Wednesday, November 22, 2017

330. One Sketch for Two Bindings by Ricketts

The British Museum has digitized numerous archival materials by Charles Ricketts, and published images on the website. One of those is an image of a design by Ricketts for a binding.

Charles Ricketts, drawing for a binding (British Museum)

This preparatory drawing (Museum number 1962,0809.1.13) has been described as a 'pattern of leaves and flowers amongst grid of vertical and horizontal lines', executed in 'pen and ink with graphite and touches of pink watercolour and white bodycolour'. The drawing survived in an album of 46 drawings that was donated by Riette Sturge-Moore in 1962.

There are at least two bindings for Vale Press books for which this design has been used.

The first application of this design for a binding was for Shakespeare's The Passionate Pilgrim (published 1896) bound (in or after 1898) in red morocco.

Binding for The Passionate Pilgrim (Vale Press, 1896)
A copy of the Vale Press edition of Blake's The Book of Thel (published 1897) was bound in white pigskin after the same design. This raises some questions about the colour and materials used.

Binding for The Book of Thel (Vale Press, 1897)
The assumption was that white pigskin bindings were not unique bindings, but bindings that used the same design in small series. However, if a design was used again, the earlier one in red leather may have become less exceptional, as the design no longer could be termed unique. 

It is not possible to date these bindings. Originally, these early Vale Press books were only printed on paper, and published in plain paper covers. As soon as the Vale Press started to print a small amount of copies on vellum, in 1898, the publishers announced they would accept commissions for specially designed bindings. Collectors immediately picked this up, and asked for leather bindings designed by Ricketts for the earlier paper editions.

It is quite a puzzle, involving a colour code, specific use of materials, etcetera. To date, alas, there is not enough published evidence of those bindings.