Books are spreading their wings ever wider. Hardcover, medium-priced and paperback editions together make up the regular arsenal of the mainstream book publisher. Alongside these, however, there are spoken word editions, large print editions and special editions for people with reading difficulties. Today the new growth sector is e-books. In recent years, in Holland, another variant has appeared on the horizon: the Matena edition. In this example, graphic artist Dick Matena has taken the complete text of Willem Elsschot’s classic compact novel Kaas (Cheese) as the basis for 283 pages of brilliant grisaille drawings. Athenaeum, which publishes all Elsschot’s work, was delighted to include Matena’s version of Kaas in its list. Both Elsschot and Matena have their passionate advocates, a good enough reason to add a luxury edition.
It was this that the panel fell for. The red Edam cheese paper in which the whole thing is packed can be removed expectantly just the once, after which it is so much waste paper. (Happy expectation is, of course, the preserve of the luxury buyer – every buyer of Edam cheese, for example.) From beneath it emerges a cheese-coloured slip case bearing nothing more than the title in four full-fat capitals. This proves to contain a state-of-the-art hardcover wrapped in a dust jacket. The hardcover in turn conceals a single loose page from the book as a chromolithograph, the chromatic power of which takes your breath away.
True, it all costs a lot of money – but this luxury edition of Kaas is the perfect demonstration of how to use a book to actually extract that money from the market. That may sound prosaic, but it is wholly in the spirit of the Antwerp advertising salesman Alfons de Ridder, the man who became Willem Elsschot.