The Unwritten Book (General Seminar)

Yesterday, Yvonne Lewis shared the story of ‘The Unwritten Book’ – the evidence William John Bankes left behind him of his travels, and, in particular, a set of lithography stones intended for publication in a book that was never printed in the end.

There are many reasons that these stones are both interesting and mysterious, but the greatest mystery is why they exist in the first place. Lithography was invented in Munich in 1798 by Alois Senefelder, and as Michael Twyman points out in his core text on the topic, “the lithographed book is almost as old as lithography itself” (p. 15). One of its leading proponents in Britain, Charles Hullmandel, set up his press in 1819, and so Bankes’s travels (circa 1815-17) coincided with the very earliest period of English lithography. Hullmandel’s marks appear on the back of the stones, and, as Twyman asserted in a paper he gave in 2016, “Hullmandel can be linked with the stones now at Kingston Lacy in several ways. First and foremost he owned them all, at least initially. Secondly, he made the drawings on some of them himself. And, thirdly, wherever a printer’s imprint appears on a stone it is his.”

It is unusual that the stones should remain in the family home of the person who commissioned them. Hullmandel’s usual practice, documented on his invoices, was to lease stones at a monthly rate, “until a written Order to rub them off be received.” There seems to have been some legal dispute with Hullmandel, but evidence of it is short on detail. Could this have been a reason that he did not publish his work?

Yvonne also highlighted the Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Giovanni Finati, of which there are two copies in the library at Kingston Lacy, and whose title page states it was “translated from the Italian, as dictated by himself, and edited by William John Bankes, Esq.” Unlike Bankes’s rumoured book of 1821, this book was published by John Murray, but not until 1830. Finati had been Bankes’s guide for many of his travels, so did the decision to work on it also represent the end of Bankes’s aspirations to publish an account of his own?

In any case, Finati’s book and the accounts of other companions now provide the only written accounts of Bankes’s travels. What he himself has left us are some remarkable drawings (by himself and by artists he commissioned) and lithography stones depicting inscriptions (some of which have worn away from their original monuments now) and, significantly, workers on some of the archaeological sites he visited.

Many thanks to Yvonne for sharing Bankes’s story, and to seminar participants for the interesting discussion about it and related matters (lithography in general, artists’ books, archaeology, and the conservation needs of lithography plates).


Giovanni Finati, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Giovanni Finati translated and edited by William John Bankes, London: John Murray, 1830.

Michael Twyman, Early Lithographed Books: A Study of the Design and Production of Improper Books in the Age of the Hand Press, with a Catalogue, London: Farrand Press & Private Libraries Association, 1990.

Michael Twyman, ‘Hullmandel’s Stones at Kingston Lacy’, Association of European Printing Museums Conference, April 2016,

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