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Master and Commander

A Personal Art Edition of the Novel

by Patrick O'Brian

Patrick O'Brian's series of Aubrey/Maturin novels has been called “the best historical novels ever written” (Richard Snow, New York Times). While it may, on the surface, resemble such sea adventure books as those of C.S. Forester's Hornblower series, O'Brian's works are so much more... a brilliant exploration of life-long friendship... a pitch-perfect rendering of the social mores of Georgian England... an exposition of a world moving from valuing the intellect of the Renaissance Man to embracing the Man of Action. 


Tristan says: The book is a personal favorite, but published editions have not aged well over my re-readings. I decided to completely redesign a new edition of the first book of the series. Rather than creating a version that would mimic the 1969 first edition, I wanted the Ampersand Book Studio edition to echo the quality leather and kind of paper that the characters would have read in the early 19th century. I wanted a book that would have looked at home in the library of Dr. Maturin. 

The Ampersand Book Studio edition of Master and Commander was electronically typeset using Adobe Caslon Pro, a modern version of a typeface originally designed by William Caslon (c. 1692–1766) in London. Popular during the early 19th century, it fell out of favor during the Victorian era, only to become one of the classics of contemporary design. Headlines and ornaments use Brian Wilson’s Geographica family of type. This modern typeface was inspired by the neat, hand-lettered text on the late-18th century maps of Thomas Jefferys, Geographer to King George III. It was maps such as his that Jack Aubrey would have used to navigate the Mediterranean and beyond. The text is printed on Neenah Royal Sundance Natural Laid paper.


The end sheets are an 1803 map by London engraver Samuel John Neele (1752-1824). It depicts Mahon harbor as it would have appeared during the events of Master and Commander.  The map has been color-enhanced in a manner reminiscent of hand-colored maps of the Georgian Era. 


The Ampersand Book Studio edition utilized a flexible binding style common in England at the time when Stephen Maturin would have been stocking his library. The half leather binding used Hewit Bookcalf from England with French goatskin labels. The hand-marbled paper was by Katherine Brett of Payhembury Marbled Papers  in Scotland. Brett specializes in recreating the decorative papers of the 17th through 19th centuries. The internal construction used hemp cord supports, integrated boards, linen thread, and hand-sewn silk headbands.


Available on Substack:
Master & Commander: Notes on the Special Edition

In many ways, the creation of this edition of Master and Commander was the inspiration for the creation of Ampersand Book Studio. The entire process – including discussions of design decisions, discourses on period paper, updates on the book construction, and much more – has been collected into an 85-page account of the months-long process of creating this edition. It is available as a free PDF through our Substack page.

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