Wednesday, December 25, 2013

126. An interview with Charles Ricketts

Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art: Selected Writings contains two 'interviews' with the artist in the appendices.
Detail, showing the Adobe Jenson, used in Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art: Selected Writings (2013, p. 331)
These texts have been taken from Bookselling and from The Sketch. Between 23 January and 24 April 1895, The Sketch published a series of four pieces on 'The Vale Artists'. In the first article, devoted to 'Charles Hazelwood Shannon', the group was introduced:

The little coterie with whose labours I am about to deal has forced itself into public notice. Appealing at first to but a small section of the cognoscenti, Charles Ricketts, Charles Hazelwood Shannon, Lucien Pissarro, Reginald Savage, Sturge Moore, and others, have slowly but surely advanced. True is that the man in the street knows them not, nor does the Philistine aspire to understand them; but that is because they have not courted the glare of publicity, and have been content to discover and emend their own imperfections, to work out their own artistic salvation, unknown, save to a few.

Portrait of Charles Shannon (The Sketch, 23 January 1895, p. 617)
One of these few was 'Theocritus', a pseudonym for an unknown writer whose elaborate style demonstrates that useful information is not his core business. Readers of The Sketch had seen the names of Ricketts and Shannon in an earlier article on their friend Raven Hill (who was by then already a well known illustrator) [see The Sketch, 14 November 1894, p. 136]. In his first article (based apparently on an interview), it takes Theocritus a full column to reach the work of Shannon, who, he says 'draws his design upon the stone with lithographic chalk; he puts it under acid to render it insensible to water; he presses and prints the limited number of impressions, and then removes the design from the stone, so that no success, however great, can result in the publication of more than the advertised number of copies'. Theocritus goes on to explain the history of lithography. All in all, only half of the piece is actually about Shannon. Though the text about Ricketts (published 13 March 1895, p. 350) is shorter, it is more to the point. It discusses his cloth bindings, his illustrations for The Dial, and the pre-Vale books.

Nicholas Frankel, in his comments, does not reproduce (or mention) the two illustrations that were published with 'The Vale Artists. II. - Charles Ricketts'. There was a reproduction of Shannon's portrait of Ricketts, a lithograph called 'The Wood Engraver' (originally published in 1894). There was also a pen drawing by Ricketts, 'Phaedra and Ariadne', that had been published before in The Dial, Number III (1893). Frankel's rendering of the text is true to the original (except for a small change in the title), and he silently corrects spelling errors in the original text. He has standardized the rendering of titles in italics ('the "House of Pomegranates" has become A House of Pomegranates), some words and comma's have been deleted. 

A whole phrase was suppressed: 'A specimen of his work is given here, and admirably illustrates his qualities.' This, of course, referred to the pen-drawing from The Dial. Text editions always involve tough decisions. Personally, I would have preferred to have the authentic text, including errors and inconsequential punctuation, as footnotes can explain those, and I prefer to have a trustworthy text that can be quoted without having to go back to the original source (which is usually hard to find). Nowadays, of course, many of these texts are (or will be shortly) available in digitized form on the internet, however, not by rule, nor are they always freely accessible. Anyway, a note on the editorial principles is lacking.

Detail, showing the first page of the interview from Bookselling in Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art (2013, p.333)
The most intriguing aspect of Theocritus's account is about Ricketts's 'modus operandi'. He relates that Ricketts did not use zinc plates for his book bindings, but brass plates, 'and the work is all the better'. A brass plate for Silverpoints in the collection of the Bodley Library can attest to this. 

Also, 'he draws his designs in gold, and not in black, so that they are seen from the very commencement in the form they will ultimately retain'. I have never seen a drawing for a binding by Ricketts that was done in gold, but of course they may still exist, and I would love to know the whereabouts of any remnants of such book designs. It should be noted, that this text is based on what Ricketts had told The Sketch, and it may well be that other designers used the trick as well. If you know, please enlighten us. 

The second appendix of Everything for Art contains a real interview, which will be the subject of next week's blog.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

125. A new Charles Ricketts compilation

It is not every day that we can announce a new publication by Charles Ricketts, and strictly speaking, he is only indirectly responsible for the new book that has been issued by the Rivendale Press. Everything for Art: Selected Writings is a compilation of essays by the artist, that every scholar and eighteen-nineties enthusiast should acquire.
Dust-wrapper for Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art (2013)
The anthology includes published tracts on typography, reviews of exhibitions and art books, as well as memoirs of his friends and some pieces of original fiction, demonstrating the versatility of Ricketts, as a book designer, artist, writer, and critic.

The editor is Nicholas Frankel. The book is well produced, as are all books by the Rivendale Press, though I would have liked the colophon to state the typeface, the paper, and the number of copies printed. The publisher informed me that a 90gms Artic matt paper was selected; the type is Adobe Jenson. The book has, of course, not been issued as a paperback; the gatherings are bound in a brown cloth binding. The dust-wrapper shows four designs for initials that Ricketts did for his Vale Press books (now in The British Museum).

Spine of binding for Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art (2013)
I will quote from the texts in future blogs, because this book is of course an important contribution to Ricketts scholarship. Today, I will only say, that there are four sections and two appendices. 

