Wednesday, July 16, 2014

155. A Summer Miscellany of Mistakes (3)

After publisher's bindings of the ninety-nineties became a vogue among collectors - in the wake of the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum, curated by Brian Reade, and the publication of John Russell Taylor's guide The Art Nouveau Book in Britain, - both events took place in 1966!, - dealers and bibliophiles were sometimes led astray in the search for new discoveries. A number of books was ascribed to well known or lesser well known artists, although these were in fact designed by unfamiliar artists from that era, artists whose work had not yet been discovered as a subject for art or book historians. 

Exhibition Poster, 'Aubrey Beardsley', 1966 (location: Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
The 1890s saw a great deal of designers working along the lines of the Arts and Crafts and the Art Nouveau, and publishers hired young and anonymous artists to decorate title pages and bindings for books.

If a book was ascribed to Charles Ricketts its price increased, and more so than by an attribution to, let's say, Will Jenkins. Similarly, the names of Beardsley or Talwin Morris would generate more enthusiasm than that of Christopher Dean

If a binding is not signed, an attribution to Ricketts needs documentation, and for that matter, even a signed binding can not do without additional evidence, which can sometimes be found in advertisements, or letters. Contracts and proofs, unfortunately, are rare. 

Taylor himself ascribed a few books to Ricketts that have since been justly attributed to other artists, for example The Poetical Works of James Thomson.

Cloth binding for The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley (1903)
He also attached Ricketts's name to The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley, and referred to Ricketts's binding designs for Vale Press books: 'on the cover [...] we encounter the severe, "architectoral" later manner in which abstract pat­terns of straight lines and small circles are broken up by only the smallest tokens of representationalism'.

The attribution was picked up by Clare Warrack and Geoffrey Perkins, whose catalogues should be consulted by everyone interested in the 1890s, as they contain lots of unique items that have not been described elsewhere.

Title page of The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley (1903)
In their Catalogue 19 (1974) a copy of De Tabley's book was listed as number 124: 'Red cloth gilt', 'Upper cover and spine blocked in gold with a design by Ricketts'. The price was identical to that of a copy of Lord de Tabley's Poems, Dramatic and Lyrical. This 1893 volume had, of course, triggered the attribution (for an illustration, see 'To V.F. from C.R.').

Fourteen years later, in their Catalogue Sixty-Nine (1988) another copy of The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley was offered as a Ricketts design.

Other dealers, collectors and libraries, did not mention Ricketts as the designer and usually no artist's name is connected to the book's design. A Bookman's Catalogue (about the Norman Colbeck collection, published in 1987), for example, does not mention a designer.

Charles Ricketts's monogram CR on Poems, Dramatic and Lyrical (1893)
The 1893 edition of Poems had been signed with Ricketts's monogram CR in the upper left hand corner of the front cover, but the Collected Poems were not signed by him.

On the title page of The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley another monogram can be discovered. There is a letter M between the crossing branches in the stylized floral figure.

Detail of title page, The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley (1903)
The book was published by Chapman & Hall Limited in London in 1903, and the 'M' design could have been designed by an artist that worked regularly for the firm. The binding could still be the work of Ricketts. However, the binding too shows the 'M' monogram. It can be seen in the lower part of the central panel.

Monogram 'M' on the binding of The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley (1903)
That settles it. But then, who is 'M'? Two years ago, Malcolm Haslam published a book on Arts and Crafts Book Covers to accompany an exhibition at Blackwell, The Arts and Crafts House. One of the artists discussed is William Brown Macdougall, who was born in Glasgow in 1868, moved to London in the nineties, and worked in a style that owed a lot to Aubrey Beardsley and William Morris. A well-known example of his work is Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The Blessed Damozel that he illustrated in 1898 for Duckworth and Co. Macdougall later lived in Essex with his wife, the novelist Margaret Armour. He died in 1936. 

Haslam mentions that he designed 'stamped cloth book covers for Dent, Duckworth, Service & Paton, Chapman & Hall, Kegan Paul, Blackie, Macmillan, and Black'. One of his monograms (Haslam illustrates two of them) is the simple 'M' that also figures on the binding and the title page of The Collected Poems of Lord de Tabley. Why his name went unmentioned in the book is not clear.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

154. A Summer Miscellany of Mistakes (2)

In June 1894 Oscar Wilde's poem The Sphinx was published, decorated by Charles Ricketts. The text was reprinted with other poems in several editions, but Ricketts's drawings were not reprinted during his lifetime. Only the cover illustration was (poorly) reproduced on the cover of a 1910 reprint that was issued again in 1918. Both editions were published by John Lane, The Bodley Head.

