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OP: The Book of Bread

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by Owen Simmons

Maclaren & Sons, ND [1903]. Hardcover. Good Plus.

Now here is something truly iconic. The Book of Bread (1902) is highly prized, not only in the food world but also among photographers and conceptual artists. It is one of the most thrilling acquisitions we’ve made this year.

Written by Owen Simmons, co-founder of the National Bakery School in London and contributor to trade journal The British Baker, the book is an exceptional technical treatise on bread making and its science. What sets The Book of Bread apart, however, is the inclusion of 12 chromolithograph plates, 8 tipped-in black and white photographs, and 2 silver bromide prints.

Simmons notes that achieving the photographic excellence he required involved extensive experimentation and cost. Representing the most cutting edge technology of the period, the photographs are printed in the loaves’ actual sizes and reproduce, to the fullest extent, the whiteness of the crumb. A high production value and unlike anything else seen at the time or since, to be honest.

The true first printing was issued in 1902, bound in red morocco. All ten of the tipped in prints were silver bromide. Roughly 350 copies were made of that deluxe edition, though it is rarely seen [Roland Belgrave, vintage photograph seller, was the belle of the ball at the 2023 New York Antiquarian Book Fair for displaying and auctioning a copy expected to sell for around $10,000].

The trade edition, which we offer here, was printed in 1903 (Bitting 435). It is bound in green cloth with the title stamped in gilt. (Also printed at the same time was a somewhat misleadingly styled “edition de luxe” printed for subscribers listed in additional pages of advertisements. This variation was similarly bound in green but distinguishable by the added pages and a different style border decoration.) 

The interior of our copy, graded Good Plus, is largely clean with minor and occasional soiling and foxing. We spot evidence of the book having been used by a baker—a handwritten note in the “methods of manufacture” section and penciled recipes and calculations on the rear endpapers. The case has a slight bow to it and modest shelfwear. Some hints at hinge splitting, but overall quite sturdy. 

The photographer, alas, is never named. Exquisite, nonetheless. 

This copy comes from the Sontheimer Foundation Library, bearing a bookplate on the front paste down, stating “This book is a gift from The Sontheimer Foundation, Greenwich, Connecticut.” Carl Sontheimer (1914–1998) invented the original Cuisinart food processor.

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