Wednesday, October 17, 2018

377. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (3)

In the 1960s the appreciation for the 1890s, decadence, art nouveau and symbolism grew immensely, partly as a result of the V&A exhibition about Aubrey Beardsley (May-September 1966). The same year John Russell Taylor's The Art Nouveau Book in Britain was published by Methuen - it was profusely illustrated, and an eye-opener for some collectors; it had to be reprinted several times. James G. Nelson wrote another influential book in which Ricketts's work, though not the main subject, was treated extensively: The Early Nineties. A View from the Bodley Head (Harvard University Press, 1971). These two studies were greatly appreciated by curators, collectors, scholars, and book dealers. 


Geoffrey Perkins, A Collection of Books Designed by Charles Ricketts(deluxe copy)
Of course, there were already Ricketts collectors out there. In 1967 the UCLA in California showed books designed by Ricketts from the collections of Albert Sperison and Charles Gullans. In 1982 Carl Woodring had his collection on display at The Grolier Club of New York. Collections owned by public institutions, such as libraries and museums were discovered or described as well, an example being the Catalogue of the Works of Charles Ricketts, R.A. from the Collection of Gordon Bottomley (1985). Bottomley's collection ended up in Carlisle.

Book design remained the most often explored subject in relation to Ricketts, although new venues were found in this field as well. Giles Barber's significant article 'Rossetti, Ricketts, and Some English Publishers' Bindings of the Nineties' appeared in The Library in 1970, and bookbinding and book design were also the topics of Michael Brooks's article in Criticism (1970): 'Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and the Art of the Book'. One study after another was published in the USA, England and elsewhere. In Zurich, for example, the antiquarian book dealer Geoffrey Perkins wrote a catalogue for the firm L'Art Ancien: A Collection of Books Designed by Charles Ricketts. The collection was for sale, and in fact, sold to John Paul Getty Jr. before the distribution of the catalogue - corrigenda and addenda were issued a year later. Scholarly catalogues like this one by Perkins have become exceedingly scarce since then.

Theatre design remained another continuous theme for research. Ifan Kyrle Fletcher wrote about 'Charles Ricketts and the Theatre' in Theatre Notebook (1967), giving a chronological list of Ricketts's productions. Eric A.G. Binnie's dissertation on The Stage Designs of Charles Ricketts was defended at the University of Toronto in 1979. Sybil Rosenfeld published an article about 'Charles Ricketts’s Designs for the Theatre' in Theatre Notebook (1981): an inventory of 111 theatre designs distributed by the National Art Collections Fund. Another article was written by Michael Barclay: ‘More Ricketts designs for the theatre’ (Theatre Notebook, 1982), and he also published an essay in Apollo (1985). However, his dissertation has not been published, or made available in open access. Others wrote about specific performances and costume designs: Carl Woodring discussed John Masefield's The Coming of Christ and Shaw's Saint Joan (in Columbia Library Columns, 1986 and 1988), while Richard Allen Cave compared recent productions of Wilde's plays to performances  designed by Ricketts (Modern Drama, 1994).


Charles Ricketts, Pages From a Diary in Greece (1978) (Proof Copy)
Book historical dissertations, such as Richard Harold Quinn's seminal work on Ricketts's and Shannon's magazine The Dial (1977), were followed by those about his work as an artist, such as Simon S.S. Driver's On Charles Ricketts. His Life, Works, and Contributions to the Arts (1977). The last one emphasized a lack of primary sources, and the need for a biography. In London, J.G. Paul Delaney embarked on a long series of articles about Ricketts leading up to his 1990 biography Charles Ricketts, published by the Clarendon Press in Oxford. He published such studies in Country Life (1975), Antiquarian Book Monthly (1978), The Connoisseur (1978), The Pen (1983), and Yeats Annual (1986), while he also acted as editor for Ricketts's diaries and letters issued by The Tragara Press in Edinburgh, starting in 1976 with Ricketts's essay about Michael Field, and followed by selections from the letters and diaries (1978, 1979, and 1981).

Meanwhile, the attention for Ricketts as a designer for the theatre didn't obstruct a growing awareness of his achievements as an art critic. Again, Denys Sutton was the first to devote an article to Ricketts's ideas about Titian: 'Charles Ricketts and Titian' (Apollo, 1978). In 1999, David Peters Corbett published an article on Charles Ricketts’s art criticism in Word & Image. Ricketts became to be seen as a versatile artist and personality, not just as a book and theatre designer. A more general approach of his work was immanent.