Title page (fragment) of Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx, illustrated by Alastair (London, New York, John Lane, 1920)
In 1920 another artist illustrated The Sphinx for the same publisher, the incomparable Alastair, or Hans-Henning von Voigt (1887-1969), who performed as a dancer and a pianist, and became a translator out of necessity, but was a celebrated artist in his heyday. His drawings were likened to those of Aubrey Beardsley, and were published by John Lane, Georg Müller Verlag, Les Éditions G. Crès et Cie, the Avalun-Verlag, publishing firms in London, Munich, Paris, and Vienna, but also by the New York firm of Alfred A. Knopf, and the expatriate firm of Harry Crosby in Paris, The Black Sun Press.

Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx: frontispiece by Alastair (London, New York, John Lane, 1920)
The illustrations for this edition were printed in black and blue (usually Alastair's drawings were reproduced in orange and black), and show his concern for intricate detail and evil or destitute facial expressions. Horror, in his drawings, is never far away from luxury.

The edition run was 1000 copies. Auction catalogues regularly include a copy of this edition. And every now and then the book is associated with Charles Ricketts, in which case the cover design is ascribed to him.

Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx: cover design by Alastair (London, New York, John Lane, 1920)
Some examples of this incorrect attribution to Ricketts can be found  in recent auction catalogues. 

In May 2012 the Dutch auction house of Bubb Kuyper sold a copy of the book (lot 2768) for which the description reads: '[Alastair]. Wilde, O. The Sphinx. London/ New York, J. Lane, 1920, 36p., 12 plates and 13 capitals by ALASTAIR, all printed in black and blue, printed in 1000 copies, orig. gilt dec. cl. by C. RICKETTS, t.e.g., 4to. - Some sl. foxing. Otherwise fine. = Peppin/ Micklethwaite p.310 (under Hans Henning Voigt) and Houfe p.486': "(...) his colour illustrations have more the feel of the contemporary Russian school of ballet designers".'

Toovey's, located in Washington, UK, also sold a copy of the book in their auction on 10 July 2012, lot 3245. The description included the following: '12 plates and 13 decorative initials by Alastair printed in black and blue. (Occasional light browning or spotting.) Original decorated cloth blocked in blue and gilt to a design by Charles Ricketts, t.e.g. (somewhat soiled)'.

Earlier, on 23 October 2010, the Berlin auction house Galerie Bassenge described as lot 2508 another copy of the book: 'Alastair. - Wilde, Oscar. The Sphinx. 1 Bl., 34 S., Mit 13 farbigen Initialen und 10 (2 als fl. Vorsätze) mit Türkis kolorierten Tafeln von Alastair. 30 x 22 cm. In Golddruck illustr. OLeinenband (Einbandillustration von Charles Ricketts; etwas unfrisch). London und New York, J. Lane, 1920'. 

Many more examples, earlier and later, could be quoted, but these suffice to indicate that it is a widespread error, the source of which can be found in the preliminaries of the book itself. Why would Ricketts be mentioned in relation to this book?

Publisher's note in Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (London, New York, John Lane, 1920)
In the front of the book is a publisher's note, listing four works under the heading 'By Oscar Wilde' and one under the heading 'By Alastair'. The last Wilde title is The Sphinx, having 'a Cover-design by Charles Ricketts and a Preface by Robert Ross'. 

Robert Ross, 'Note', in Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (London, New York, John Lane, 1920) 
The 1920 edition, illustrated by Alastair, contains this 'Note' by Robert Ross, which was a standard insertion on behalf of the copyright owner. It seems, that the combination of the Ross note and the publisher's advertisement for an edition with a Ricketts cover led book dealers to believe that the Alastair edition had a cover design by Ricketts. In fact, the advertisement is for the 1918 reissue of The Sphinx that had no illustrations other than the reproduction of the original 1894 cover.

The 1920 cover, with a bold looking sphinx, is of course drawn by Alastair. There is no signature. Ricketts was not involved in the design of this edition. 

[A copy of Alastair's Sphinx is made available by Nicholas Frankel on OpenStax.]

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

153. The Portrait of Mr W.H.

Last week I was asked to write about the portrait of W.H. that Ricketts made for Oscar Wilde. In his Recollections of Oscar Wilde (1932), Ricketts remembered that Wilde had told him on his first visit to the Vale: 

I have found from evidence in the Sonnets that Mr. W.H. was a young actor named Willie Hughes - is that not a charming name? Now, I need a portrait, which I describe, as a frontispiece. You will see a great deal depends upon this. (p. 30)

And Wilde argued:

You are the man I have wanted; I wish you to paint a small Elizabethan picture - something in the manner of, shall we say, Clouet. I have written in narrative form an essay on Shakespeare's sonnets (p. 29).

