Wednesday, July 31, 2013

105. An Attack on the Defence of the Revival of Printing

On Friday 19 July, after I delivered my paper on the reprints of T.J. Cobden-Sanderson's tract The Ideal Book at the SHARP conference in Philadelphia, I took an Amtrak train to New York for a meeting at The Grolier Club

The Grolier Club, conveniently located at the Plaza Hotel side of Central Park, at 47 East 60th Street, has its windows temporarily shielded against dust and debris, now that the next door building is being demolished, and a skyscraper is to be erected on the site. Nikolai Fedak wrote about the location - between Fifth and Madison Avenue – that this is 'an address that bests any competing development, and the skyscraper will possess some of the best Central Park views in the city. Designed by Robert A.M. Stern, 45 East 60th Street will rise 52 stories and 780 feet. The tower is expected to contain 40 units, and most floors will be split between duplex apartments, though the top unit will be an enormous triplex.'

The occupant of one of the lower floor apartments will possibly enjoy the proximity of his own books to those in The Grolier Club's library, as the bookcases to the wall in the picture will be adjacent to the new building.
Library, The Grolier Club, New York, 19 July 2013
The Grolier Club building, designed by Bertram G. Goodhue, was built in 1917. Before that, the Club was housed at other New York venues. After its foundation in 1884, the Club first had its headquarter in a few rented rooms at 64 Madison Avenue. In 1890, the Club moved to a Romanesque Revival building that was purpose-built for the society at 29 East 32nd Street; nowadays a designated landmark (I am freely quoting from the society's website). The present Clubhouse is a neo-Georgian six-story town-house.
Bookcase in the Second Floor Gallery, The Grolier Club, New York, 19 July 2013
During my visit, I noticed a Ricketts binding in one of the exhibition cases in the Second Floor Gallery. In the upper right-hand corner one sees a copy of Charles Ricketts's Beyond the Threshold, in the red leather binding that was gilded after a design by the author. The book was published in 1929 in an edition of 150 copies.

The librarian, Meghan Constantinou, pulled out some special Ricketts related items from the Club's vast collection of prints, auction catalogues, books on printing, and fine printing. It gives me pleasure to thank her for this illustration of the institute's kind hospitality.

The Grolier Club copy of Ricketts's A Defence of the Revival of Printing (published June 1899) has a tipped-in letter from Theodore Low De Vinne, one of the nine founders of the Club, to the engraver and art dealer Samuel Putnam Avery, dated 23 October 1899. The book also contains Avery's bookplate. De Vinne's letter reveals his hostility towards the claims of William Morris and other artists who had turned to book design. The letter reads:

Letter from Th. L. De Vinne, 23 October 1899 [The Grolier Club, New York]
300 West Seventy-Sixth Street
23 October 1899
Dear Mr. Avery,
With this I send the two volumes of Mackail's "Life of Morris", Rickett's [sic] "Defence of the Revival of Printing", "The Hymn of Bardaisan", and Morris's "Ash and Beauty of Enoch".
I say with Job - "Miserable comforters are ye all." The amount of sensible and practical instruction is small; the volume of conceit and dogmatism is great. After four hundred years of practice in printing it seems somewhat audacious in men who have never been taught the rudiments of the trade, to put themselves on a high perch and tell printers everywhere that they are the true evangelists in art!'
Yours cordially,
Theo. L. De Vinne

Verso of letter from Th. L. De Vinne, 23 October 1899 [The Grolier Club, New York]
Theodore Low De Vinne, who would publish the first volume of his influential Practice of Typography the next year, also wrote 'Some Comments on the Imitators of William Morris', which appeared in The New York Times Saturday Review of 27 October 1900. In that essay he mentioned Ricketts.

The revival of printing was defended by Charles Ricketts after critical essays about the Vale Press typography. But his tract did not change Theodore Low De Vinne's attitude towards the artists who, following the footsteps of William Morris, trained themselves as graphic designers avant le motFrom this letter it clearly emerges that De Vinne felt hurt by these outsider's comments on the printing trade. In his view, fine printing did not need artists, but well trained printers.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

104. White Nights in Philadelphia

The SHARP conference on the history of authorship, reading and publishing, held in Philadelphia this year, was a memorable event, not only because of the high temperatures and the impressive university buildings, but mostly of course thanks to stimulating talks in a rapid succession of parallel sessions. 

There were tours to quite a few libraries. I was at a presentation at the Rare Book Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and before that I walked into the room of the Print and Picture Collection to ask for works by Ricketts and Shannon.

Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia, 18 July 2013
I did not have an appointment - I was an hour early for the tour - but the people of the Free Library immediately checked the catalogue for Ricketts and Shannon material in the fine art prints and in the book arts collection, and came up with one lithograph by Charles Shannon. It is signed in the lower right corner: 'Charles Shannon R16', referring to Ricketts's catalogue of the lithographs of Shannon, in which 'White Nights' (1893) is listed as number 16.

Charles Shannon's lithograph 'White Nights' on a table in the Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia, 18 July 2013
A few minutes later I had the lithograph in front of me on one of the large tables. It is printed in an edition of 50 on Van Gelder paper (the lithograph was also published in The Dial, number 3, 1893, and for these copies an unwatermarked cream laid paper was used). The overall condition of this subtle lithograph with a late preraphaelesque and almost surrealist scene was not brilliant, the paper was browned at the edges. However, the print had a surprise in store for me.

Charles Shannon, 'White Nights' (lithograph, 1893) [Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia]
Ricketts describes the image as follows: 'Two girls in long shifts stand to the left of the picture. The one who is washing her hands turns to kiss the other who holds a candlestick. Their companion is preparing a low narrow bed.'

