Wednesday, October 23, 2019

430. Ricketts In Wilde's Lifes

In this blog, I haven't mentioned the new biography about Oscar Wilde before, but the book is a good opportunity to see how both biographers - Richard Ellmann and Matthew Sturgis - deal with Charles Ricketts.

Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (1987): index (detail)
The lemma Ricketts is the most elaborate in the index of Ellmann's biography Oscar Wilde (published 1987). There are twenty references. In most cases they do not refer to Wilde's meetings with Ricketts, but to stories that Wilde told and that Ricketts published in his Recollections of Oscar Wilde (1932). This applies to almost half of the references. In one case Ellmann refers to the letters and diaries published in Self-Portrait (1939).

Ricketts is only mentioned in passing as the designer of Wilde's books. Much more attention is paid to the coterie of the Vale and The Dial in connection with John Gray, one of Wilde's lovers, to copies of Wilde's books that Ricketts received, and to the possibility that he was a model for Basil Hallward in The Portrait of Dorian Gray. The role of designer of Wilde's books is almost neglected. Ricketts's role in Wilde's life was mainly limited to the years 1890-1895, and from 1905 onwards with his designs for the posthumous Wilde publications.

There are no portraits of Ricketts or reproductions of Wilde's books in Ellmann's biography.

Matthew Sturgis, Oscar. A Life (2018): index (detail)
Wilde's fame has not diminished since 1987, on the contrary; in 2018, the new biographer Matthew Sturgis no longer even mentions Wilde's surname in the title of his biography: Oscar. A Life. We don't recognise any Oscar - except Wilde.

Only fourteen references to Ricketts are included in Sturgis' index. Sturgis approaches Ricketts in a different way: not as a source for stories about Wilde, but as a designer and friend of Wilde throughout the book. In only two cases does he quote Ricketts's Recollections as a source for stories about Wilde and others. Most of the passages are about Ricketts's designs for The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Sphinx, and other books. Evidently, he had Delaney's biography of Ricketts at his disposal (which had not yet appeared when Ellmann wrote his biography), but he also cites earlier works such as the memoirs of William Rothenstein and Charles J. Holmes, and he quotes from Wilde's letters. From this he found a nice phrase about Ricketts's advice to join him in a Trappist monastery after prison (imagine them together in  monastery cell), and another letter in which Wilde expects Ricketts and Shannon to visit him at the end of his life: 'those good kind friends of mine'.

This is how Sturgis treats both artists, Ricketts and Shannon: as good friends of Wilde and as his most important designers. In this way he does more justice to their unique relationship with the author than Ellmann did.

However a few small mistakes are to be regretted. He erroneously calls A House of Pomegranates 'The House of Pomegranates' and still thinks (despite our little book about Ricketts's mother!) that Ricketts was half French. He was half-Italian!

Sturgis' biography does not contain images of Ricketts's designs either, but there is a double portrait of Ricketts and Shannon: a well-known lithograph by William Rothenstein. 

Matthew Sturgis, Oscar. A Life (2018): endpapers
And then, there are the endpapers: they have been decorated with a design after Ricketts. Now this is truly to be regretted. The design is not justified and was created by maltreating Ricketts's original design for the binding of Wilde's Poems. 

This in itself was a misjudgment, and the art editor did not realize that Ricketts had also designed the endpapers for the 1892 edition of Poems - with a different design - that should have been chosen instead,  and then, of course, in the perfect design of Ricketts himself, and not in a bad arrangement.

The red color is passable. But the subtlety of the original has disappeared. We can't blame the author for this, but we can blame his publisher. Shame!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

429. Ricketts's Erotic Sphinxes

Occasionally, in search of literature on illustrations and book covers, you'll come across an article that surprises you. Recently I read some chapters in Gerard Curtis's Visual Words. Art and Material Book in Victorian England. The book dates from 2002 and contains a chapter on the visual impact of books, as the author states: 'from their relationship with busts in libraries to their use as symbolic and iconic manifestations of sexuality and death, and as objects sublimating morality and mortality'. This chapter is called 'The empty biscuit tin'.