The sections are: 'Writings on printing and book design', 'Writings on art', 'Memoirs and recollections', and 'Fiction'. The appendices unite two interviews from The Sketch and Bookselling, and an essay by Gleeson White on the work of Ricketts.

The readers of this blog will be pleased to see that the three essays on Egyptian art that I discovered a few years ago - they were not discussed before I blogged about them in November 2011 (see blog no. 16. Head in Obsidian) - have been included in full. Readers who do not have access to JSTOR can find the full text (not the images) in this new anthology.

I was surprised to see that Ricketts's essay on 'William Morris and His Influence on the Arts and Crafts' was selected for the 'Writings on Art' section when I would have expected this piece on book design to be in the first section that deals with this subject, and rightly so, because these articles helped shape Vale Press and other books.

I was also surprised to find no index in the book. We will have to compile that ourselves. We need a volunteer!

Starting next week, we will immerse ourselves in Ricketts's world by means of Nicholas Frankel's new selection of texts. Get yourself a copy, so that you can join the conversation!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

124. Ricketts in academia

Scholars have always corresponded with each other, exchanging articles, books, as well as thoughts (and gossip). An important and growing online site for finding and reading new scholarly papers is

The site also provides separate groups with a platform of their own to share papers on specific subjects. The reader of this blog will not be surprised that there is a special page for scholars who research the work of Charles Ricketts. The Charles Ricketts group, at this moment, has seven subscribers from America, England, and The Netherlands. There could be more. You are invited to join the group.

There is also a select Charles Shannon group (with two participants). In contrast to these small groups, there are huge numbers of scholars for 'Cultural history' (16.106), 'Literature' (more than 105.000), wheras 'Book history' unites more than 3.400 scholars. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

123. A Shannon lithograph in Holland

It was not often that lithographs by Charles Shannon turned up at auction in The Netherlands before World War II. Every now and then an auction catalogue listed one or two.

A sale at Van Stockum's Antiquariaat on 25-27 June 1918 contained one lithograph by Shannon, which was described in lot 462 as 'The Youth of Bacchus. - Litho. folio'. This probably was 'The Infancy of Bacchus' from 1897. Of this lithograph an edition in green was published in the fifth number of The Dial (1897).

Charles Shannon, 'The Infancy of Bacchus', lithograph, 1897
The catalogue contains old and modern prints, portraits and drawings from the collection of H. Dyserinck (1838-1906, minister of marine affairs) and of the artist ('kunstschilder') Th. van Hoytema (1863-1917), who became famous for his children's books illustrations in the nineties, The Ugly Duckling (1894). 

The catalogue contains etchings by Whistler and Haden, but no illustrations (or books) designed by Ricketts, and no other prints by Shannon. It is highly probable that the Shannon came from Van Hoytema's collection. On 18 December, Van Hoytema was born exactly 150 years ago.

Note, 18 December 2013: Theo van Hoytema's first children's book has been fully digitized by the National Library of the Netherlands: Hoe de vogels aan een koning kwamen [How the birds acquired a king].

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

122. Forty-five autograph cards and letters for sale

Yet another auction with Ricketts and Shannon material is about to take place at Bloomsbury in London. Tomorrow, 28 November, 45 autograph cards and letters by Shannon and Ricketts come up for sale. Most of these letters are related to their contacts with F. Ernest Jackson during the second half of their career.

Letters from Charles Shannon to F. Ernest Jackson [Bloomsbury Auctions, London]
F. Ernest Jackson (1872-1945) was the subject of a book by J.G.Paul Delaney in 2000, and of blog 100: 'Francis Ernest Jackson and the Ricketts legacy'. Jackson was schooled at the famous teaching studio Atelier Julien in Paris in 1895. By 1900 he settled in London to design posters. He did watercolours too, but he excelled in lithographs. As a teacher of lithography his influence became widespread. He did not strive to be popular, or even known to the public, and never became a household name.

As usual, Ricketts's letters contain humorous asides, and they reflect Ricketts's attempts to get his way with things as well as his anger as he failed to do so. When a student of Jackson did not receive 'the prize which he deserved', Ricketts blamed several committee members for that, such as 'Olivier & Coward & perhaps Lawrence', and he added to the last name: 'I hate him'. He vented his rage on the Royal Academy in its entirety:  

The whole affair has added to my sense of vicious & exaggerated indignation against all RAs Philpot included.

Later letters refer to Shannon's accident (he suffered from brain damage after a fall), and one can clearly see that Ricketts was without hope and dreaded the future.

The sale also includes a letter from George Bernard Shaw to Ricketts and one by Ricketts to Sigismund Goetze.

[Note, 18 December 2013: all lots were sold: Shannon's letters to Jackson were sold for £950; Shaw's letter went for £450; Ricketts's letters to Jackson were sold for £2400, and Ricketts's letter to Goetze was sold for £150.]

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

121. A faded spine for sale

Bloomsbury in London has another auction next week, on 28 November. In it are some leftovers from the successfull Hodson sale. Last week unsold paper copies were offered again at lower estimates than before, now the same goes for two more important unsold books: a specially bound copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese (Vale Press, 1897) and a vellum copy of Thomas Browne's Religio Medici (Vale Press 1902).