Leaflet poster for Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership (1979)
The year 1979 was a watershed in the appreciation of Charles Ricketts. Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham hosted an all-round exhibition about Ricketts and Shannon: Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership, the exhibition and the catalogue were curated by Paul Delaney and Stephen Calloway. Calloway saw his monograph Charles Ricketts. Subtle and Fantastic Decorator published by Thames and Hudson. Its modest price was directed at a potentially large audience. That same year, 1979, Joseph Darracott organized an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge: All for Art. The Ricketts and Shannon Collection. The catalogue gave a major boost to the recognition of Ricketts and Shannon as art collectors, a new theme, as did his monograph The World of Charles Ricketts in 1980. This subject was related to another one, the art of the interior that was dealt with by Stephen Calloway in an article about the 'arrangement of a collection' (The Journal of The Decorative Arts Society 1890-1940, 1984). Ricketts was an art collector, but also an art adviser. Paul Delaney wrote about his work for the National Gallery of Canada (Museum Management and Curatorship, 1991).


Catalogue Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership (1979)
Yet another subject was homosexuality - in the mid 1980s the Gay Times discovered the work, and especially the partnership of Ricketts and Shannon, and devoted a portfolio to their lives. Later, this subject would be connected to the art of the interior when Queer Studies took over (see next week's blog).

Collecting was a new theme, another was jewellery. Diana Scarisbrick opened the field with a beautifully illustrated article about Ricketts's design for costly gifts to his friends in Apollo (1982).

New themes were explored, but articles about book design and illustration kept appearing regularly, and even more so during the 1980s and 1990s. Richard S. Field devoted a chapter to Ricketts in The Artistic Revival of the Woodcut in France 1850-1900, edited by Jacquelynn Baas and Richard S. Field (1984). Even in Russia, Ricketts's and Shannon's wood engravings for Daphnis and Chloe were appreciated: an article by T.F. Verizhnikova from 1989 is a testimony to that. The Netherlands always reported about the work of Ricketts and Shannon, and did so as early as 1891; the Dutch magazine Maatstaf published a portfolio of illustrations with an introduction by Ton Leenhouts and myself in 1989.

In 1991, in the scholarly series of Dictionary of Literary Biography, edited by Jonathan Rose and Patricia J. Anderson, volume 112 was published: British Literary Publishing Houses, 1881-1965. It contained a chapter about The Vale Press by Alice H.R.H. Beckwith. The lack of archival material on this subject was more obvious than before, and scholars knew that other venues were necessary to penetrate Ricketts's character as a publisher.

A general regard for the works of Shaw, Yeats, and Wilde, always helped to further the case of Ricketts, who designed their books or plays. Of these three, Wilde was the rising star as the 100th commemoration of his death in 2000 came closer. David Peters Corbett's '"Collaborative resistance": Charles Ricketts as illustrator of Oscar Wilde’ was published in Word & Image (1994), the same year as Nicholas Raymond Frankel's dissertation on Oscar Wilde’s Decorated Books was accepted at the University of Virginia. Frankel would publish articles in magazines such as Victorian Literature and Culture (1996) and Studies in the Literary Imagination (1997). In The Private Library (1998, distributed in 2000) I published an article on Ricketts's design for The Picture of Dorian Gray.

While some of these publications were meant for a large audience, many seemed to be written for a scholarly incrowd. Exhibitions were on the other end of the spectrum: At the Sign of the Dial. Charles Haslewood Shannon & his Circle (Usher Gallery in Lincoln, 1987), ‘Elegante Engelse Boekkunst, The Vale Press 1oo jaar’ (Elegant English Book Art, The Vale Press at a Hundred) (Museun Meermanno, The Hague, 1996) - this was the occasion for my bibliography A New Checklist of Books designed by Charles Ricketts & Charles Shannon - and De vrienden van Charles Ricketts (Charles Ricketts's Friends) (National Library of the Netherlands, The Hague, 1997).

The field was considerably widened, opened up to more specialised audiences, Ricketts was a popular subject for scholars. Still more was to come.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

376. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (2)

Ricketts's death in 1931 set in motion a stream of obituaries, commemorative exhibitions and memoirs - and that lasted for twenty years. Friends such as Gordon Bottomley published articles on Ricketts's versatility. Bottomley especially treated Ricketts's career as a theatre designer (in Theatre Arts Monthly, May 1932), but he also dealt with other subjects such as book design; Bottomley was a devotee who retold his fond memories of Ricketts in Durham University Journal (1940). Charles Holmes published his - fascinating and revealing - memories of Ricketts in 1935 (Self & Partners (Mostly Self).