Charles Ricketts is mentioned in this chapter (not in the index):

Literary culture dressed up its desires, clothing the object in preparation for the tantalizing opening of reading and its abstract pleasure by decorating both the cover and the inside of the book. Such dressing-up heightened the erotic attraction, linking sensual physicality and textual abstraction. Indicative of this unfolding of textual pleasure were the numerous erotic bookplates and markers designed by artists like Aubrey Beardsley, and by various artists in Germany and France. These sensual bookmarks and ownership tags demonstrated the intensification of the sexual element of book-ownership that arose in the latter part of the century, particularly under the influence of the Aesthetic movement.
(pp. 253-254)

Aubrey Beardsley,
Mr. Pollitt's Bookplate
These are difficult assertions to substantiate. In Germany, for example, there had certainly been an increase in erotic bookplates, but has this not been due to the increased private publishing of erotic works in small editions? Whereas in England privately printed books often commemorated deceased soldiers, or other family members, in Germany this kind of publication was often erotic in nature. There was a growing industry of pornographic luxury publications in France and Germany. The collectors adapted their bookplates. We never see this erotic type of bookplate in the more decent editions, the private press publications, for example, of the Kelmscott, Doves, and Vale Presses.

Curtis assertions are made in a paragraph called 'The breast-bound book', which, by the way, is Marcel Duchamp's cover for Le Surréalisme en 1947. This is an indication of the ease with which Curtis jumps back and forth through time, from an example from 1863 in which books by female and male authors are not allowed to stand next to each other on the bookshelf, to a period in which sexuality was commented on and shown in a different way. His assumptions are not always based on facts. In this context Ricketts is mentioned.

Given the high percentage of publishing costs spent on binding alone, the widespread attention to bindings and their designs by publishers show how there was an economic return on catering to both the commodity and fetishistic reliquary value of text. Indeed a considerable  number of covers from the period featured comely women, making the textual attraction quite specific. 

Curtis mentions Louis Legrand's binding for Erastène's Cours de Danse Fin de Siècle (1894) with the 'grasped spread-leg of a Cancan dance', and Aubrey Beardsley's illustration for a prospectus advertising The Yellow Book, displaying 'a sensual woman, clad in black, and out alone at night, preparing to pick out a volume at a bookstall'. In between, he mentions Ricketts:

Charles Ricketts's erotic sphinxes on the binding of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894), were complemented on the frontispiece by a topless female  wrapped in vines.
(p. 254)

Charles Ricketts, binding for Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894): detail of front cover
While Legrand and Beardsley undoubtedly had erotic intentions with their illustrations, this applies to a lesser extent to Ricketts, especially when it came to female figures, who do not always seem to be drawn from nature. The breasts of the sphinxes, for example, are extremely stylized.

Charles Ricketts, binding for Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894): detail of back cover

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

428. Phoenix and Unicorn

The small exhibition at the Rotunda of the Old Library at Dulwich College in London (see blog 425) ends on 17 October. Requests to visit should be addressed to the Director of Art and Design Technology, Sue Mulholland. (See here for her email address). A catalogue is available at the same email address.

Exhibition 'Phoenix and Unicorn', Dulwich Gallery, September 2019
[Photo: Cas Piggott]
The curator (Jan Piggott) kindly mailed me some images made by his wife, Cas Piggott. They show the five display cases with books and prints from his collection, and on the wall are reproductions and texts. Originally, the exhibition was supposed to be more extensive and obviously the selected works hardly fit in the showcases. The books are lying on top of each other. Only a private collector can do that. A museum or library would not give permission for this nowadays because of the strict climate and display requirements. This presentation is prove of the collector's insatiable appetite and admiration for the work of Thomas Sturge Moore.

Exhibition 'Phoenix and Unicorn', Dulwich Gallery, September 2019
[Photo: Cas Piggott]
The work of Thomas Sturge Moore is shown between that of his contemporaries Charles Ricketts and Lucien Pissarro. There are some remarkable exhibits, such as the original woodblock for the engraving 'The Centaur's First Love', that is always associated with the Vale Press edition of Maurice de Guérin's The Centaur, and The Bacchante. (1899), translated and illustrated by Sturge Moore. This wood-engraving was not used for the book.

T.S. Moore, 'The Cantaur's First Love' (block and print)
[Photo: Cas Piggott]

The block was among some seventy blocks given to the St Bride Printing Library by Leonie Sturge Moore. This block has been kept in an envelope, and is accompanied by a print. It is shown with the artist's tools.

Exhibition 'Phoenix and Unicorn', Dulwich Gallery, September 2019
[Photos: Cas Piggott]
Moore engraved some ninety blocks; the images did not reach a very large audience. His bookbinding designs did reach a wider public, especially the ones he designed for a large number of William Butler Yeats' later books of poetry and prose, such as Reveries over Childhood and Youth and The Cutting of an Agate. These elegant and symbolic designs were seen by most contemporary readers of Yeats' work.

