden Cockerel Press's London premises in Poland Street, next to the binders Sangorski and Sutcliffe, and "The Folio Society" launched.

The formula was as different from conventional publishing as possible. The texts were out of copyright, and so cost less to publish than new books, paying a royalty. The books were to be sold direct, avoiding the trade discount required by booksellers. The money thus saved at each end of the process was invested in superior production, and in particular in commissioning original illustrations. The only problem was to find and keep a group of regular subscribers who would become the "Folio Society". The disruptions of war had made newspaper advertising, with a cut-out- and-return coupon, quite a normal device, but it was only after trial and error that a satisfactory scheme emerged.

The key to this was the offer of a free book, chosen from half a dozen titles, in exchange for a year's subscription ("refundable if not satisfied").

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