Oscar Wilde, 'The Portrait of Mr. W.H.',
in Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Prose Pieces (London, Methuen, 1908, p. 147)
The essay about the dedicatee of Shakespeare's sonnets was published in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine of July 1889, and Wilde invited Ricketts to visit him in Tite Street to hear him read the story. Ricketts remembered:

Within a fortnight I had painted the small portrait of Mr. W.H. upon a decaying piece of oak and framed it in a fragment of worm-eaten moulding, which my friend Shannon pieced together. (p. 35-36)

Wilde wrote back to state that the painting 'is not a forgery at all - it is an authentic Clouet of the highest artistic value'. In the story, the portrait is described as 'a small panel picture set in an old and somewhat tarnished Elizabethan frame', and the style is compared to that of 'François Clouet's later work' (1958 edition, p. 4). At the end of the story the painting is no longer attributed to Clouet, but to Ouvry. 

Léonard Gaultier, portrait of François Clouet (1515-1572)
Later, Ricketts was asked to design a title and initials for a new book edition of the story, which was announced repeatedly by the publishers at The Bodley Head as 'The incomparable and ingenious history of Mr. W.H., being the true secret of Shakespeare's sonnets now for the first time here fully set forth, with initial letters and cover design by Charles Ricketts. 500 copies. 10s. 6d. net. Also 50 copies large paper. 21s. net.' The book was said to be 'In preparation' in the List of Books in Belles Lettres (Including some Transfers) published by Elkin Mathews and John Lane, dated September 1893, but it never materialized due to the break-up of Mathews and Lane.

On 24 April 1895, after Wilde was arrested, and had been declared bankrupt, his library was sold from his house. The sale catalogue listed Ricketts's painting as number 125: 'An old oil painting of Will Hewes, framed'. According to Wilde's bibliographer, Christopher Sclater Millard (Stuart Mason), the lot was purchased by Edwin Parsons, who later disposed of it, and in 1914, when Millard published his bibliography, he had to say that its present whereabouts were unknown. In 1958, Vyvyan Holland, in his introduction to the enlarged version of The Portrait of Mr W.H., again testified of that and the painting never surfaced. 

Stuart Mason, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1914, p. 7)
Millard contacted Ricketts and Shannon for information about their Oscar Wilde book designs, and he asked Ricketts to describe the 'Clouet' painting. Ricketts then made a thumbnail sketch for him. 

Millard died in November 1927. The sketch turned up in a lot of autograph cards from Ricketts to Robert Ross in Dulau's Catalogue 161. Oscar Wilde. Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, First Editions, published in 1928: 

'Ricketts (Charles). Three autograph cards, signed, and a small sketch. [...] (4) A tiny thumbnail sketch in pencil on a piece cut from one of Messrs. Sotheby's catalogues, intended to portray a rough idea of the Portrait of Mr. W.H. In the sale of effects at Tite Street there was a picture described as an old painting on a wood panel of Mr. Will Hews. This was actually the work of Ricketts, and this thumbnail sketch was made for Millard when he was preparing his bibliography.' (p. 91, no. 55).

Catalogue 161. Oscar Wilde. Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, First Editions (London, Dulau, 1928, p. 91)
This lot belonged to the ones that were bought by William Andrews Clark Jr., in 1929. His collection is now in the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles. The catalogue description reads: 'Box 54, Folder 3 (Thumbnail sketch in pencil labe[l]led: "My W. H. drawn by C. Ricketts, 22 Nov., 1912." The sketch was jotted down for Christopher S. Millard. 1912 November 22. Physical Description: Slip of paper.' 

[By the way, Willie Hughes in the story became Will Hewes in Wilde's sale, and Will Hews in Dulau's catalogue; his name already circulated in several forms in eighteenth-century theories about the identity of W.H., and, of course, refers to several lines in the sonnets of Shakespeare.
'My W.H.' could be a mistake for 'Mr W.H.'] 

I have asked for a scan, but the request may take a while to be processed.

The end of The Portrait of Mr W.H. (London, Privately Printed, 1904, p. 48)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

152. A Summer Miscellany of Mistakes (1)

Old auction and antiquarian bookseller's catalogues not only transport us back to a world of opportunities - a century ago, it seems, every book or manuscript we now want to have, came up for sale - but also to a world of confusion. The next few weeks this blog will be devoted to antiquarian 'mistakes' under the title 'A Summer Miscellany of Mistakes'.