The opening, I heard, was a special event, attended by four Sturge Moores, two Binyons, and a Pissarro. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

427. A Dedication Copy of Dorian Gray

Next Monday, on 7 October, a deluxe copy of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray will be auctioned at Christie's in Paris.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
Deluxe copy No. 74 (design: Charles Ricketts)

This is a special copy, No. 74 of 250 signed large paper copies, containing an inscription by Wilde to the French author Pierre Louÿs: 

Given to 
Pierre Louÿs
by his 
Oscar Wilde

in London:
in June:

Dedication to Pierre Louys in
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
Deluxe copy No. 74 (design: Charles Ricketts)
This copy was auctioned in 1926 with Pierre Louÿs' collection. Purchased by Dr. Lucien Graux, who placed his bookplate in it, it was auctioned again in 1957. Now, the estimated price is: €30,000-€40,000

In 1891, the original price of a deluxe copy was 21 shillings.

PS (7 October 2019): 
Price realized (hammer price plus buyer's premium): €100,000.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

426. Exhibition Catalogue Design 1898

For the 'First Exhibition of Original Wood-Engraving' in the Dutch Gallery, E.J. van Wisselingh's London art gallery, a catalogue was designed by Charles Ricketts and printed at the Ballantyne Press. The show opened on 3 December 1898.

Such catalogues, usually, were not subject to criticism, but in this case D.S. MacColl, in The Saturday Review of 10 December 1898 (pp. 778-779) made an exception. 

He started out very positive:

A charming exhibition is now open at the Dutch Gallery in Brook Street. It brings together the work done in original wood-engraving by Messrs. Ricketts and Shannon and their associates, Messrs. Sturge Moore, Reginald Savage and Lucien Pissarro.

After praising Ricketts's and Shannon's work for The Dial, and their early wood-engravings for Daphnis and Chloe, and before praising Shannon's new work in another medium, the chiaroscuro wood-engravings, he paused to criticise the exhibition catalogue:

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [catalogue, page 1]

Mr. Ricketts’ later work in “Hero and Leander,” “Cupid and Psyche,” and some of his books seems to me less perfectly balanced, more strained, form sacrificed in the effort at gesture and intense expression, or swept into decorative curves. The discussion of his type and books I must leave for another time, since it demands a detailed treatment. 

The criticism only focused on the cover (also the title page):

I will only raise one point for the moment, taking the title of the catalogue as a text. This, giving the name of the exhibition and its address, is printed like the old colophons in one block without a break, and not only is it difficult at a glance to pick out and read these two statements, but the arrangement requires minor dislocations. The word “engraving” is divided between two lines; “Hanover” ends one line, and “Square” begins another. I contend that lucidity would be the gainer by a different arrangement, and decoration need not in the least suffer. 

These unfortunate truncations had been the subject of earlier criticism when the first publications of the Vale Press were given eccentric title pages in which rules of poetry were sometimes hindered by the decorations or initials. Ricketts would later express his regret about his youthful, ill-considered typographical designs, although he rejected any criticism of his fonts.

But the small catalogues for Van Wisselingh were part of the occasional printing process, which did not involve much typographical ingenuity. They were merely mentioned in passing in his own bibliography of the Vale Press - Ricketts didn't think they were important. The catalogues are now, of course, of great historical importance.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

425. A Thomas Sturge Moore Exhibition: Phoenix and Unicorn

Tomorrow the exhibition Phoenix and Unicorn & In Conversation: Coming into the Light will open in Dulwich College (London). The exhibition consists of two parts. There is a section on Thomas Sturge Moore, curated by Jan Piggott, showing books and prints in six display cases (with additional texts). The other section shows the work of contemporary wood engravers, such as Gaylord Schanilec.

Phoenix and Unicorn & In Conversation: Coming into the Light

The phoenix and the unicorn in the title refer to some designs by Sturge Moore. Curator Jan Piggott will deliver a lecture on 14 October, 'Revival of Wood Engraving Book-Design', which will be followed by a lecture on W.B. Yeats and Sturge Moore by Roy Foster. Later, the British Art Journal will publish an article on Sturge Moore's book designs.

It may not be the great exhibition that Thomas Sturge Moore's work deserves, but nowadays it is a small miracle if a show is dedicated to one of the lesser gods of the art world at all.