Theatre Arts Monthly (1932)
There was an exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery of works by Orpen, McEvoy and Ricketts (1933), Cassell published the first monograph about Ricketts, introduced by Thomas Sturge Moore (1933), and Ricketts's friend in Germany, Marcus Behmer, wrote a long essay about his book designs in 1935.

After World War II, the first collectors of works by Ricketts came to the forward. At Harvard University, A.E. Gallatin showed books from his personal collection (1946). Institutions were aware of their collections as well, especially in the United States, where the Colby Library Quarterly not only published the holdings of American libraries of Vale Press books (1951-1952), but also translations of one of Ricketts's main text on the principles of the Vale Press, originally published in French in De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page.

Dissertations about Ricketts started to appear in 1954 when Alan Maxwell Fern finished his The Artistic Theories of Charles Ricketts, and Their Application in His Book Illustration (1954) at The University of Chicago. Book and theatre design remained the main subjects for exhibitions such as the one at the Richmond Public Library in 1956, articles by Carl Weber or Simon Nowell-Smith in academic journals, and a centenary exhibition at Leighton House in 1966.


Apollo (February 1966)
When Denys Sutton published his influential article in the art magazine Apollo (February 1966), a new interest in the artists of the 1890s was immanent, Aubrey Beardsley took the lead, and subjects like art nouveau and decadence prepared new ground for an interest in Ricketts's versatility as an artist.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

375. Scholarly Attention for Charles Ricketts (1)

My impression is that the last twenty years scholarly publications about Charles Ricketts have broadened their scope. In order to find out if there is any truth in this assumption, I have looked at all articles and books about Ricketts, and divided them into several sections. We will start with the publications during Ricketts's life. 

What were the subjects of serious essays about the work of this versatile artist, who was a wood engraver, editor, publisher, type designer, graphic designer, painter, sculptor, collector, stage designer, art critic, art adviser, and writer?

During the early years, before 1900, Ricketts was discussed in relation to two subjects only, art and book design. Serious articles were, for the main part, not written by scholars, but by reviewers, art critics, and journalists, such as the influential Dutch artist and critic Jan Veth who was one of the earliest supporters of his work. In June 1894, he published an article on the 'new book art' of the Vale artists ('Nieuwe boek-kunst', in De Amsterdammer of 17 June 1894), a review of Hero and Leander and The Sphinx.


Jan Veth, self-portrait, 1887 (Drents Museum)
The artists of The Vale were introduced to a large audience in Great Britain by The Sketch in 1894 and 1895, a short series of four essays. Charles Shannon was the first one, discussed by 'Theocritus' in January 1895; Ricketts was the second one, in March of the same year. 

The more interesting essays were written by J.W. Gleeson White, one of the founders of the art magazine The Studio, who died in 1898. In December 1895, the first number of The Pageant (for 1896) appeared. It contained his essay about 'The Work of Charles Ricketts'. The Magazine of Art of April 1897 published a second important essay by Gleeson White, 'At the Sign of The Dial, Mr Ricketts as a Book-Builder'. The term 'book-builder' was an early attempt to define 'graphic designer'.


J.W. Gleeson White (photo: Frederick Hollyer)
An interview and a bibliographical study were written by Temple Scott for Bookselling in December 1896, while another list of Ricketts's publications at the Vale Press was written for The Book Buyer in March 1900 by Ernest D. North. Book design was the subject of an essay that placed Ricketts firmly within the William Morris/Kelmscott Press tradition and the 'revival of printing': H.C. Marillier's 'The Vale Press, and the Modern Revival of Printing', published in Pall Mall Magazine (October 1900).

After the closure of the Vale Press in 1904, Ricketts devoted himself to art, painting, art criticism, and stage design. An essay about 'his Activities' was written by C. Lewis Hind for The Studio of January 1910. Ricketts's versatility was its main subject, while his paintings, bronzes, and earlier book designs were commented upon.

Art and theatre design became the main topics for the articles about Ricketts until his death in 1931, and most of these appeared in the 1920s. Between 1910 and 1920 not much of importance was published about his work, although there were many exhibitions, such as the one introduced by Martin Birnbaum at the Rhode Island School of Design and at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy in 1914. 

Ricketts's theatre designs were highlighted in articles in Theatre Arts Monthly in 1924, and in Apollo in 1925. However, his illustrations and binding designs were not ignored.

In 1927, The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art published an article about Ricketts's bookbindings in conjunction with an exhibition of bindings collected by Harold Bell. The same year, The Print Collector's Quarterly published Cecil French's essay about 'The Wood-Engravings of Charles Ricketts', and this attention for Ricketts as a graphic designer (avant-le-mot) was crowned with A.J.A. Symons's long essay in The Fleuron (1930) about 'An Unacknowledged Movement in Fine Printing. The Typography of the Eighteen-Nineties'. Ricketts was his main subject.



