Let’s step back in time to the early years of the 20th century. Edward VII is on the throne and a British publisher is producing books with beautifully illustrated boards. That publisher is A&C Black and its books would not look out of place on the set of Downton Abbey.
The covers offer an insight into the rise of the Art Nouveau movement and also reveal much about the Edwardian fashion of top hats and tails.
A&C Black, founded in 1807 by Adam and Charles Black, is best known for spotting the talent of P.G. Wodehouse. It published Wodehouse’s first book, The Pothunters in 1902 and continued to publish his work, including notable books like the Psmith series, into the 1950s.
A&C Black is also known for publishing Who’s Who since 1897. Who’s Who is a reference book for the elite of British society and the type of publication that could only be printed by the British. It simply lists, along with biographies, notable people and they are, according to the book’s 1897 editor, people whose “prominence is inherited, or depending on office, or the result of ability which singles them out from their fellows.” Aristocrats, politicians, academics, scientists and artists are all included. Some people are born into the book, while others have to earn their listing.
The publisher also began printing Black’s Medical Dictionary in 1907 and this reference book has also become an institution. A&C Black still exists but has been part of the Bloomsbury publishing empire since 2000.