To mark the event, here is a lesser known portrait of Sturge Moore, a drypoint etching by Alfred Hugh Fisher (1867-1945), not dated but probably around 1920. This copy from the collection of Vincent Barlow is a presentation proof inscribed to A.J. Finberg, author of an article on Sturge Moore's wood-engravings in The Studio (1915).

Alfred Hugh Fisher, 'Thomas Sturge Moore' (drypoint, c. 1920) (c.22.5 x 15 cm)
[Collection Vincent Barlow]

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

424. Advertising The Vale Press in The Studio

In blog 421 (Advertising The Vale Press Books in 1896) I wrote about the earliest advertisements for Vale Press books that appeared in weeklies such as The Saturday Review in March 1896, and I mentioned a slightly later advertisement in The Studio.

This advertisement appeared in the issue of April 15, 1896. At the end of each year, the instalments were bound together, and, as a result, single copies of this leading art magazine are rare. Morover, the advertising sections in the front and back were removed by the bookbinder, and most copies of The Studio in libraries and museums therefore lack the advertisements; a good reason to reproduce it today. It can be surprisingly hard to find a copy with the advertisements in place. The April 1896 issue had 16 pages of ads in the front and 4 pages in the back (numbered from Ad. I to Ad. XX). More ads were printed on the inside of the front cover, and on both sides of the back cover.

The Studio, April 15, 1896, page Ad. XI
The advertisement of the 'Vale Publications' appeared on page Ad. XI among advertisements for carved oak sideboards, lithographs and art books ('for the artist and student').

The text is reproduced after a page set in Vale Type. However, there is no separately published 'notice' or 'list' of books with this exact wording. Part of the text corresponds to that of a 'Notice' from January 1896, but the headline and intro do not appear in it.

The Studio, April 15, 1896, page Ad. XI

Notice (c January 1896)
The text and lay-out of the first column correspond exactly to the first four paragraphs of the Notice (but the last paragraph is missing). The second column begins with a text printed on the second page of the Notice, but the rest is new and does not appear in this Notice or in any other prospectus. However, the books mentioned in The Studio - from the Milton edition to The Passionate Pilgrim - are those that appear in the same order in The List of Books to be Published by Messrs. Hacon and Ricketts, at the Sign of the Dial, LII Warwick St. Regent Street. The List probably dates from February, and announces the Milton for March 1896; the other books would be ready in April and May (a claim that wasn't fulfilled). Although all these books are mentioned in the advertisement, the wording is different.

Notice (c January 1896)

The last lines - 'Prospectuses can be had on application [...]' - of course do not appear in the prospectuses themselves. At the Ballantyne Press (where the Vale Publications were printed), the text of the advertisement has been set specifically for this advertisement to display the Vale Type. It was then photographically reduced in size for a block (as illustrations were), and printed in The Studio.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

423. Charles Shannon's Lithographs for The Savoy (2)

Charles Shannon contributed lithographs to the first three issues of The Savoy, then no more. His contributions were always prominently placed in the front, only preceded by the designs of Aubrey Beardsley. In the first issue, their contributions are followed by those of Charles Conder, Joseph Pennell, Louis Oury, William Rothenstein, F. Sandys, James McNeill Whistler, Max Beerbohm, and Jacques L. Blanche. In short, the editors had a lot to choose from, but both in this first and later issues Shannon kept his leading position.

The Savoy, 'Art Contents' (No. 2) and cover (No. 3) (both 1896)
Although these four lithographs were published in 1896 (between January and July), they all date from 1895. There is also a small edition printed by the artist himself. Of the last two lithographs, 'The Dive' and 'Stone Bath', 25 proofs are printed on two types of paper. The Savoy printed three lithographs in grey, and one in green. 

Charles Shannon, 'The Dive' (The Savoy, No. 2, April 1896)
The second number of The Savoy contained two of Shannon's lithographs (see last week's blog), the second of which was called 'The Dive', depicting (quoting Ricketts's description): 'A girl in the act of plunging into the water; her companion peeps through a doorway.' The British Museum owns one of the signed copies (not the transfer-lithograph), and it is described as follows: 'Nude girl diving into a stone pool; another female figure watching through doorway at left'.

Charles Shannon, 'The Dive', proof, signed  (British Museum)
The third number of The Savoy was published in July 1896 and contained Shannon's lithograph 'The Stone Bath', depicting 'Two nude women and a child in a bath-house; one standing and resting her head on a ledge; the other sitting and leaning forward supporting the child in the water' (The British Museum owns one of the proofs). Ricketts added that the girl on the left leans on 'a parapet'.