[Two years ago, I published four blogs about biographical errors concerning Ricketts and Shannon, see Curious Errors 1-4.]

Catalogue of the Library of Henry W. Poor, Part V (1909)
In 1908 Henry William Poor (1844-1915), an investor from New York, had to liquidate his business following major losses. His collection of books and artefacts was sold. The library came up for auction at The Anderson Auction Company (12 East 46th Street) between November 1908 and April 1909. Poor possessed an almost complete collection of Vale Press books, all on paper (no vellum copies), in the original bindings, except one that was bound in leather by the Club Bindery. He also owned some duplicates and all pre-Vale publications, such as The Dial and Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx. The one exception seems to have been the 1902 edition of Ecclesiastes of which no copy was described in the five volume catalogue.
Catalogue of the Library of Henry W. Poor, Part V (1909), p. 157
Listed among the Vale Press books were Lucien Pissarro's Eragny Press volumes, that were for sale at Hacon & Ricketts in London; all volumes prior to 1903 were printed in Ricketts's own Vale type (for the later books Pissarro designed his own Brook Type); other Eragny Press editions were catalogued under the Eragny Press heading, but there was no logical division of Eragny Press copies. Obviously, some confusion existed as to which books should be considered Vale Press publications, which is odd, considering that a copy of Ricketts's own bibliography of the Vale Press books, issued in 1904, was listed in the auction catalogue.

John Ruskin, Of Queens' Gardens (1902)
The bibliography could also have prevented the inclusion of a 'Vale Press' book that had nothing to do with Ricketts. Listed under 'Vale Press' (item 1126) was John Ruskin's popular essay Of Queens' Gardens, printed by the Ballantyne Press in 1902. The only reason why this book could be mistaken for a Vale Press book is the name of the printer, as Ricketts's books were also printed by Ballantyne & Co. However, Ricketts dealt with the London branch of the firm, while this book was printed at the Edinburgh location, as the colophon stated. 

John Ruskin, Of Queens' Gardens (1902)
The colophon included the name of the publisher as well, George Allen, Ruskin's long time publishing firm. The ornamentation of the pages is typical for an imitation of the private press books of William Morris, probably based on the false assumption that borders were not only meant to decorate the opening pages (including the title), but were intended to surround every text page.

John Ruskin, Of Queens' Gardens (1902)
Neither Morris nor Ricketts was so driven to decorate each and every page of a book, let alone to use one and the same border over and over again. Meanwhile, the border does not show Ricketts's monogram 'CR', but that of Christopher Dean.

John Ruskin, Of Queens' Gardens (1902): monogram in border design
Ian Rogerson, in his 1984 thesis The Origins and Development of Modern British Wood-Engraved Illustration was, to my knowledge, the first to point that out. Dean (whose dates are unknown) also designed a similar edition of Of Kings' Treasuries. Until 1897 he worked in Glasgow, later he designed many covers for George Bell & Sons (after their designer Gleeson White had died). He was born in Glasgow, moved to Marlow (Bucks.) in 1898, and settled in Chelsea in 1925 (according to Simon Houfe's The Dictionary of the 19th Century British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists, 1996 edition).

The mistake to ascribe this Ruskin edition to the Vale Press was repeated by the Anderson Galleries in 1924, when the fourth part of the library of John Quinn was sold. Lot 8286 described the copy that Quinn had acquired from the Henry William Poor library (with his bookplate), and now the address of the printer was added to that of Ricketts's firm: 'Edinburgh: The Vale Press, 1902'. Later, bookseller's catalogues sometimes reproduced the same mistake. Nowadays, copies of this book are no longer connected to the Vale Press or to Ricketts. Nor to Dean, for that matter, while the cross in the monogram is characteristic of Christopher Dean. 

The Library of John Quinn. Part Four (Morris-Sterne) (1924, p. 820)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

151. Ricketts and Shannon on YouTube

Charles Ricketts, in October 2013, became the subject of a three minute YouTube video posted by Elysia Lee.

YouTube video, posted October 2013
The video seems to be the outcome of a first acquaintance with Ricketts's works, perhaps at art school, by means of internet or library books. (The images have a low resolution.) 

The video starts with the question: 'Have you heard of this artist? Charles Ricketts. After this video you should know him a little more.'

Then, captions are shown: 'writer', 'typography', 'paintings', 'sculptures', 'illustrations', 'theatre designs', and '...more'.

The video concentrates on the Oscar Wilde relation, and the illustrations for The Sphinx, and tells us that Ricketts's 'personality' did not embrace 'realism'. All these short messages are written on white paper boards with a black marker. A few examples of his theatre designs end the show. 

