Wednesday, May 29, 2013

96. The Laurence Hodson sale

Bloomsbury in London offered in auction the collection of books of Laurence W. Hodson (1863-1933), a wealthy West Midlands brewery owner, collector and philanthropist. He was a friend, patron and admirer of William Morris, and commissioned many works to refurbish his family home, Compton Hall, in 1895. A founder of Birmingham University, he also was chairman of the Wolverhampton Art and Industrial Exhibition (1902), where works of Ricketts and Shannon were on view alongside other works of art. 

His collection of interior designs was auctioned in February. The April sale included works of the Kelmscott and Vale Presses.

Binding by Charles Ricketts for Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese (Vale Press, 1897)
Now that the sale is over, it is time to summarize the results, and the contents of the collection. There were early works by Ricketts and Shannon (The Dial, A House of Pomegranates, and the early Vale Press related Daphnis and Chloe and Hero and Leander), autograph letters by Ricketts and Shannon, and a series of fifteen lithographs by the latter.

The Vale Press books were described in lot 88 to 157, including both a vellum and a paper copy of many titles. There were 29 volumes printed on vellum, of which twenty-one copies were bound in leather after a special design by Ricketts. Eleven of these were bound in red leather, and ten in green. Seven volumes were bound, as issued, in white vellum. There were 86 volumes printed on paper. Of these, only two were specially bound after a design by Ricketts, both in white pigskin: a copy of John Suckling's Poems (1896) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets (1907). 

Opening the Vale Press book case, Hodson's first impression was more colourful (red, green, white) than that of most Vale Press collectors.

For the bindings of the vellum copies Ricketts started with red leather, but between 1899 and 1902 Hodson received copies in green leather. From that time on he settled for the original vellum bindings that were provided by the Vale Press for all vellum copies. The specially designed copies have the HR monogram (for Hacon and Ricketts) on the inside upper or lower cover. Most of these also feature the LH monogram of the collector on the upper cover. 

Monogram LH for Laurence Hodson (on a binding designed by Charles Ricketts)
A later binding, in green, has another monogram, with large, intertwined initials, designed by Ricketts.
Monogram LHO for Laurence Hodson (on a binding designed by Charles Ricketts)

Most specially commissioned bindings show the rectangular designs that we know of Ricketts, but included in the sale were two exceptional designs. One, for Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The Blessed Damozel, had a pattern of barley, cornflower, and leaves.

Charles Ricketts, binding (detail) for a vellum copy of The Blessed Damozel (Vale Press, 1898)
Another binding had a pattern of the LH monogram and an image of a bird and a leaf. This was executed in gold on a green leather binding for a vellum copy of Cellini's autobiography in two volumes.

Charles Ricketts, binding (detail) for a vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (Vale Press, 1900)
The results for the vellum copies and for the special bindings were, as could probably be expected, with prices between £2000 and £11,000. The highest price was paid for the two volume set of Keats's poems. The Rossetti went for £8,500, as did the Cellini edition. Remarkably, the Tennyson set of two volumes - In Memoriam and Lyric Poems, both issued in 1900 - were separated over two lots (128 and 130), and while the first one was sold for £2,000, the second one remained unsold at auction. However, both volumes have now been offered for sale by Blackwell Rare Books (for £9,500).

A vellum copy, in a special green binding, of The Rubayat of Omar Khayyam (1901) contained a preparatory ink drawing for the binding design, and some rubbings of the tools: the monogram and bird/leaf image. This book, and many others, were shown by Hodson in the Wolverhampton Exhibition of 1902.

The ordinary paper copies, were sold for lower prices, between £140 and £500. Fourteen lots remained unsold. 

An exceptional collection was thus dispersed - one hundred years after the collector had amassed it. The Vale Press books alone fetched the amount of £93,680.