Charles Shannon, 'The Stone Bath' (The Savoy, No. 3, July 1896)
Rainforth Armitage Walker (1886-1960), under his pseudonym Georges Derry, published an essay on Shannon's lithographs ('The Lithographs of Charles Hazelwood Shannon', in: The Print-Collector’s Quarterly; December, 1914, p. 392-420) in which he praises these two works as part of a series of Stone-Bath lithographs:

Each one is marked by some particular quality of pose or grouping, charming either from its originality or its gracefulness. For instance, in The Stone Bath [...], the delicately drawn thigh and right leg is beautifully contrasted with the angle of the stone against which the figure leans, and the whole body is given a vitality - almost a color - from the contrast of living, muscular flesh with hard, smooth stone. Again in The Dive [...] the sense of quick motion is given by the wisp of hair which flies up, from the sudden plunging forward of the figure.

From Ricketts's catalogue we know that the order of publication in The Savoy was somewhat different from the order of production of the four lithographs:
1. Salt Water (The Savoy, 2);
2. The Letter (The Savoy, 1);
3. The Stone Bath (The Savoy, 3);
4. The Dive (The Savoy, 2).

The format of both prints - the proof and the transfer lithograph - are the same, but the more attractive, less smooth paper makes the proofs look more subtle.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

422. Charles Shannon's Lithographs for The Savoy (1)

Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon would never contribute anything to the infamous magazine The Yellow Book. In a letter to Richard le Gallienne, Shannon wrote: 'Ricketts and I have decided not to appear in your Yellow Book, as it might lead to complications over the fourth Dial'. This issue of their own magazine was to appear in March 1896, it was long in the making (and number 3 had been published in October 1893, before The Yellow Book started). They admitted that the first issue of The Yellow Book appealed to them: 'We think the Yellow Book looks extremely well and bright' (See Books from the Library of John Lane Publisher. London, Dulau and Company Ltd., 1929, p. 98.)

Charles Shannon, 'The Letter', lithograph in The Savoy, No. 1 (January 1896)
After Beardsley was dismissed as editor of The Yellow Book, he was given the opportunity by Leonard Smithers to fill a new magazine with drawings and stories. This was christened The Savoy. Shannon would contribute four lithographs to the first three issues (January to July 1896). 

Were the lithographs in Shannon's own publications - the issues of The Dial and three Portfolios - printed by the artist from the original stones, those in The Savoy were so-called transfer lithographs. In his catalogue of Shannon's lithographs Ricketts would state:

My experience obtained while assisting or merely watching the proofing of lithographs, and clinched by the fate of prints published in the "Dial," points to there being nearly always a slight deterioration between the first printing and any subsequent issue, if the stone has been "rolled up" and put on one side even for a small space of time. In the editions of the "Dial," where as many as three hundred and ten proofs have sometimes been taken, deterioration has taken place. This disadvantage need not exist in transfer-lithography as the drawing is usually transferred to a hard surface, a polished stone (the friction in printing being thereby reduced to a minimum), on which a chalk drawing cannot be made, while several transfers can continue the reproduction indefinitely.
(Charles Ricketts, A Catalogue of Mr. Shannon's Lithographs. London, E.J. van Wisselingh, 1902, p. 19).

Printing the lithographs himself took Shannon many hours of course and since the edition of The Savoy was ten times as high as that of The Dial, there was no escaping it: the 3,000 lithographs were printed as transfers by Thomas Way. However, Shannon also printed a number of these as separate proofs on Van Gelder paper. Of 'The Letter' (published without a title in The Savoy's first number) there were 25 proofs in red and black, while The Savoy's version is in grey.

Charles Shannon, 'The Letter', proof, printed by the artist, signed in pencil (British Museum)
Shannon's contribution was highly esteemed by, for example, the critic of The Academy, and the poet Ernest Dowson.

The British Museum describes the first lithograph, 'The Letter' as follows: 'Two girls, whole-length in profile to right, huddled together reading a letter'. 

Ricketts, in his catalogue, described it more precisely: 'A slight sketch of two girls in wide muslin skirts perusing a letter.' 

The second issue of The Savoy contained two lithographs by Shannon. The first of these was called 'Salt Water' (it was printed in green). The British Museum's description gives: 'Young nude woman standing on a beach, whole-length and in profile to left, stooping slightly and holding the hands of two small children, the boy striding towards the sea and the girl leaning back'. (See The British Museum.)