A video on Charles Shannon was posted in August 2013 by "PicsOfBest" - a typical internet alias. The video misses its goal as it merely shows fragments of pictures, photographs and lithographs or drawings - omitting  for example, heads, and surroundings. The music, abruptly stopped at the end, does not seem to fit the subject.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

150. Who must I copy to be original?

Blog 150 is a contribution by Philip R. Bishop, connoisseur of the work of Thomas Bird Mosher, who has been the subject of some recent blogs.

Who must I copy to be original?

This question from François Coppée’s Le TrésorQui pourrais-je imiter pour être original?, has always seemed appropriate when discussing Thomas Bird Mosher and the preparation of his Mosher Press books. The literature and designs of the Kelmscott, Eragny, the Daniel presses and the Bodley Head were all copied and Ricketts and the Vale Press were likewise included in Mosher’s arsenal.
Thomas Bird Mosher at age 49 (circa 1901)
To be sure, Mosher admired the Vale Press and it’s publisher-designer. In the Gordon Bottomley correspondence at the British Library there are two key letters in which Mosher professes his admiration. 

In the Mosher-to-Bottomley letter of May 10, 1910 Mosher discusses Ricketts’s book on Titian with its excellent half-tone illustrations. He adds to this his appreciation of Ricketts’s work with The Dial and all his other works in that ‘some of them are very glorious indeed.’ Between this and a June 10, 1910 Mosher-to-Bottomely letter, Bottomley apparently apprised Mosher of his friendship with Shannon and Ricketts, to which Mosher responded by surmising ‘perhaps, however, Mr. Ricketts is not particularly pleased with the way in which I have made use of some of his borders’ and then goes on to say how he based an opening letter design on one of Ricketts’s, but that the shape has been changed and ‘redrawn by my artist here so as to fit Love in the Valley and other volumes in that Series’ (Golden Text Series). 

This insight afforded an explanation as to why there might be slight variation between Mosher’s presentation and the letters and designs by Ricketts which could be photo-mechanically reproduced, but slightly altered in form by ‘my artist here.’ Mosher concludes the paragraph by admitting ‘this undoubtedly is wicked enough in the view of a foreign artist’ and concludes by saying he’s not the first and surely won’t be the last to avail himself of ‘the moderns… without money and of course without royalty.’

Such an admission certainly didn’t ingratiate Mosher with the British private press crowd, but his choice to copy and adjust for his own purposes certainly was a nod to their achievement. Obviously Mosher identified himself in league with the members of the British private press movement but his actual contacts took place between potential intermediaries (with the exception of C.H. St. John Hornby whom he contacted directly). He always had it in his heart-of-hearts to be allied with their circle and to impress those folks on the other side of the Atlantic, and in turn, to present their designs to an American public.

Along with Mosher’s passion for the literature and design of the era, his aim was also to present the authors in a scholarly way, so he often provided comparative texts, footnotes, references, and comments. In doing so, he saw himself as being part and parcel, even party to, the broader conversation with especially British authors and the attending graphic developments accompanying the printing of their texts. One of the several examples is his treatment of The Blessed Damozel published by Hacon & Ricketts in 1898. This book’s diminutive form struck him as falling short of what was needed, saying that:

based on the format of the Vale Press, as our reprint professedly is, it shows conclusively how much more beautiful a book can be made by adhering to well recognized standards of page and margin, than by treating the poem as a mere bit of decorative type-work as in the London edition (A List of Books in Belles Lettres [Mosher catalogue], 1901, p. 58).
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Blesses Damozel:
Vale Press edition (in front), 1898: 98x126 mm, and Mosher edition, 1901: 147x137 mm
A full comparison of the changes made are found in entry 47 of Thomas Bird Mosher. Pirate Prince of Publishers (1998, p. 106) so I won’t bother to reiterate them here. 
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Blesses Damozel:
Vale Press edition (below) and Mosher edition: same ruling and overall design
Suffice it to say that Mosher’s presentation, based on the former Hacon & Ricketts volume, was to present a variorum edition of the text as what he called his édition definitive by presenting changes in D.G. Rossetti’s text as published in The Germ (1850), variants from The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine (1856), the Poems (1870) and the Collected Works (1885).
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Blesses Damozel:
Vale Press edition (in front) and Mosher edition: colophons
Mosher would also be critical of another Ricketts/Vale Press edition. The November 1906 issue of The Bibelot was devoted to ‘The Last Days of John Addington Symons by Margaret Symons’ followed by a ‘Bibliographical Note’ which briefly presents the ‘extent and variety of the work of John Addington Symonds [which] may be gauged by the following short list of his published volumes.’ Entry 29 records the first edition The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (London, 1887), the second edition of 1888 and third edition of 1889 and then Mosher remarks on p. 381:

