Monday, December 04, 2006

Hunting a limner in South Africa, 1855

Here’s an intriguing, if not interesting, little book that’s come into my possession: Pen & Ink Sketches in Parliament, by Limner; published by the “Monitor” Office, Castle-Street, Capetown (South Africa) in 1855.

The more I dig into this slim, leather-bound volume, the more interesting it becomes. I wanted to find out who Limner was, and I believe I've discovered an early Victorian satirist named John Leighton, who published under the pseudonym of Luke Limner. Leighton [Limner] not only wrote social satire, he also designed books as well. Seems he came from a line of book people and was a respected designer in his own right. From the University of Rochester's Rare Books & Special Collections, a sample of Leighton's work:

His design skills and interests stretched beyond bookbinding into bookplates. Recently, I found another blog about book plates (see Bookplates with reference to Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie), and I wonder if Mr. Leighton is mentioned there or in links to related sites. Apparently, Leighton was one of the pioneers in bookplate study and collection. He helped found an Ex-Libris Society and published a journal for the society called the Book-Plate Annual.

But it’s his wit that shows through the writing in Pen & Ink Sketches, if he is indeed the author. There is little to the book's design to suggest an artistic undertaking, so it would appear he had little if anything to do with that area of publication. And Leighton certainly fits the time frame, having lived from 1822-1912. The publication date of Pen & Ink Sketches (1855) would have made him about 32 or 33—young and energetic enough to travel to South Africa and stay awhile. That couldn't have been an easy trip. In a section about the himself the author of Pen & Ink Sketches purports to be a much older gentleman, but that could be part of his efforts to remain anonymous.

Much of Leighton's known work seems to have occurred after the Pen & Ink Sketches book was published. As the Exhibition of 1862 approached, London-based Leighton, an illustrator and publisher of some growing reputation was in charge of the committee collecting designs for industrial art for the exhibition.

Back to the book itself, which started all this digging for the pseudonymous author, another intriguing aspect is the section of ads in the back. It offers a good look into the business community of Capetown, South Africa in the 1850s. The colored pages are fascinating to look through for the historian interested in that area. I am neither an historian or particularly interested in that area, but I enjoyed leafing through the ads as a general reader with a lay interest in history. Sample pages follow.


  1. Love this book, what a find!

  2. It was indeed a find. Still looking for Limner, though. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Well, you probably know all this but yes, Limner and Leighton where one and the same. Under Limner he did some children’s works and a few others. The references I’m sure you’re familiar with, Ball, Pantazzi, Mclean, and King Etc. I’m slowly trying to put together a Leighton collection but he was so prolific, over 1000 in his day, it is a long and not inexpensive undertaking. Perhaps I may be more successful in gathering the reference works on his efforts. I would love to get a copy of a thesis by Dry, University of Munich, that was to be published in 84 or 85, but don’t quite know where to start.
    Enough from me, thanks for the post.

  4. I thought I had a strong case for Limner/Leighton, but wasn't sure of it. Thanks for the confirmation and references, which I was not familiar with and didn't come across in my research on the topic. I'll do all the book search engines for a copy of Dry's thesis--may be impossible to find--and let you know if I ever turn up a copy. Enjoyed the photos on your site. Reminded me of billfishing off Mazatlan about 10 years ago. Hooked a nice sailfish. Thanks again for the info. -Chuck