Charles Shannon, 'Salt Water', lithograph in The Savoy, No. 2 (April 1896)

According to Ricketts's the work depicts: 'A young girl bather bends facing the sea and wind. She holds two small children by the hand.' Here the BM description is more detailed. Of this lithograph, Shannon printed 35 separate proofs in black, in red, and in green.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

421. Advertising The Vale Press Books in 1896

Before the first books of the Vale Press appeared, the firm Hacon & Ricketts opened a shop, published an advertising leaflet (The List of Books...) and the fourth issue of The Dial. In the meantime, the new publisher had also announced its forthcoming publications through advertisements.

The earliest advertisements appeared in several weekly magazines on 14 March 1896. I had never seen them before (or read about them), and in order to find them, I had to browse through several complete volumes of magazines, page by page, and read through all the small advertisements. (Some of these magazines are now available digitally, but often the small advertisements are not easy to find). The Vale Press advertisements can be found among other small announcements of typists, new magazines, publisher's agencies, etc.

The Saturday Review, 14 March 1896

The advertisement appeared in several weekly newspapers. The first one I found was in The Saturday Review of 14 March 1896. On the same day The Academy and The Athenaeum published similar ads.

The Athenaeum, 14 March 1896
Probably all these magazines got the same text, but because of their own editorial instructions, each advertisement is spelled slightly different. Sometimes there are even verbal differences, an example of which is the sentence about the original spelling in which the new editions would be published.

The Editions will be printed with Spelling with which they were written. 
(The Saturday Review)
The Editions will be printed with spelling in which they were written. 
(The Athenaeum and The Academy)

The Academy, 14 March 1896

The advertisement clearly shows that the fourth issue of The Dial was for sale from 14 March. This early date was not yet known.

The text of the announcement in The Academy reads:

THE SIGN of the DIAL. – Messrs. HACON & RICKETTS, 52 Warwick Street, Regent Street, W.  – Messrs. HACON & RICKETTS beg to announce the forthcoming publication of carefully edited Books, for which a fount of type has been designed to accompany the illustrations and decorations cut on the wood by Charles Ricketts and other original engravers. The Editions will be printed with spelling in which they were written. Catalogues may be had on application. THE DIAL, of which No. 4 is now ready, will henceforth be published at their shop, 52, WARWICK STREET, REGENT STREET, W.

This advertisement did not appear in the newspapers (such as The Times) or in other magazines (such as Pall Mall Gazette), at least not on 14 March 1896. These papers did not have extensive sections with publisher's advertisements. The three weeklies mentioned did have such sections and they published reviews and lists of books published that week. 

Apart from that, these journals were aimed at an academic audience, often an audience of collectors. Reports on book and art auctions regularly contained details that would interest the bibliophiles among them. The phrase about the spelling of the classics of English poetry was of course aimed at an audience of scholars and connoisseurs.

Advertisements in The Studio and The Bookman for April 1896 have been noticed before, but these earliest advertisements are new discoveries. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

420. Series That Will Be Continued...

Several series of blogs I started in the past have not yet been completed. Some series have stopped halfway, others are almost at the end. Hereby my assurance that these series will one day be continued and finished. 

Charles Ricketts, initial W for Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894)

Series I

On 18 January 2017 I started a series about Ricketts's initial letters, calling it 'The 2017 Alphabet'. [See blog No. 286 for the letter 'A']. The series ran through the following year, with a slight change in the title, and this a number of instalments were published this year. High time for a new one. We are almost at the end of the alphabet!

Oscar Wilde, Poems (1892), designed by Charles Ricketts
[Carl Woodring Collection]

Series II

Another series - planned as a shorter one - was about the design of Oscar Wilde's Poems from 1892. But the way it goes, as soon as you go into details, it gets complicated - the series has been discontinued for a while, but will certainly be resumed in due course. The first instalment was published on 14 March 2018 [See blog No. 346. Ricketts's Design of Oscar Wilde's Poems (1892) (1)].

'Mouse and nut' pattern, used upside-down 

Series III

The oldest series that I started, but never finished, is the one about patterned papers. The first blog on this subject (blog No. 18) appeared on 23 November 2011. I thought it would be a good idea at the time to have a series of blogs in reserve in case I couldn't think of a topic for a new blog, but that never really happened. Anyway, in this series I came across all kinds of unsolvable questions and details that needed to be sorted out first - but of course I'm just trying to live a life outside the blog universe as well, so follow-up episodes can get stuck. I feel most guilty about not completing this series. [See blog No. 18. Patterned Papers (1).]