THE SAME. VALE PRESS EDITION. 2 vols. Imperial 8vo. Pp. 187 and 190. London, 1900. Issued in an edition of 300 sets printed on Arnolds unbleached hand-made paper, of which 187 were for sale in England and 90 in the United States, (the latter at the exorbitant price of $35.00 net,) without the lengthy Introduction, of some 60 pages, also lacking Illustrations, Notes, Appendix and Index which Symonds gave, and which he presumably intended to accompany any and all editions that might in future be called for, this reprint stands as a sumptuous model of everything a book should not be! May it not have been one of the proximate causes of that tremendous debacle which has recently taken place in the public appreciation of so-called ‘artistic’ book-making?’ (The Bibelot, vol. XII, 1906, p. 382).

Although generally speaking the British private presses eschewed what we may call supporting apparatus (prefaces, footnotes, bibliography), Mosher was certainly of the opposite mind adding a number of things by way of bibliography, variant texts and explanations. In this case he additionally saw the Vale Press edition of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini as excluding all that J.A. Symonds had intended the book to contain. Incidentally, the ‘tremendous debacle’ which Mosher references is most likely the precipitous decline of interest and market for the wares of ‘artistic printing’ which occurred in England around the end of the second Boer War (1902) and was still going on well into 1906. Kelmscott prices fell significantly and the decline enveloped the other presses. Eragny books were hit the hardest, but so were the Vale Press productions.

Philip R. Bishop

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

149. Sham-Gothic

One hundred years ago, in June 1914, Charles Ricketts wrote to his Dutch friend the artist Rik Roland Holst about styles in architecture:

All our recent monuments seem to have been done by one man, who probably has studied all the historical styles but learnt none. I think we blame individuals for popular common tendencies. Before our time architects knew one style - Sham Gothic - of which you have one of the worst known specimens in the great Museum at Amsterdam.

The Rijks Museum in 1885
Ricketts of course referred to the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, re-opened last year after a prolonged renovation. The original 'sham-gothic' wall paintings that had been painted over since Ricketts wrote to Roland Holst, can now be seen again. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

148. The Example of Silverpoints

Thomas Bird Mosher's career as a publisher took off in 1882 when he became a partner in McClellan, Mosher & Co., a firm that ended in bankruptcy in 1889. Mosher established his own firm, Thomas B. Mosher Company, the same year, selling stationary and law books, but soon turning to literature. By that time - he was nearing forty - Mosher had also acquired a small personal library, of which he made a catalogue: there were over 350 books. In 1891 and 1892 he published his first literary works, written by George Meredith and James Thomson.

His third publication was the first of 'The Bibelot Series'. This poetry anthology, Songs of Adieu, appeared in November 1893.
Songs of Adieu (Portland, Thomas B. Mosher, 1893)
The book's format and the type size are reminiscent of another book of poetry that had appeared in London, John Gray's Silverpoints, issued in March 1893. It seems that Mosher owned a copy before the end of the year, as the layout of Songs of Adieu is almost certainly inspired by it. In 1906 he would copy its cover design for a catalogue.
Songs of Adieu (Portland, Thomas B. Mosher, 1893, p. 17)
Mosher's bibliographer, Philip R. Bishop, argued that obvious similarities in layout connect Silverpoints to Mosher's Songs of Adieu:

Both use an italic type, and pages are numbered using Roman numerals. Both employ left-justified titles (set in even capitals) to the poems. Both use a large capital letter to begin each poem, the top of which extends above the other letters of the line. Both begin the first word of all the other lines of verse with an upright Roman capital letter followed by all italic letters. 

This shows that Silverpoints must have served as a model, as the layout was far from common practice, and I agree. The type fount used for Mosher's book was an 8 points Elzevir Italic, that was made available by the Dickinson Type Foundry in 1889. Mosher's printer in Portland, Smith and Sale, must have acquired it.(*)