Turning over the leaf I saw a sketch in pencil of a naked male figure wearing a helmet, perhaps a representation of Hermes. The helmet, or possibly, a hat, is reminiscent of other figures in Shannon's lithographs, such as the shepherd in 'The Shepherd in the Mist' (1892) and a group of nude children in 'The Ruffled Sea' (1893).

Sketch in pencil on the verso of Charles Shannon, 'White Nights' (lithograph, 1893) [Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia]
The young artist that Shannon was at the time would of course never waste a good piece of paper, and why not print a lithograph on the verso of an unfinished sketch? The signature, and certainly the reference to R16, will have been added later (Ricketts's bibliography was published in 1902). This might have been a proof of the lithograph.

Works by Charles Ricketts were found in other Philadelphia collections.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

103. Transporting Ideals of Typography

On Thursday 18 July the annual conference of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) will be opened at the University of Philadelphia. 

Friday morning the actual conference starts with a great variety of papers. One of the early sessions is titled 'Typographic Travels'. There are three presentations by Michael Knies (University of Scranton), Nicholas Kendall Morris (The State University of New York-Buffalo) and me.

My talk is called 'Transporting Ideals of Typography: The Case of The Ideal Book'. After the first edition of T.J. Cobden-Sanderson's The Ideal Book had been published in 1901 (dated 1900), a long row of new editions was published, especially in the United States. There were in fact more reprints of this text than of William Morris's lecture with the same title. I will be looking at the way the intentions and design of the manifesto were changed after they crossed the Atlantic, and how this effected the status of the text.

Extracts from the Book Beautiful, with an initial by F.W. Goudy (Village Press, 1907)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

102. A Vale Press errata slip

Although Vale Press books occasionally show editorial mistakes, spelling errors and misprints, only once was an errata leaf printed. Charles Ricketts and Lucien Pissarro cooperated on De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée. William Morris et son influence sur les arts et métiers (1898), and an errata slip was inserted on publication. Two mistakes were brought to the attention of the reader:

P. 12, line 4. For "sous" read "sans"
P. 26, line 13. For "Aux tons" read "Au lieu"

Some copies have lost their errata slips, such as the Bodleian Library copies (17006 e. 87 and Walpole e 602). In other copies the slip has been retained, but inserted in different places, such as after d4v or after 3.

Errata slip in a copy of Charles Ricketts and Lucien Pissarro, De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée. William Morris et son influence sur les arts et métiers (1898)
In some copies the owner has corrected the errors in the text. Such is the case with a copy that features the bookplate of James Curle of Priorwood, Melrose, Roxburghshire in Scotland. He settled in the family home on his marriage in 1904, and died there in 1944. The bookplate was designed for him by David Young Cameron in 1911. This copy was sold by Blackwell Books in Oxford in 1987.

Correction on page 12 in a copy of Charles Ricketts and Lucien Pissarro, De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée. William Morris et son influence sur les arts et métiers (1898)

On page 12 and page 26 the errors have neatly been corrected in pencil. No other pencil notes or marginalia occur in the pages of this private press book. It suggests that one of the owners wanted to be sure that, whenever he opened the book, he would read the correct text in French. Usually, collectors of private press books have been suspected of looking at rather than reading books, but this kind of user mark would be an argument for the opposite: the collector wanted a perfect text in a well produced edition, even if he had to scribble some of the words himself, which, obviously, was not considered a sacrilege.

Correction on page 26 in a copy of Charles Ricketts and Lucien Pissarro, De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée. William Morris et son influence sur les arts et métiers (1898)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

101. The Wise and Foolish Virgins

Christie's upcoming sale no. 1128, 'Victorian & British Impressionist Art', is scheduled for Thursday 11 July 2013 at 8 King Street, London. Included in this sale is a painting by Charles Ricketts, 'The Wise and Foolish Virgins' (1914). 

The oil painting is signed with Ricketts's monogram in the lower left, and it is offered in its original frame (87.7 x 118 cm). The painting was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1914, and on 25 April Ricketts wrote in his diary that he had received news of its sale: 'I feel quite elated'. The painting was bought by Lady Cowdray. Apparently, she was discussing its acquisition when representatives of the Chantrey Bequest arrived, 'and fearing the picture might be purchased by them she bought it on the spot'. Had she not bought the picture, it would perhaps have ended up in Tate Britain. Ricketts was enchanted by Lady Cowdray's  impulsivity. Lady Cowdray was born Annie Cass. In 1881 she married the first Viscount Cowdray, and as a result she was styled as Baroness Cowdray in 1910. Lord Cowdray died in 1927; Annie Lady Cowdray's death was announced in April 1932. Further provenance of the painting is given as: 'Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 20 March 1968, lot 105.' 

Charles Ricketts, 'The Wise and Foolish Virgins' (1914)
The painting (lot 50) is sold on behalf of the Eric Holder Will Trust. Holder, who died in 2007 (the introduction to the catalogue includes some personal recollections of him) was one of the founders of Abbott and Holder, picture and print dealers in London. However, the paintings that are now sold by Christie's are not from the firm's stock, but were part of his personal collection. The selection also contains works by Edward Burne-Jones and Simeon Solomon. 

The estimate for 'The Wise and Foolish Virgins', a subject that was treated often by both Ricketts and Shannon, is £30,000 – £50,000 (or $47,010 - $78,350).

Note (14 July 2013): the painting remained unsold at auction.
Second note (27 October 2013): Christie's website mentions a sale price of £25,000.