Charles Ricketts, illustration for
Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)


During Ricketts's life, serious essays were written about some of his activities, such as wood-engraving, publishing, graphic design, and stage design, but most of these were not really scholarly articles; their main function was to promote his work. Ricketts's qualities as an editor, publisher, painter, sculptor, collector, art critic, art adviser, and writer were not analysed; this would take another fifty years or so. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

374. A Commercial Back-Drop

Last week's blog about the historian Huizinga displayed one of the back-drops Ricketts designed for Shaw's play Saint Joan.

Charles Ricketts, Drop-curtain for Saint Joan (1924)
Internet images are prone to commercialization, and Ricketts's designs are no exceptions. Earlier I showed some examples of mugs

The Shaw back-drop can be ordered as a 'canvas', suggesting that some sort of painting will adorn the prospective buyer's wall. 

'Stretched canvas print' based on Ricketts's design for Saint Joan

The price is quite surprising for a print size of 13 by 10 inches: $95.99. Every free image on the internet can be ordered as a print for a price like this. One could, of course, download the image for free. Even a copy of the book that includes the original reproduction - and fifteen other plates - can be had for less. Saint Joan. A Chronicle Play in Six Scenes and An Epilogue doesn't have to cost more than $90,00. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

373. Johan Huizinga, Shaw, Ricketts, and Roland Holst

The great Dutch historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) wrote a review about Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan. He drew a comparison between a Dutch production by the Vereenigd Tooneel (first night: 20 December 1924) and the London production at the Regent Theatre which he saw in February 1925. The play had opened on 26 May 1924 at the New Theatre and ran for 244 performances, after which it moved to the Regent Theatre for another series of 321 performances, and later productions could be seen at the Lyceum Theatre at the Strand in 1926, and elsewhere.



Programme for a performance of Saint Joan,
Lyceum Theatre (May 1926)
Johan Huizinga mentioned the Regent Theatre production, that was - like the others - designed by Charles Ricketts. His costumes, set designs and drop-curtains were judged 'excellent' by Huizinga, who preferred this production and remembered Ricketts's work long after the performance, while those of the Dutch production, designed by the architect H.Th. Wijdeveld - less convincing - didn't impress him that much. Wijdeveld, who was married to one of the foremost Dutch actresses, designed several plays for the company of Eduard Verkade. Verkade was a director, actor, and translator. However, his translation of Saint Joan, according to Huizinga, who gave several examples, was sloppy, and faulty.

Huizinga's article was published in three subsequent issues of the Dutch magazine De Gids (April, May and June 1925) and occupies more than thirty pages in his collected works.

Huizinga, who thought of Shaw as a prosaic mind, was surprised by the serious heroism of the play, and the effort to recreate history in a tragedy. He argued that Shaw had understood Hegel's principle that tragedy doesn't result from the conflict between justice and injustice, but from the conflict between justice and justice. If Jeanne d'Arc had had to face cowards and bastards (Huizinga's words), she would have been a romantic character, not a dramatic one. Shaw took history seriously, all too seriously according to the historian, because he wanted to know what her ordeal could tell us today. Even Shaw's mistakes - wrong names, wrong quotes - don't matter to Huizinga, who subtly mentions them.

Huizinga's main questions in connection to the performance and Ricketts's designs are these: has Shaw given the play a medieval atmosphere, and if so, has it any bearing on the dramatic achievement of the play?


Charles Ricketts, Drop-curtain for Saint Joan (1924)
Huizinga is not convinced by the medieval atmosphere of the play, and feels that the bishop of Reims behaves as a Church of England man while the Dauphin acts like an Eton boy, and the comical effects are simply too Shavian to be medieval. The play is not archaic in any way,  it is unromantic, and still, Huizinga was captivated by Shaw's Saint Joan, the play fascinated him, partly because of Shaw's imagination that gave splendour to certain scenes, such as the dialogue at court before Jeanne enters, or the conversation of Warwick and Cauchon.

Given Shaw's version of this medieval story, the Dutch production would seem to be better suited for it, due to its austere design by Wijdeveld, the absence of historical props, and a subdued realism. But no, Huizinga argues, the play is better served with a colourful medieval setting, as the acting, the costumes and the scene decorations together produce a realistic unity. The lack of an austere style wouldn't go well with a severe performance. Ricketts's colourful and exalted costumes, on the other hand, created a vibrant, harmonious world. Huizinga asserted that the Dutch tradition displayed all varieties of grey, while the British theatre world traditionally excelled in a range of red colours, which he supposed to have come from the Pre-Raphaelites.

