Wednesday, April 20, 2022

559. Leonard Smithers and An Ideal Husband

Some publishers' actions are so weird that after a century they become downright inexplicable. In 1899, the adventurous Leonard Smithers published a 'fairy tale' by Anthony Hamilton, The Four Facardins, printed for the (non-existent) Lutetian Society in London. The society was intended to publish the works of Emile Zola, and as a front for the distribution of erotic works, although this tale is barely erotic.

Nothing strange so far. This is what Smithers was accustomed to doing.

There are copies of this edition with a paper cover and a frontispiece after a design by Hugh Graham. But there are also copies bound in green linen, without Graham's design and without the frontispiece. So far, everything stays within the framework of what can be expected from this publisher of both literary and offensive titles.

Count Anthony Hamilton, The Four Facarins (1899):
upper board of binding

As I wrote in January in blog 545 (Leonard Smithers, Charles Shannon and An Ideal Husband), Steven Halliwell and Michael Seeney published a booklet on Smithers and the edition of Oscar Wilde's play An Ideal Husband whose binding was designed by Charles Shannon. This publication of The Rivendale Press contained a remark and some photographs about The Four Facardins.

Here is where the weird part begins.

Count Anthony Hamilton, The Four Facarins (1899):

Halliwell and Seeney describe (and illustrate) a copy of this edition, which, like all copies in green cloth, has a red pasted-on spine label with the title of the book in gold. But after more than a hundred and twenty years, such title labels wear off, and when they come off (or are peeled off), beneath them emerges not an ordinary green spine, but a different title printed directly in gold on the green linen. The red title shield thus conceals a title that could no longer serve.

That title reads: An Ideal Husband.

The image below shows a title label that is damaged at the top. Part of the letter A (of An) can be seen.

Count Anthony Hamilton, The Four Facarins (1899):
spine label

A binding was therefore made with the spine title An Ideal Husband, but this was not actually used for Wilde's play.

Count Anthony Hamilton, The Four Facarins (1899):
spine label
[scan provided by Steven Halliwell]

Given the vignettes used (one five times on the front and another on the spine), this binding was not designed by Shannon, and the question is: why does it exist in this form? 

Why would Smithers first ask Shannon to design The Importance of Being Earnest, published early 1899, and An Ideal Husband, finished in June or July, and then have a completely different binding made, one that does not fit the "series" Oscar Wilde envisioned for his plays: cloth bindings in various shades of purple or brown, with the title and Shannon's designs in gold?

The only two reasons I can think of are not even likely to be the correct ones:
1. The binding was made for an intended reprint of An Ideal Husband. But this edition was cancelled. When the remaining copies of The Four Facardins were bound, this discarded binding was used. The cheapest solution was to paste a title label on the spine.
2. Shannon's designs did not arrive, despite agreements made, and in distress Smithers had this binding produced. However, just in time Shannon's sketches arrived after all causing this new binding to become obsolete. It was then used for remaining copies of The Four Facardins.

PS, 21 April 2022

One of my readers suggested the following:

Is it possible that whoever was making the bindings got the instructions for the two bindings confused? (Bruce Russell)

We cannot rule out this possibility, but it is unlikely that Smithers ordered two bindings. As for the Wilde edition, he was still waiting for Shannon's designs, and for The Four Facardins he initially commissioned a paper cover with illustrations by Hugh Graham. This edition appeared in April 1899, three months before The Importance of Being Earnest, and the bound copies of The Four Facardins are considered to be a later distributed portion of the print run.