For Silverpoints, another type and size were chosen. Ricketts - by the way, this is the first time that the type has been looked at seriously - used a 9-point Caslon typeface, the Caslon Old Style Italic, which he combined with Lining Old Style for the roman characters. 
John Gray, Silverpoints (London, Elkin Mathews and John Lane, 1893)
It has been noted that two different types of 'h' appear in Silverpoints (**). Caslon types came with some extras, which were called 'Peculiar Italic Sorts' that were supplied with founts from 36-point to 8-point. Ricketts made use of those peculiar types, sometimes showing the two different characters 'h' (one almost resembling a 'b') in one sentence, as in a translation from the French of Baudelaire. See the words 'thy head' in line 7.
John Gray, Silverpoints (London, Elkin Mathews and John Lane, 1893, p. xxxiii)
Ricketts also made abundant use of swash letters, which were part of the 'peculiar sorts'. In Gray's poem 'Lady Evelyn' (page viii) several of those can be seen; the 'N', 'R', and 'C' are the most eccentric. Mosher did not imitate these peculiarities.
John Gray, Silverpoints (London, Elkin Mathews and John Lane, 1893, p. viii)
Charles Ricketts, in 1893, considered the book to be a unity, and used only one type fount. Mosher did not. The last text page, for instance, introduces a black letter (or gothic type), of which there were many in the early nineties of the nineteenth century.
Songs of Adieu (Portland, Thomas B. Mosher, 1893, p. lxiii)
But then, Mosher was not as consistent in his layout as Ricketts strove to be, and did not treat the book with Ricketts's firm convictions. For example, the page numbers were in roman numerals (such as 'lxiii'), however, the 'Contents' page (a page that Ricketts discarded whenever possible) refers to the pages in arabic numerals ('62').

Ricketts's title page for Silverpoints is as austere as it gets, with only two small blocks of text, containing title, author's name and imprint, all in small Caslon capitals. Mosher tried to embellish the title page, for which he used colour, but not the Elzevir types.
Songs of Adieu (Portland, Thomas B. Mosher, 1893)
The page was not typeset, but fully hand-drawn, and photographically reproduced. In the title, for instance, we can clearly see two different characters 't' in the word 'little', and the same goes for the others. This is far removed from the principles of the revival of printing that were to be laid down in tracts before the end of the century. But even after the publication of William Morris's 'The Ideal Book', Mosher would not convert to the use of only one fount for a book. The nineteenth-century practice of displaying several types on a title page or on a cover would live on in his publications.   
(*) See William E. Loy, Nineteenth-Century American Designers & Engravers of Type (2009), p. 56.
(**) See Peter J. Vernon, The Letters of John Gray (1976), p. 120.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

147. Charles Ricketts, dressed as a pig

In February, I had wanted to write about the Edwardian Culture Network, a website devoted to 'various aspects of culture in Britain between the years 1895-1914', especially art and literature - but too many other subjects came up.

The Edwardian Culture Network has published two main articles on Ricketts. In January one of its founders, Samuel Shaw, wrote a review on Nicholas Frankel's selection of writings by Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art, and a month later Shaw published a piece in the 'Edwardian Encounters' section on a painting by Ricketts, 'A Fancy Dress Dinner Party' (1904).

Charles Ricketts, 'A Fancy Dress Dinner Party' (1904) [Tullie Houe Museum and Art Gallery Trust]
Samuel Shaw (Center for British Art, Yale University) wrote:

A small canvas in the Tullie House Gallery, Carlisle, offers a fascinating insight into the social life of a small group of Edwardian artists. The painting, by the multi-talented Charles Ricketts, depicts seven guests assembled at 11-13 Lansdowne Road, Holland Park, the house of Sir Edmund and Lady Mary Davis, on the 10th December 1904.

About the people that are depicted in the painting, Shaw writes:

The figures have been identified (from left to right) as Lady Mary Davis, Sir Edmund Davis, Mrs Charles Conder (Stella Maris), Max Beerbohm, Mrs Amy Halford (Mary’s sister, and an important art collector in her own right), Charles Conder and Charles Ricketts.

Ricketts dressed rather awkwardly for this occasion, and wore a masque of a pig's head, which wasn't the success he had hoped for. More of Shaw's fascinating essay on 'A Fancy Dress Dinner Party' can be read on Edwardian Encounters on Edwardian Culture Network.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

146. The Mosher imitation of Gray's Silverpoints

In some of his publications, Thomas Bird Mosher reproduced Kelmscott Press initials designed by William Morris, and borders from Eragny Press books cut on wood by Lucien Pissarro, and he also used designs by Charles Ricketts. This unusual mix-up of designs by different artists is not always a lucky one, and was done without the consent of the artists.

For one of his publisher's catalogues Mosher re-used a Ricketts design that was quite well-known.
John Gray, Silverpoints, designed by Charles Ricketts: de luxe edition bound in vellum (left) and regular edition bound in cloth (right)
John Gray's Silverpoints had been designed by Ricketts for Matthews and Lane in 1893. The wavy lines and leaves on the cover were used for Mosher's 1906 catalogue.

