Mandrake Booklets

Mandrake Press (London, UK)
Series dates: 1929-1930
Size: 4.5″ x 6″

snekThe short-lived Mandrake Press was started by rare book dealer Edward Goldston and P. R. (Inky) Stephensen in 1929. Initial offerings included limited-edition books with an emphasis on cutting-edge literary and artistic content. A book series, the Mandrake Booklets, was initiated in June of 1929 with two “provocative” titles, A Tourists’ Guide to Ireland by Liam O‘Flaherty and A Bed of Feathers by Rhys Davies. Ultimately 15 titles would be issued in the series (out of the total publication of 32 books by the Mandrake Press over its two-year existence). An early review of the series in the Observer (London) said: “The Mandrake Press have achieved the apparently impossible. They have succeeded in producing a New Thing.”

The company’s financial problems led to the formation of the Mandrake Press Ltd. in March of 1930. Aleister Crowley was one of the partners in this consortium which itself was out of business by November of 1930. Mandrake Press Ltd. seems to have mostly sold existing Mandrake Press stock, including a gift set of 12 Mandrake Booklets (in a box, for two guineas). At least two titles in the original series were reprinted by Mandrake Press Ltd. (including the first title in the series, A Tourist’s Guide to Ireland) with a different jacket and book design. Two new Mandrake Booklets were announced in a mid-1930 catalog: Numbers 15 and 16, Intermezzo by Rupert Croft-Cooke and A Man of the Streets by A. Kuprin (translated by SW Pring). There is no evidence that either of these last two titles were ever published.

At least three variations on jackets occur during the Mandrake Press era of the Mandrake Booklets. Variations are minimal, consisting of additions to the lists of series titles available. The first, below, seems to be associated with the first three titles in the series. Each jacket contains a small woodcut unique to the title. The price (3s./6d.) is printed on the front of the jacket, along with the series title. The front jacket flap is blank.

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The rear jacket flap indicates the other two of three initial titles in the series, along with the publisher’s information.

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In keeping with the edgy ambiance of the series, the binding is fake (I assume!) snake skin and black cloth. Book titles are printed on paper and glued to the spine.

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An illustration on the frontispiece faces the title page. The engraver, Lionel Ellis, is noted.

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The end of the books don’t contain a catalog or other publisher information, but do indicate the binder: “Printed and Made in Great Britain by the Crypt House Press, Ltd. Gloucester and London.”

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A second variation jacket remains the same except for an expanded list of titles on the back jacket flap.

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Ten titles are now available in the series.

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Who doesn’t love faux snake-skin binding?

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Three titles (of the 11 I have) indicate a date. One of these, by the improbably named Ruaraidh Erskine of Marr’s The Old Tribute indicates the date (1929) on the title page (after “London”) as well as on this pages verso.

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Printing date on the back of the title page.

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A third variation expands the listed titles to include all 15 in the series. The front jacket flap lists what would be the final five titles.

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The rear jacket flap is the same as the previous jacket variant.

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Two more books/jackets, for Thomas Burke‘s The Bloomsbury Wonder and Vernon Knowles The Ladder.

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Two more books/jackets: Sir Lionel Cust‘s The Cenci: A Study in Murder, and W.J. Turner’s A Trip to New York.

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