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The making of A Shakespeare Motley (Part 3)

In the third instalment of our blog about A Shakespeare Motley we look at the images we loved, their visual appeal and their influence on our wider product development plans in retail.

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Image by Paperback Exchange Bookshop

We’re a small team in retail development, so while we were researching the images for A Shakespeare Motley, we were also looking ahead and having to think about new product development and potential assets for our brand licensing offer.

From the very beginning, when the idea for the book was in its infancy, we planned to complement it with a range of stationery using images from the Collections. A wooden postcard we had just produced featuring an 18th-century illustration of the Birthplace was proving incredibly popular in our shops and only reinforced our belief that visitors respond to and love to see something different and unique.

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Although we have not had the opportunity yet to develop a range from the striking artwork designed especially for A Shakespeare Motley, out of our initial research we created a selection of postcards and gift wrap that anticipated the finished book and drew on the same original source materials of rare books and prints in our Collections. The selection includes postcards reproducing favourite pages from Wither’s Emblemes, Gerard’s Herball and Topsell’s History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents, and gift wrap featuring the Droeshout engraving and the Catalogue of Plays from the First Folio, and Norden’s View of London, each image reproduced as a full sheet so that it can also be hung as a poster. But we also worked with designers to create beautiful wrapping papers with a contemporary feel, with patterns based on individual illustrations from our early books: a repeated design of red roses from our hand‐coloured edition of Gerard's Herball, and, from Topsell’s Beasts, a pattern of alternating dragons and unicorns and a repeat design using one of our favourite illustrations, the cat.

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We had already produced a poster sheet reproducing the advertisement for the sale of the Birthplace in 1847, which had proved very popular, so we were also hoping to explore new designs based on typography. Having discovered and digitised an entire alphabet of decorative initial letters for the book, we now have the opportunity to develop these letters into a unique surface pattern that will celebrate our Library Collection. We discovered another potential design in our research for A Shakespeare Motley, in The Tacticks of Aelian, a book of military strategy published in 1616. The book includes a wonderful series of illustrations of battle formations, some in tight geometric shapes, others extending into foldout pages, with each figure individually drawn. We include an example in the book, a rhombus formation of knights on horseback - a ready-made surface pattern that we thought would make a wonderful gift wrap as soon as we saw it.

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It is also encouraging and exciting to see that our Korean licensee has already been inspired by the material we compiled for the book, and the creative decisions we made to re‐present the original artwork in new colours and, very often, to focus on the minutiae. For example, a new series of prints includes the image of schoolboys picking apples from Lily's Grammar, digitally coloured to evoke the hand painted illustrations in our Library Collection, and two images of flowers in vases from the hand coloured frontispiece of Gerard's Herball. In the original, these are small illustrations set into the corners of the page but here they have been enlarged and enhanced, revealing a mountain landscape in the distance behind the brightly coloured flowers.

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We hope that through this innovative use of our images we shall continue to reach new audiences internationally and we look forward to developing new visually striking products for the shop that will help to bring the Trust’s Collections to light for our visitors.


Shop our collection inspired by A Shakespeare Motley in store or online.