As to the actors, Huizinga disliked the acting of Sybil Thorndike, which he characterised as affected and pretentious; for the Dutch production a young actress had been cast for the role of Jeanne, and her performance was boyish, spontaneous, and natural.


Charles Ricketts, Set design for the Epilogue (1924)
After the first instalment had been published, his friend Richard Roland Holst received a copy from Huizinga, and he admired the analysis of the performance, and of Jeanne d'Arc as a historical character. He also wrote: 'I liked the appreciative comments about the work of my old friend Ricketts, of whom, I feel a little estranged these years. If you would like to meet him during your next visit to London, be assured that he would welcome you if I can send him a note in advance.'

A few years later, Ricketts - who remained in contact with his European friends - would send Roland Holst a copy of his new book Beyond the Threshold with a handwritten dedication that referred to 'forty years of friendship'.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

372. Catalogues Imitating Books (2)

Catalogue Number Four was the Spring 1984 catalogue of Pagoda Books in London and it was dressed in a thick white paper cover containing images of the front and back cover of a book designed by Charles Ricketts and described in the catalogue as number 242.


Catalogue Number Four, Pagoda Books (1984)
The example for the catalogue was Oscar Wilde. Recollections by Jean Paul Raymond & Charles Ricketts (1932), published posthumously. Of course, Charles Ricketts and Jean Paul Raymond are one and the same person. It is a weird use of a pseudonym, but it allowed Ricketts to pose as an interested listener, or, as the prospectus explained:

Ricketts invented Raymond so that he might create and control his auditory, command its sympathy, and suggest in the half-tones of familiar conversation certain elusive qualities of Wilde as a friend. The artifice succeeds. In a subtle sense he paints a new portrait of Wilde.
(Prospectus and Retrospectus of the Nonesuch Press 1932)

Oscar Wilde, Recollections (1932)
The cover seems to echo Ricketts's own design for Wilde's The Sphinx (1894). The front and back images of both designs together tell a story. 

The catalogue didn't use the spine design, and the gold was replaced with black.


Catalogue Number Four, Pagoda Books (1984)
Each cover is divided into four compartments with a man greeting a woman on the front panel, she is accompanied by a lady, and she herself reveals her young body while raising a glass to the young man. On the back cover the man welcomes her, holding a kylix. This seems the reverse order for the story, which we also see at the top of both covers. On the back the man is alone on a couch, again raising a kylix. On the front of the book the man and woman lie down embracing. Some critics suppose that the order of the images has been reversed by the printer. But Ricketts had intended this order. The original drawing, now in the British Museum, clearly shows this.


Charles Ricketts, design for cover
© The Trustees of the British Museum
The stories told by Ricketts are never straightforward, or one-dimensional.


Oscar Wilde, Recollections (1932)
Pagoda Books was the antiquarian book firm of Julie Speedie who wrote a book about Wilde's friend Ada Leverson.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

371. Catalogues Imitating Books (1)

Sorting out old antiquarian catalogues, I found a few examples of catalogues that imitate one of the books that is offered for sale inside. 

An example is a 2002 catalogue issued by Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books in London: Literature. The catalogue contained 464 descriptions, three of which were of first editions by Oscar Wilde, designed by Ricketts or Shannon: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Lady Windermere's Fan (1893), and The Sphinx (1894). 

All would have lent themselves for a catalogue cover, although the first one had been rebacked (not mentioned in the description) which ruined the original spine design. The second one would have given a salmon pink catalogue, but the bookseller opted for the third design, that of The Sphinx.



The Sphinx (1894) and Literature (2002)
The drawings on the front and back cover were slightly reduced in size, while the format of the catalogue was slightly larger than the book. The drawing on the spine was discarded, and replaced by the name of the firm and the subject of the catalogue.




Wednesday, August 29, 2018

370. An Early Computer-Based Antiquarian List, May 1985

From the hundreds of antiquarian catalogues that I recently handled - in an attempt to save space - I found one published by Blackwell's Rare Books in 1985. It has a surprising introduction. I remember seeing catalogues that contain a short preamble on the history of the firm, or an account written by a collector on the eve of the sale of his life's work, or an obituary of one of the owners of the firm, but the 1985 Blackwell catalogue has a rather technical foreword.

It is about the introduction of computer software to improve the firm's sales methods.


