Wednesday, November 23, 2011

18. Patterned papers (a: Mouse and nut)

Almost thirty years ago, I was introduced to the work of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon by Ton Leenhouts, who collected illustrated books, and had become enchanted by Ricketts's books before Paul Delaney and Stephen Calloway mounted their influential exhibition in the Orleans House Gallery in the Spring of 1979.

Yesterday, Ton celebrated his 77th birthday. The Japanese insist on a special rite of passage to pray for long life at several ages: 60, 70, 77, 80, 88, 90 and 99, and the celebration at 77 is called kiju. Vale Press celebrations are suitable for any season, however, to introduce what might be called the Ricketts kiju, I asked Ton for a list of favourite Vale Press books. His answer was: the Vale Press publications bound in patterned papers. It is his wish, that this episode of the Charles Ricketts blog will be the first in an intermittent series about the paper-covered Vale Press books.

Front cover of Michael Drayton, Nymphidia and the Muses Elizium (1896)
The first Vale Press book with a decorated binding paper was published in the Spring and the second one in the Autumn of 1896. It is not clear whose idea it was to design patterned papers, as Lucien Pissarro, who used Ricketts's Vale Type for his Eragny Press books and had his books issued by Hacon & Ricketts at the time, also used such papers. It might well have been his initiative.

A few years later, another patterned material was suggested, both by Ricketts and Pissarro, as they considered using decorated cloth for their bindings. Pissarro's father, the impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, wrote to Jean Monet (2 September 1897): 'Un des amis de mon fils Lucien, Monsieur Ricketts artiste et patron de la maison Hacon et Ricketts éditeurs à Londres [...] nous demande si vous ne pourriez pas recommender une maison qui voudrait se charger d'imprimer des cottons pour la reliure dans le genre de l'échantillon ci-inclus qui est imprimé sur papier' (see catalogue 926 of the antiquarian firm Erasmushaus in Basle, 2007). Apparently, Ricketts wanted to have his designs printed on cloth as well as on paper, and an example of the decorated paper was sent along with the request. Interestingly, two years later, Pissarro also planned to use cloth for his bindings, and asked his father for an instruction book for printing on cloth (see The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903, edited by Anne Thorold, 1993, p. 604). In the end, neither the Vale Press, nor the Eragny Press, used decorated cloth for bindings.

Back to the decorated Vale Press paper. In his prospectus for The Poems of Sir John Suckling (Spring 1896) the patterned paper was not mentioned. Nor was it mentioned in the prospectus for Michael Drayton's Nymphidia or the Muses Elizium (Autumn 1896). Ricketts did not mention the patterned paper in any of the Vale Press prospectuses for that matter, only (some of) the plain buckram and cloth bindings. The paper bindings were not considered to be permanent; it was customary for the book collector to have them replaced by a leather or vellum binding. However, the collectors quite liked these decorated paper bindings and when Ricketts edited his Vale Press Bibliography in 1904 he did mention the specially designed decorated papers, and the second one was called 'mouse and nut'. The binders did not always understand which way the paper was to be used, and copies with the paper upside down can therefore be found.

'Mouse and nut' pattern, used correctly and upside down