Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Saturday Book

John Hadfield, editor and author, lived up into recent times (1999.)

Here is a bare-bones paragraph from Wikipedia, describing Hadfield's labor of love, and subject of this post:

The Saturday Book was an annual miscellany, published 1941-1975, reaching 34 volumes. (It) provided literary and artistic commentary about life in Great Britain during the Second World War and ensuing decades. It covered a range of arts, including ballet and music. Many writers contributed verse as well as essays.

The above paragraph is perfectly objective and correct, but arid. I am grateful that there is even a wiki entry; it would not have surprised me if the book were entirely unacknowledged in today's world. Its many thousands of beautiful pages have evidently fallen into obscurity.

A typically high-quality photo from the Saturday Book, which accompanied a history and guide to London street markets

I rarely meet a Briton who has heard of The Saturday Book; this seems odd, for the publication looks to be an institution spanning decades (1941-75), printed yearly around Christmas with craft and care as a substantial hardcover book. I have collected it for years, owning about half of the volumes. They are becoming rarer these days, but not overly valuable. Each new acquisition is the subject of anticipation, every page worth poring over.

Respective volumes have loose themes, amply illustrated with line art, photographs, and reproductions of various artifacts both in color and black and white. The books themselves are works of art, the typeface crisp as each engraving, printed with the slight relief of letterpress. Chapters and sections are printed on varying tints and textures of paper; this was the era when a great deal of thought and effort was put into printing.

A photo of a painting by James Pryde, which accompanied a monographic article, by Derek Hudson, on the unusual artist. Such essays were the norm in the Saturday Book, bringing to light forgotten and strange curiosities at each turn of the page, recalling the thrill of turning a corners within a quixotic, private museum.

The name Saturday Book implies leisure, weekend, or something done outside of one's real vocation. The entries seem to be products of extremely competent amateurs—amateurs in the old sense of the word, such as Sherlock Holmes being an Amateur (hence, the best) detective. Eccentricity reigns. Authorities and historians stroll down lanes of memory, opening up to us dear niches. Early cigarette trading cards, seaside paperweights, taxidermic dioramas of nursery rhymes...

What makes the Book so compelling is that it is a nostalgia for a nostalgia. Inevitably the writer will be describing some phenomenon wistfully, thinking of Victorian or regency times, around 1890 or 1912. That does seem to be a span back there, but it is within the living memory of the writer. 

In 1962 he is describing 1912—a scant 50 years previous: the same amount of time that now divides his writing from my reading of it. 

In this way there is a mystery and mysticism within each and every photo and word. The author's nostalgia transfuses into my own nostalgia. I imagine and smell the wooden desk and typewriter of that time, as well as the poignant smells of taffy, cigars and seaside from the earlier time, subject of the author's memory. 

The Saturday Book offers a window into a world that seems whole and wholesome, glazed or preserved not by one nostalgic layer, but two. Double-glazed!


  1. What an excellent idea to write about the Saturday Books! Hopefully there are others out there who love and enjoy these books as much as you do! Even though they are a thing of the past.

  2. I haven't run into the Saturday Book stateside! The qualitative nature of time divisions is always fascinating.

  3. Can't say I have run into either, Stateside. Though I have bought several through Powells online, probably stored in a basement facility out of public view. My first copy was bought eons ago in Victoria BC.