Blackwell's Rare Books (May 1985)

The computer-printed introduction is signed in pencil by the firm's dealer, Philip Brown:

You are probably aware that we have been considering for some time the use of computers to assist us with catalogue production, selective mailing to interested customers, and for support in many other vital tasks of our antiquarian bookselling, while retaining total flexibility with the personal touches which are so important. We have selected a range of micro-computers with unique software, which will (we believe) achieve the initial objectives we have set, and the first three of these systems are just coming into use.


Blackwell's Rare Books (May 1985)
Blackwell's modernisation made it possible to send specialised lists to customers such as my friend Ton Leenhouts who received this first list in May 1985. The list could be more topical, and didn't have to be expensively printed, as the introduction explained:

An important facility given to us now is that of producing frequent "proof lists". Each list will be subject-classified, and will comprise a selection of descriptions of recent purchases as they come into stock. They will be produced in-house, and will contain bibliographical information to our usual standards. Overseas copies will be despatched by air-mail, and all proof lists will have a very limited circulation. After a brief period, any unsold items will be forwarded to our more widely distributed catalogues.

And so, a new era began. The descriptions, and the books on offer didn't change, and contemporary collecting fashions were not discontinued. For that to happen, the internet had to be invented first.

Inside, we see the traditional division of modern books into two sections: 'Private Press Books', and 'Modern First and Limited Editions'.

In the first section we find a heading for Ricketts's Vale Press.


Blackwell's Rare Books (May 1985)
Comparing prices, we may perhaps deduct that the more desirable presses were Ashendene Press, Officina Bodoni, and Shakespeare Head Press, while other presses were relatively more affordable, such as Golden Cockerell Press, Nonesuch Press, and, indeed, Vale Press.


Blackwell's Rare Books (May 1985)
The descriptions offer other clues for collecting fashions. Entry No 40, for example, contains a description of the Vale Press edition of William Meinhold's Mary Schweidler, the Amber Witch (1903). The notice very carefully describes every imaginable wear and tear, but also points out that the book has never been used for reading:

very slight rubbing to the corners, endpapers lightly browned, untrimmed and almost entirely unopened[.]

The folded quires that formed the book had not been cut open by previous owners, and there must have been a few in the years between 1902 and 1985. As times goes by, such unopened copies get scarcer, while collecting fashions change. The unread book, the unopened book is not as desirable as it used to be. Is the private press book still some sort of trophy? Other features seem to overshadow that particular one: prices are now dictated by condition, the author's fame, and provenance. Nowadays, an 'ideal copy' is a famous book written by a famous writer and owned by a famous collector, while both collector and author have left their emotional traces - words, drawings, tears - between the pages. On the other hand, prices create fashions as well: the most expensive book must be desirable.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

369. Ricketts, Shannon, and The Double Crown Club

In 1924, the printer Oliver Simon (Curwen Press) formed a then nameless club that somewhat later would assume the name of The Double Crown Club. This society of printers, publishers, book designers, and illustrators still exists and regularly gathers for dinner and talks. 

Co-founder was Hubert Foss, Oxford University Press editor. Apart from these two men, the earliest members of the committee were G. Wren Howard (Jonathan Cape) and Gerard Meynell (Westminster Press), while Holbrook Jackson was invited to accept the office of president. They made lists of potential members of the new 'Typographical Dining Club', (this was shortly before the definitive name had been decided upon) and invitations were sent out to forty-seven ordinary members and twelve future honorary members. Some declined, some didn't reply. 


The Florence Restaurant, Rupert Street, London (Soho Museum)
Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon were among the honorary members, and they were present at the first official dinner on 31 October 1924 in the famous Florence Restaurant in Rupert Street - a restaurant that in the 1890s had been favoured by Oscar Wilde, and other decadent writers.

Initially, the members were all male. That changed in 1979 when Nicolete Gray became the first female member of the club.

There are several books about the history of the club. Some of the talks that members and guest have given, were published, but the main paper heritage of the Club consists of menus that were especially designed and printed for each occasion.


"Double Crown', designed by Noel Rooke (1925)

Ricketts and Shannon started as honorary members, but the honorary membership itself lead to many discussions, and when in April 1925, 'a ballot was taken for  honorary and foreign membership' (as James Moran wrote in 1974), some honorary members were not elected. That happened to John Drinkwater, Sydney Cockerell, Edward Johnston, A.W. Pollard, Robert Bridges, St John Hornby, Emery Walker, R.B. McKerrow, Lucien Pissarro, Ricketts and Shannon. This problem of the 'blackballed eminences' simmered for months.

Finally, in October 1925 the rejected honorary members were asked to become ordinary members.

