Arion Lyre

82. Tono-Bungay, by H. G. Wells, with art by Stan Washburn

Tono-Bungay, by H. G. Wells, with 14 portraits by Stan Washburn, July 2008.

Tono-Bungay cover, Arion Press editionH. G. Wells, the British novelist and social thinker (1866-1946), is best known for his works of science fiction: The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898), written in swift succession to enormous success. The novel Tono-Bungay (1908-09) is less well known and not futuristic, though it seems keenly prescient a hundred years later. It is his greatest book.

Tono-Bungay is Wells’s masterpiece,” writes Edward Mendelson in his excellent introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of 2005. “It is a profoundly unsettling novel, epic in scope and encyclopedic in content, yet always disturbingly aware of its own fictional quality, of the self-deceptions of its first-person narrator, and of the fictions and delusions that shape modern life in every sphere from sex to commerce to politics to science.”

Despite its serious nature, Tono-Bungay is highly entertaining. The title is the brand-name of a patent-medicine concocted by Edward Ponderevo, the uncle of the narrator George Ponderevo. The story is clearly based on the history and phenomenal commercial success of Coca-Cola. Like Coke, Tono-Bungay is not entirely good for you. This novel remains an extremely timely story for its exposé not only of the pharmaceutical industry but of unrestrained financial speculation. Read more about the novel.

Artwork by Stan Washburn for Tono-BungayThe Arion Press edition features fourteen psychological portraits of the main characters by Stan Washburn, who has previously illustrated two dramatic works for Arion Press: A Lie of the Mind by Sam Shepard and The Price by Arthur Miller. Here his technique is to scratch negatives for the direct production of polymer plates. Though printed by letterpress their linear quality is that of etching.

The image shown here is of Edward Ponderevo, who is portrayed in several prints at various stages of his rise and fall. This image is inspired by the narrator's words: "Astraddle on Tono-Bungay, he flashed athwart the empty heavens—like a comet—rather, like a stupendous rocket!—and overawed investors spoke of his star. At his zenith he burst into a cloud of the most magnificent promotions. What a time that was!"

Artwork by Stan Washburn for Tono-BungayAdvertising is one of the book’s important themes, both as an object of Wells’s satire and as illustration of the text. Wells drew his own sketches of ads for Tono-Bungay, ostensibly from the hand of Uncle Edward, that are reproduced in the first edition of the book. Most of the advertisements he concocted are written out in the text or described, but three are set up in boxes to resemble printed promotions for nostrums. Expanding on these, the publisher Andrew Hoyem and his friend Roy Folger, no strangers to extravagant expression, have created twenty additional ads for Tono-Bungay, its other products, and those distributed by the company, as well as some of their own invention, such as the competing Tunick’s Teutonic Tonic. To distinguish these outside inventions from Wells’s own, they have been set in larger type, each with various display faces and decorative rules from the period, drawn from Arion’s extensive type collection, and are printed on gray paper, differing from the ivory paper used for the text and illustrations.

The type, Plantin, in Monotype composition, and the polymer plates, printed by letterpress on Mohawk Via laid paper, in large octavo format, 9-1/8 by 6 inches. The book, consisting of 372 pages, is bound in full cloth, with titling labels on spine and front cover, the latter in the shape of a bottle, in slipcase.

Binding and Slipcase for Arion Press edition of Tono-Bungay

Included with the book in the slipcase is a booklet reprinting the informative notes by Edward Mendelson from the Penguin Classics edition of Tono-Bungay (2005). Explanations of unfamiliar references and elucidations of realities underpinning the fiction can be readily consulted while reading the Arion Press deluxe edition.

The edition is limited to 300 numbered copies for sale and 26 lettered copies for complimentary distribution. The price is $750. Available.

Order securely online now: Reserve now and pay offline:
Reserve your copy

Go to title: 81. Sampler  83. The Structure of Rime


Search Arion Press

Artist, Author, Title, or Keyword


Edition: The format is 9-1/8 by 6 inches, 372 pages, bound in full cloth, in slipcase. The edition is limited to 300 numbered copies for sale. Price: $750.

Order securely online now:


Reserve now and pay offline:

Reserve your copy