Eleven artists were invited to create works for Letchworth: A Vision of Utopia, an exhibition celebrating the world’s first ‘garden city’. Designer Nicholas Jeeves’ entry was a one-off hand-made edition of Garden Cities of To-Morrow, the treatise written by the city’s founder Ebenezer Howard…
Participating artists were given access to the archives of the International Garden Cities Exhibition and asked to think about Letchworth’s heritage in a contemporary context. Jeeves decided to explore Howard’s 1898 text which brought about the garden cities movement – and also make his unique edition the subject of a treasure hunt.
“A free-thinking man acquainted with poets, philosophers, anarchists and social reformers, Howard sought to remedy what he felt was an increasing sense of alienation felt by people in the grip an advancing industrial revolution,” writes Jeeves on his website.
“The book described in fine, practical detail how an industrial city could be built in which people could also live harmoniously with nature.”
Using the original text sourced via sacredtexts.com, Jeeves redesigned the entire book and it was then produced by master bookbinders Brignell’s of Cambridge.
“It was printed on archival paper, with hand stitched sections and a woven headband of brown and gold, and a calf-skin cover inlaid with gold and palladium leaf,” says Jeeves.
The other part of his project – where the book became the subject of a treasure hunt – was no less demanding. First of all, Jeeves created a code that was published on the letchworth.com website – cracking it would reveal the location the book.
“The ‘hunter’ would then be faced with a moral decision of their own,” Jeeves explains, ” – to take the book away without fanfare and to keep it for themselves; or to donate it back to the Garden Cities Exhibition, where it would be named after them and kept on permanent public display. In this way the morality of the contemporary Letchworthian would be tested in the light of the city’s founder.”
Jeeves’ code was based on the Dewey system numbers belonging to six books held in Letchworth public library. Identifying these books, each with a number in their title, would then lead the code-breaker to the location of Garden Cities of To-Morrow – positioned, it transpired, next to a copy of Utopia in the local history section.
The code ‘321071″ led treasure hunters to Jeeves’ edition…
“The book was located on the first day by Sarah Harris,” Jeeves explains. “Commenting on how she and her husband found the book, she said:
‘We had heard about the treasure hunt and were waiting for the clue to be published. We figured out that the code referred to library books and that being a Letchworth thing it was very probably going to be in Letchworth library. What we didn’t figure out was that the code referred to specific books that would give us the final location. It’s a small library so instead we just decided to work through all the books looking for anything unusual. It took us more than two hours but we got there!’
“I was particularly interested in this method of discovery as it raises another, entirely unanticipated, moral idea,” Jeeves continues, “that some knowledge coupled with sheer determination can be as effective as ‘pure’ intellectual deduction. Sarah chose to donate the book back to Letchworth. It is now known as The Harris Codex.”