Ricketts never gave a talk at the Club's meetings, nor did Shannon. Their friend Thomas Sturge Moore talked about the books of Ricketts on 21 March 1929, the text of which was never published, and I don't know whether the subject was present in the room.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

368. A Written Picture of Charles Ricketts (3)

Green Lizard Sonnet

O Love, the transformations thou hast given!
Love, through all transformations I believe.
The Jove that I have seen casting his levin
I wear as a green lizard on my sleeve...
Love, Love! Can'st thou take on such utter dearth,
Nor lovely as the moon in lapse of powers,
Nor burning frangipanni at the hearth,
Nor with soft incense incensing the hours?
Why move so alien, why art thou thus?
Wear any mask, so thine eyes pierce the shaft,
Or turn thee wailing to thy Genius:
Sighs are there that to me thou can'st not waft,
Imaginations, hopes that must divide --
Yet, as thou art a god, interpret wide!

                                                          Michael Field

This complete version, based on manuscripts, was published for the first time in Ivor C. Treby's anthology of Michael Field's poetry, A Shorter Shirazad (1999).

Michael Field, 'Green Lizard Sonnet'
in Wild Honey from Various Thyme (1908)
 When Michael Field published the poem in their book Wild Honey from Various Thyme in 1908, the printer mutilated the sonnet, which, lacking line 9, became a 'triskaidekain', as Treby pointed out. 

Charles Ricketts, detail of binding
for Michael Field's Wild Honey from Various Thyme (1908)
The subject was Ricketts: 'recently he had not been sufficiently attentive', and on 18 November 1904 the Michael Field journal noted: 'I tell Painter [Ricketts] I have written a furious sonnet against him called the Green Lizard Sonnet'.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

367. A Written Picture of Charles Ricketts (2)

An Enchanter


To all men of the earth a foreigner,
He lends his alien glance to every eye;
The other side the moon he passes by,
And we too, of his freedom, double her.

We tingle with his rhapsody of sight,
And shiver in the coldness it employs;
Yet warmth the lizard from its slab enjoys
We feel the moment that we curse our plight.

From cunning distance his caress we take -
So wild things of the woodland please & mock:
In hours of gravity his thoughts forsake

His troubling mortals of the magic flock.
Ah, but his laugh detains us! He has need
His malice should enliven ears that heed.

                                    Michael Field

Ivor C. Treby in 1986 (Bodleian Library)
This poem about Charles Ricketts was written by Michael Field (Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper). There are manuscript versions written by Katharine and Edith - a joint poem that was written in 1901 and published in Wild Honey from Various Thymes (1908).

A collection of their poems was published in 1999 by Ivor C. Treby (1933-2012). He was a biochemist, and worked as a teacher in London, but was also a poet and literary researcher. His research focused on Michael Field, and he published several books about these poets, in which he wrote about poems, books, manuscripts, correspondence, and more. 

For these he arranged the work in idiosyncratic ways, talking about this poem, for example, as T0988. It always takes me some time to decipher the codes he so cleverly fabricated for cross references. He unearthed a wealth of material. His archive is now in the collection of the Bodleian Library, not only as a testimony of him as a poet and researcher, but as a gay man whose archive now testifies of the 20th-struggle for equal rights. (See the announcement of the online publication of his archive.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

366. A Written Portrait of Thomas Sturge Moore

The Poet


Within his eyes are hung lamps of his sanctuary:
A wind, from whence none knows, can set in sway
And spill their light by fits; but yet their ray
Returns, deep-boiled, to its obscurity.

The world as from a dullard turns annoyed
To stir the days with show or deeds or voices;
But if one spies him justly one rejoices,
With silence that the careful lips avoid.

He is a plan, a work of some strange passion
Life has conceived apart from Time's harsh drill,
A thing it hides and cherishes to fashion

At odd and bright moments yo its secret will:
Holy and foolish, ever set apart,
He waits the leisure of his god's free heart.

                                                                 Michael Field

'Michael Field' (Katharine Bradley and Emma Cooper) first met the poet Thomas Sturge Moore in June 1901.


Katharine Bradley and dog Whym Chow

Katharine made a note in her diary:

Moore, the Poet, comes to dine with us

and about his eyes she said:

from illuminated eyes gives worship to his god

The poem dates from around this time, and was published in Wild Honey from Various Thymes (1908). 'Henry' (Edith Cooper) wrote to her sister Amy that Moore was a 'genuine new friend', and that he was 'intensely modern & in no wise decadent'. (See Ivor C. Treby's anthology A Shorter Shirazad. 101 Poems of Michael Field (1999).