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

419. Printing The Illustrations of A House of Pomegranates (1891)

The most recent volumes of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, IX and X, contain the texts of The Importance of Being Earnest and the versions on which this play was based. The editor, Joseph Donohue, pays attention to some of the book historical aspects, such as the textual tradition, the printing process and the date of publication, but not to the binding designed by Charles Shannon - Shannon is not mentioned in the whole book (two volumes, 1189 pages).

Charles Shannon, untitled illustration for 'The Star-Child'
(Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates, 1891, between p. 128 and p. 129)
(Photograph: Henk Treur)
This certainly does not apply to all volumes of this edition, but strangely enough it does to Volume VIII: The Short Fiction (2017), which reprints and publishes a commentary on the fairy tales from A House of Pomegranates (1891), among other prose pieces. This volume was edited by Ian Small. He frequently mentions Ricketts and Shannon in his introduction, and discusses various book-historical aspects, such as the desire of publisher and author to play two markets at the same time: that of the children's book and that of the luxury, bibliophile edition: 

It is at this point that a consideration of the book's design and printing becomes important. Osgood, McIlvaine & Co. had not only commissioned Charles Ricketts to design the book, they had also commissioned his partner Charles Shannon to provide the illustrations. [...] The finished work, however, had a number of shortcomings.
(p. xlix)

Small then falls back on the bibliography of Stuart Mason from 1914 without quoting later literature on the printing process. Pages later - in the 'Textual Introduction' he returns to this point and seems surprised that the printing company, the famous firm The Chiswick Press, was content with the fact that Shannon's prints were not printed properly. 

The proofs also confirm the assumption that the illustrations (made by Charles Ricketts) were added to the type after the galley-proofing of text was complete, and that the subsequent plates were sent to Paris for printing.
(p. xcviii).

I am not sure I understand this point, as galley proofs were not meant to contain illustrations. As to the plates, Mason stated:

These four plates were printed in Paris by some "improved" process. After the book was finished and bound it was noticed that a dusty deposit had formed on each plate, probably owing to some chemical impurity either in the printer's ink or in the chalky paper used. To take off this deposit each plate was rubbed with soft flannel, which removed the surface and left the reproductions faint and in some cases almost obliterated.
(quoted by Small, pp. xlix, lii).

However, the problem of the enigmatic French process was solved years ago and it is therefore very surprising that Ian Small does not refer to the article on this subject published by Paul W. Nash in the Spring 2007 edition of The Private Library.

Nash's article was a response to my article (published in The Private Library of Summer 2005) in which I argued that there are two different binding editions of A House of Pomegranates, one bound in a pale yellowish green spine and ivory cloth boards; the other in a darker green spine and light brown cloth boards; in the first case Shannon's plates are pasted on white linen guards, in the second case on pale brown paper guards, - and there are more differences. 

Two binding states of Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)
I also pointed out that Shannon's plates contained a small monogram that was hard to interpret and that I read as 'WHD sc', but that Nash was correct in reading as 'VDH sc'.

Monogram 'VDH sc' (lower left corner of the plates by Charles Shannon
in A House of Pomegranates, 1891)
Nash was able to find out at which firm in Paris the blocks for these illustrations were manufactured and which process had been used. After a discussion of the Chiswick Press ledgers, he continues: 

An examination of Shannon's plates in A House of Pomegranates confirms that they were drawn on Papier Gillot. Their overall appearance suggests an etching process; the paler tones show a clear pattern of fine vertical lines, while darker areas show a pattern of equally regular horizontal lines bisecting the vertical to form a close network. The palest shading of all shows the expected pattern of dots, diminishing to nothing at all for pure white areas.
(Nash, p. 34)

'VDH sc', he stated:

is in fact the monogram of the firm Verdoux, Ducourtioux et Huillard, which existed in Paris between 1890 and 1895. They were etchers, engravers and photo-engravers, generally preparing blocks for printing by others.
(Nash, pp. 35-36)

To summarise, the text and decorations for A House of Pomegranates were printed by the Chiswick Press, before 10 November 1891. Shannon's drawings were made on Papier Gillot and sent to Paris, where Verdoux, Ducourtioux et Huillard created etched relief  blocks directly from them (justifying at least in part Mason's statement about an 'improved processs' being used at Paris); the blocks for Ricketts's illustrations may also have been made in Paris, perhaps by the same firm. Verdoux, Ducourtioux et Huillard may well have printed Shannon's plates too, although this remains unproven, and other companies (including Gillot's) could have been responsible.
(Nash, pp. 38-39)