The Mosher Books (1906)
The design was adapted - the catalogue was broader in format than the original book. Mosher added a pattern of wavy lines including a column of leaves to the right-hand side, as Phil Bishop recorded in his bibliography, Thomas Bird Mosher. Pirate Prince of Publishers (1998, p. 216-217). 

The original design measures 212 x 103 mm, while the Mosher adaptation is 212 x 118 mm. The original 'CR' monogram is still positioned in the lower left-hand corner, however, the binder's stamp (Leighton, Son, & Hodge) that appeared in the lower right-hand corner of the Gray edition, is now some 15 mm from the corner on the right, as another 15 mm of wavy lines and leaves have been added to the right side. Instead of lines of three leaves, we now see lines of three leaves alternating with lines of four leaves. 

John Gray, Silverpoints (1893) on top of The Mosher Books (1906)
But there is more to be said about the adaptation. To begin with, the joint between the original and the new wavy lines is visible; a small irregularity in the new block occurs at the top between the last original line and the first new one.

Detail of The Mosher Books (1906)
Ricketts used his publisher's resources economically, and made only one drawing for the design, from which a heavy 5 mm thick brass block was made (now kept in the Bodleian Library). This block was used for the front cover and for the back cover of the regular cloth-bound edition, as well as for the front and back cover of the deluxe edition, bound in vellum. 

Although it seems that front and back cover are the same, the placement of the design was slightly different. Due to the French groove, towards the spine, the row of willow flowers that is attached to the left part of the border, is not completely visible. On the back cover, however, these flowers have more room. From this we may conclude that Mosher did not copy the front cover, but the back cover of Silverpoints.

John Gray, Silverpoints (1893): front cover (top) and back cover (bottom) with The Mosher Books (1906)
And there is another detail to consider. At the base of each willow leaf is a stipule, and these show quite some variation in design. Some stipules are curved more than others, and some end in a dot; some of them touch the nearest wavy line, while others cross that line. The stems of the large leaves themselves are all individually designed, most of them pointing to the left, some more than others, while only one points to the right. From this, it should be possible to deduce which column of leaves was reproduced by Mosher for the new line. If we try to find the originals for these new lines and leaves, however, we get stuck. It turns out that the new leaves and flowers and lines are also designed (and drawn) individually.

Leaf designs on The Mosher Books (1906): added by Mosher (1 and 2), original by Ricketts (3 and 4)
Perhaps, Mosher realized that a simple photo-engraved copy of one of the original lines would, as an addition to Ricketts's original design, have reduced its liveliness.

Mosher had ready access to the Silverpoints design, as he owned two copies. The auction catalogues show that he owned one of only 25 large paper copies bound in full vellum (catalogue of 10/11 May 1948, p. 22), and that he also had a copy of the regular edition (catalogue of 11/12 October 1948, p. 35).

Library of the late Thomas Bird Mosher (1948, p. 22)
Mosher's vellum copy was sold for 24 dollars. In the early 1980s this copy was traded by the firm of Rota's in London; its current whereabouts is unknown.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

145. Unsold, unsold, sold.

Over a year ago the collection of Laurence W. Hodson was sold at auction. The vellum copies of Vale Press books in specially designed bindings by Charles Ricketts fetched high prices. However, a paper copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese (1897) in a binding of white pigskin, designed by Ricketts - the design is in the Victoria and Albert Museum - remained unsold.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese (Vale Press, 1897): paper copy in white pigskin, designed by Charles Ricketts
To my knowledge, only two paper copies were bound thus, and this one has the bookplate of Laurence Hodson. It also has the monogram of the publishers, HR (Hacon & Ricketts). The other copy does not have this monogram, although the design is identical in every detail, that is, almost identical, as the bindings were handmade, and there are very small differences in the positioning of certain gilded elements. In fact, each binding is unique.

After the sale of 14 April 2013, the Hodson copy was entered for auction again in November. The original estimate of £1500-£2000 was lowered to £1000-£1500, but at the auction of Important Books, Manuscripts & Works on Paper (Bloomsbury Auctions, 28 November 2013) the Hodson copy remained unsold once more.

Then, a description of the same copy appeared in the auction catalogue Printed Books and Manuscripts, Bloomsbury Auctions. At the sale, on 17 April 2014, the Hodson copy was finally sold with an estimate of £500-£700. It realized a hammer price of £750.

Paper copies of Vale Press books in leather bindings designed by Ricketts are extremely rare, and it appears that only some early books were bound thus. The special bindings were usually done for vellum copies. An inventory of these bindings, however, is not yet available.