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

365. A Written Picture of Charles Ricketts (1)

Pan Asleep


He half unearthed the Titans with his voice;
The stars are leaves before his windy riot;
The spheres a little shake: but, see, of choice
How closely he wraps up in hazel quiet!
And while he sleeps the bees are numbering
The fox-glove flowers from base to seal├Ęd tip,
Till fond they doze upon his slumbering,
And smear with honey his wide, smiling lip.
He shall not be disturbed: it is the hour
That to his deepest solitude belongs;
The unfrighted reed opens to noontide flower,
And poets hear him sing their lyric songs,
While the Arcadian hunter, baffled, hot,
Scourges his statue in the ivy-grot.

                                                         Michael Field

Katharine Bradley

Written on 15 January 1901 by Michael Field (Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper). This poem was written by Katharine, also known as 'Michael'.

Ivor C. Treby, in his 1999 edition of A Shorter Shirazad. 101 Poems of Michael Field, said this poem 'possibly' was a 'picture' of Charles Ricketts, who, on its first publication in Wild Honey from Various Thyme (1908) 'certainly took it to be so'.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

364. Charles Ricketts's Design for Oscar Wilde's Poems (1892) (9)

Elkin Mathews and John Lane issued a prospectus for the new 'edition' of Oscar Wilde's Poems in 1892, probably around April, as it stated that the book would appear on 23 April. There was some delay, and the book was said to be 'just ready' on 7 May 1892.


Prospectus for Oscar Wilde's Poems (1892)
[Image: Vincent Barlow]
Advertisements, as we have seen in an earlier blog, were probably considered too expensive, and unnecessary. From the few advertisements and list of published books we have deducted that the book probably appeared in early May, and was sold out before the end of Summer 1892.

The prospectus may have done the job. Hundreds of copies must have been printed, but only a few have survived.

The order form (on the reverse side) mentions the details that the advertisements also dealt with: the hand-made paper, the 'decorated title and end-pages', the name of the binding design ('The Seven Trees') that was 'in gold on iris' with, between brackets, the word 'cloth', and the name of the designer.


Binding Designs with Titles 


Much has been made of this title for the design, and it must be said, that it was quite rare to see the name of the designer advertised at the time, let alone the title of the design. That was quite unusual. Designs for earthenware and pottery had names, such as 'Willow Tree'. Ricketts had attended classes at the City and Guilds art school that was 'set up to train students for the local industries like the manufacture of hand-painted china' (as Paul Delaney wrote). We have seen that Ricketts signed his early drawings when young artists like him didn't dare to do just that. And, moreover, most of the bookbindings and the borders for title pages that he designed after 1892 were to carry a title.

Bookbinding was considered to be a decorative art. Nicholas Franklin (in Oscar Wilde's Decorated Books, 2000) pointed out that the title suggested that the author held another view and considered the binding design to be an expressive, or representational art work, worthy of a title. However, we can't be sure whose idea it was to give the design its title. Not Wilde, I presume. The artist and the publisher held the same view on art.

Earlier binding designs by Ricketts, commissioned by Osgood McIlvaine & Co., didn't carry titles. In advertisements, the cover for Oscar Wilde's Intentions was described as 'Cloth Extra', meaning that it had been decorated. The same goes for Thomas Hardy's A Group of Noble Dames. Wilde's Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories was said to have 'ornamental' boards. Other designs for Osgood, McIlvaine and Co., including A House of Pomegranates were only described as colourful: 'cover in moss-green and ivory white'.

But Elkin Mathews and John Lane took publicity very seriously, and named Ricketts's designs, starting with Wilde's Poems. J.A. Symonds's In the Key of Blue and Other Essays had a cover that was called 'Blue-bells and Laurel'. The cover for Silverpoints was called 'Water and Willow Leaves'. Lord De Tabley's Poems, Dramatic and Lyrical had a cover of 'Rose petals'. Even the cover design for Ricketts's and Shannon's pre-Vale edition Hero and Leander had a titled cover design: 'Pearl and Thread'. The book was sold exclusively by Mathews and Lane.

Remarkably, designs by other artists were not given special titles, not even the designs by Charles Shannon for Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan and A Woman of No Importance. This must imply that Ricketts and the publisher considered his designs as works of art, but not all book binding designs. For example, Selwyn Image designed the cover for Michael Field's Stephania, but it wasn't given a title. Perhaps, Image didn't want it, perhaps the publisher didn't even consider it.

The Academy, 10 December 1892
Ricketts certainly wanted his designs to be recognised as works of art. There seems to be a continuous line if we turn to the border designs for his Vale Press books that started to appear in 1896. In his bibliography of the press, Ricketts mentioned the titles of the border, such as 'Honeysuckle border', 'Laurel border', and 'Violet border'. However, he never used these titles in the prospectuses.