The technical details and the name of the Parisian engraver are therefore known, and in the future it will no longer suffice to refer to Mason to describe the production of Shannon's illustrations. It is strange and extremely unfortunate that this important article by Paul Nash has escaped the attention of the editors of Wilde's complete works.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

418. Eight Copies of John Keats's Poems Printed on Vellum

When the Vale Press announced a two-volume edition of John Keats' poems of which eight copies would be printed on vellum, the enthusiasm was so great that this luxury edition was completely subscribed before publication in December 1898. H.C. Marillier called this edition the 'cream of the whole series' of Vale Press up to that date.

Photo of a binding designed by Charles Ricketts,
The Poems of John Keats,
said to be commissioned by Walter Noble
[British Museum]
The vellum was supplied by Henry Band and Co of Brentford and was called 'Roman Vellum' since the firm had produced this vellum sheets for William Morris (who preferred to have Italian vellum that was unavailable because the Pope needed it for his many encyclicals. So goes the story.) 

The eight copies on vellum were not delivered in a publisher's binding - whereas the ordinary paper copies were all bound in white buckram. Vellum editions were published by the Vale Press from December 1897 onwards, and Ricketts announced that he would specially design bindings for these books for a price that could range from three to twelve guineas. Initially these leather bindings were executed by Riviere and Son, but later he transferred the binding work to Zaehnsdorf. If a special binding was not commissioned, the vellum copies were issued as folded gatherings in a protective paper wrapper. At auctions held before the publishing house was dissolved, such non-bound sets were sometimes described. 

Vellum copy of The Poems of John Keats
(Vale Press, 1899)
[Wellesley College, photo: Ruth Rogers]
Copies on vellum were owned by the wealthier Vale Press collectors, such as H. Sidney (sold 1903), and Laurence W. Hodson (sold 2013), and of course by Ricketts and Shannon themselves (Shannon's copy was sold in 1937).

Some of them were bound after a design by Ricketts, such as the Shannon and Hodson copies, the latter one in red morocco. One copy was thus bound for William Noble, like the Hodson copy the design incorporated his initials. Others were bound by the London firms of Riviere and Son, Ramage or Sangorski and Sutcliffe.

By now, I have been able to locate five of the eight vellum copies, two of them in English collections, and three of them in East-Coast libraries in the USA. The numbering is random (the copies are not numbered in the colophon).


The University of Liverpool Library, Special Collections, Class No: SPEC Noble A.16.41-42. Gold-tooled in red morocco by Zaehnsdorf, 1899. Bound for William Noble, bearing his initials in the design.

University of Manchester Library, John Rylands collection, Manchester: R31745: From the library of D. Lloyd Roberts M.D. F.R.C.P. Ravenswood Broughton Park Manchester. Late nineteenth-century full red goatskin; gilt-rolled floral and foliate border, enclosing gilt-tooled corner-pieces; goatskin doublures; gilt-tooled at foot of front doublure: Bound by Ramage London; five raised bands to spine; gilt-tooled decoration within compartments; title gilt-lettered in second compartment; top edge gilt.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Cambridge, MA: GEN Keats *EC8 K2262 B898p3. Bound by Rivière & son in green morocco, gilt; vellum doublures; top edges gilt, with designer's autograph note in each volume. Binding designed for H.W. Bell. Glyn Philpot, in morocco cases.

Special Collections, English Poets, Margaret Clapp Library, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.: Call: Vellum binding, gold lettering, by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, London. In green cloth slipcase. Purchased from George Herbert Palmer Fund.

Smith College, Special Collections, Northampton, MA: Rare Book Room Stacks, 825 K22p 1898. Full dark green morocco by Riviere & Son (front cover of volume 1 detached; other hinges cracked; largely faded to brown. Gift of Henry L. Seaver, 1954.

Vellum copy of The Poems of John Keats
(Vale Press, 1899)
Bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe
[Wellesley College, photo: Ruth Rogers]
The three other copies have interesting provenances:

Charles Shannon's copy. Morocco binding, auctioned at Sotheby's on 1-2 November 1937. Acquired by Sawyer.

Edward Smith Willard's copy, in a vellum binding, containing his autograph signature or bookplate. Auctioned by Sotheby's, 17 July 1907. Acquired by Edwards.


These three copies are probably in private collections.