Ancient Spanish Ballads: Historical and Romantic

When examining the 1842 publication of Ancient Spanish Ballads: Historical and Romantic by John Gibson Lockhart, my first visual impressions were an appreciation for the ornate details. As could be seen immediately by the cover page, much thought, effort, and material had gone into printing such incredible work. The sheer amount of color, as well as layering of print, was a prime example of reading materials created for an affluent crowd. When considering the physical nature of the book, the book was relatively large, thick, and heavy. Upon examining the individual pages, all of the gold edgings were intact and pages perfectly kept; however, there was a notable amount of “foxing” and mold spots in the first and last few pages of the book. This was expected given the date of publication. Beyond these pages, the paperweight was relatively heavy. It could be noted that the pages were likely composed of a cotton blend, given the coloration and feel of the book. When considering the exterior of the book, it was just as detailed as the pages it held inside; the beautiful hardcover binding was embossed with extremely ornate gold designs and borders. This appearance certainly solidified the idea that this book would’ve only been available to the highest echelon of people. Concerning the senses, the book immediately drew me in with the beautiful gold-embossed cover- the sheer amount of work to produce this piece was evident and absolutely incredible. Also, when considering touch, the use of multiple colors of ink layered upon each other yielded a surprisingly smooth end product; I was personally expecting significantly more dimension in the ink given the saturation and opacity, but this wasn’t the case. The paper itself was also extremely smooth and uniformed in its composition. When flipping the pages, the book smelled lightly of musk and the pages created a sharp sound indicating the integrity of the paper. This was truly a testament to how well the book was kept. Personally, I found the binding and exterior of the book itself most interesting. This was likely because of the overall association of wealth with the ornateness of the golden cover and exterior edges of the paper. There truly aren’t many books printed, even using today’s technologies, with that level of detail in just the cover. When considering the design of the book, I found the exuberant borders and artwork to be the most interesting. This could be seen with art in some form located on each page. The amount of color used in these pages also played a significant contribution to the book’s appeal. These noted elements not only alluded to the level of detail during publication but the amount of time required to assemble such a piece. In regard to the art itself, it was extremely detailed. The incredibly fine lines, precise shading, and thoughtful pattern of the print was truly magnificent. I found it incredible that this level of elaborate work was able to be replicated so perfectly.

When considering the factors that make this particular book special, there are a plethora of answers. Firstly, this book chronicles the history of Spain through poetry and illustrations. Though not as formal as typical methods of recorded history, this piece is very much culturally significant in recording Spain’s period of romanticism. Also, this book is a prime example of the then “new era” book creation using printing featured in the 1842 edition. When originally published in 1823, John Gibson Lockhart was the sole contributor to the book’s publication. This changed in later editions when architect and design theorist Owen Jones successfully designed the book’s colored titles, borders, and ornamental letters and vignettes- this drastically changed the book’s appeal. Because of Jones’ contribution to this specific piece, this book is very much valued for the book’s age as well as the illustrations and printing. When considering this book in particular, it is special in that it signifies a very early example of color lithography. As a pioneer of chromolithography, Jones has previously been involved in printing the elevations for Alhambra. After this, Jones was able to switch trajectory to a much more lucrative business of using his printing techniques to create illustrated gift books for the Victorian middle class. By this method of printing, Owen was able to integrate extremely intricate borders and vignettes into the book in order to market his product as a luxury. Inspiration from his previous works, mainly taken from Alhambra’s detailed tilework, can be seen making an appearance in the repetitive and structured nature of several of the page’s borders. Among the noted contributors to the book, William Allan, David Roberts, William Simson, Henry Warren, C.E. Aubrey, and William Harvey were named illustrators. This large amount of contributors was likely due to the exorbitant amount of detail filling every page outside of the mere text. Besides these talented artists, a notable contributor to this piece was John Murray and the Vizetelly Brothers and Company printers. The John Murray British publishing company was first founded in 1768 by a Royal Marines officer in London England. Since its inception, the publishing firm has been responsible for producing some of modern history’s most important pieces of literature including Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters of Sherlock Holmes and James Watson. On the Origin of Species was hugely influential in the founding of our conceptual understanding of evolutionary biology as well as turning over the previously-believed idea of natural theology. As such, John Murray publishing is very much engrained in both the history of science and literature.

Beautiful illustration of Babieca.

Prime example of color lithography using opulent gold inks.

Cover page using Owen’s borders- also featuring the other contributors of this piece.

When taking into consideration the historical significance of not just one, but all of the contributors to this book’s production, it is evident that this is a special publication. This particular edition not only integrates the beginning of new technology being color lithography, but some of modern literature and design’s most well-known figures. This, along with the beautiful appearance of the work, is likely why this book is considered “special enough” to collect and actively preserve.



“Owen Jones.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Feb. 2020,

“John Murray.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Feb. 2020,

“Ancient Spanish Ballads” illuminated by Owen Jones, 1809-1874,