Kevin F. Kelly, bookseller ††† phone: (845) 419-5090 ††† books@kevinkellybookseller.com

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Alston, John. Musical Catechism, with Tunes, for the Use of the Blind. Glasgow: Printed in the Asylum, by the Institution Press, 1838. Oblong folio, 147 x 240 mm. 24 ff. text and 13 ff. musical annotation in musical staves. Bound in Scottish black pebbled morocco, floral scroll tooling in gilt on front and back covers, spine richly gilt. Lightest rubs to extremities, a near fine example of a rare book.
First Edition (but see below) of this musical guide. Printed with the Fry-Alston embossed-type system. As with all editions from the Asylum Press, which started printing in late-1836, this is a rare book. Alston's goal with this work was to produce a basic instruction book to aid in the musical education of the blind. He was awarded the silver medal from The Society of Arts for Scotland, in large part for the present volume. The text portion contains an introduction by Alston and 20 ff. definitions of concepts such as harmony, melody, notation, staves, clefs, time, expression, etc., in a question-and-answer format. This is followed by 13 ff. of musical catechism, printed using the same technique that Alston used for text. He wanted to use the same symbols that the seeing used, so that they could read the music as well, and help to instruct the blind. The Edinburgh Society of Arts had awarded in 1832 a gold medal for the best method of printing for the blind to Dr E. Fry of London, and In 1836 John Alston began to print with an embossed type based on Fry's design. The first effort to print books for the blind was in 1786, by one Valentin Haüy. "The outcome of the movement Haüy started would have been hard for him to believe: by the middle of the nineteenth century there were altogether too many writing systems!"-Harris. The tension between the urge to use a type based on established letters, and making a purpose-made alphabet was a long debate, and though Braille would eventually win out, the Allston/Fry design was an elegant solution, and though the sans serif type used is now quite familiar, at the time it was quite novel. The present example, being finely bound without being pressed by a careless binder, is quite stunning. OCLC/Worldcat locates five copies, two in Scotland, two in Britain, and a copy at Princeton. This last bears the same title and imprint but differs in collation to the present example, the most obvious difference being that it has 12, rather than 13 leaves of music. At the present time it is impossible to determine priority of this difference. A third edition was published in the same year (based on a copy located on Worldcat in Britain). Elizabeth Harris, In Touch: Printing and Writing for the Blind in the Nineteenth Century (Smithsonian, 1981). (#kfk452) $7,500.00

 

 

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Kevin F. Kelly, bookseller ††† phone: (845) 419-5090 ††† books@kevinkellybookseller.com