Binding in green morocco for Thomas Browne, Religio Medici (vellum copy)
The Sonnets from the Portuguese is a copy on paper, but it is bound in white pigskin after a design by Ricketts. There is a geometric panel on the covers, with small flowers and roundels tooled in blind and gilt. At least two copies on paper exist in a binding with this design. This copy differs from the other one in that it bears the initials HR of the publishers Hacon and Ricketts on the inside of the lower cover (lot 171, estimate £1000-£1500 [reduced by £500]).

The vellum Religio Medici is bound in green morocco with repeated LH monogram and bird tool on the covers. The description says it is a copy in 'brown' morocco, but only the spine and parts of the covers are browned; one can clearly see that it used to be a full green binding. The discolouration is probably why the book has not sold. The book is a large octavo - height is more than 30 centimetres - and the scale of the browning is too bad. 

Also, the decoration is not typical for Ricketts. From the letters that were auctioned last time, one may conclude that this design was prompted by the collector. It is much more Hodson's design than it is Ricketts's. A similarly designed copy of The Rubayat of Omar Khayyam, however, did find a buyer last time (for £2450), but that has always been a popular text.

The Browne is described as lot 172. The estimate is £1500-2000 - which is £1000 less than in the Hodson sale.

[Note, 18 December 2013: The Browning, again, remained unsold at auction; the Browne, however, was sold for £2200.]

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

120. Another copy

Dreweatts and Bloomsbury auctions have a 'bibliophile sale' tomorrow (14 November) at their Godalming site. In it are some leftovers from the earlier Hodson sale. Most of the vellum copies from this collection were sold, but some did not realize the reserve, as was the case with many paper copies.

The paper copies are now offered for sale again, but not much effort has been given to the descriptions as they have been copied from the earlier catalogue. No 443, for instance, is 'The Race of Leaves, another copy, one of 280 on paper'. The phrase 'another copy' also turns up in the next lot with a single copy of 'Julia' - both Vale Press books were written by Michael Field. There are ten Vale Press books in this sale, of which seven are described as being 'another copy', but in none of these cases there is a second copy of the same book for sale. Of course, in the Hodson sale, all these copies were preceded by a copy on vellum.

All estimates are now fifty pounds lower, around £150-200.

An unsold vellum copy will be auctioned later.

[Postscript 17 November 2013: The results were lower than the estimates, with hammer prices between £100-190; two items remained unsold, the other eight sold for a total of £1210.]

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

119. Ricketts and The Yellow Book

A few years ago Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra launched The Yellow Nineties Online. It is a surprise to find that Ricketts and Shannon as search terms do yield some results, as they did not contribute to the 1890s magazine that became notorious for firing its art editor Aubrey Beardsley after the arrest of Oscar Wilde for homosexual conduct. Wilde had not been a contributor to the magazine, but it was associated with him in a newspaper headline in 1895: 'Arrest of Oscar Wilde. Yellow Book under his arm'. This yellow book was not even the publication that Elkin Mathews and John Lane had launched successfully only one year earlier, in April 1894, but probably a yellow bound copy of Aphrodite, a novel by the French author Pierre Louÿs.

Front cover of the first issue of The Yellow Book (April 1894) in the second issue
The site contains a short biography of Charles Ricketts written by Nicholas Frankel, and a short description of The Dial written by the editors of The Yellow Nineties Online. It also reproduces the texts of the advertisements that were published at the back of the magazine.

It is in these advertisements that the names of Ricketts and Shannon were frequently printed. In the first issue, for example, Ricketts was named as the illustrator and designer of Lord de Tabley's Poems, Dramatic and Lyrical (listed under 'De Tabley') and both were mentioned in a description of their publication of Hero and Leander (listed under the heading 'Ricketts (C.S.) and C.H. Shannon'. This book was said to be published 'Immediately'. Ricketts's name also popped up in the advertisement for Symonds' In the Key of Blue, Wilde's The Sphinx, and the proposed but never realized edition of Wilde's Incomparable and Ingenious History of Mr. W.H. The name of Shannon was mentioned in relation to three volumes of Wilde's plays. Other issues of The Yellow Book also have such advertisements, although after Wilde's arrest, his works were no longer listed.

Back cover of the first issue of The Yellow Book (April 1894)

Many friends of Ricketts and Shannon were part of the Yellow Book circle, notably artists such as William Rothenstein and Laurence Housman. It is not quite clear why Ricketts and Shannon did not contribute to the magazine. Shannon would later contribute to another magazine that was published to continue the career of Beardsley, The Savoy. Apparently, although they admired his drawings, Ricketts and Shannon were somewhat jealous of Beardsley's success, and disapproved of his personality. When they were invited to contribute, they refused, stating that it 'might lead to complications over the fourth Dial'. 

Cf. J.G.P. Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A Biography. Oxford 1990, p. 84-85; Margaret D. Stetz & Mark Samuels Lasner, The Yellow Book. A Centenary Exhibition. Cambridge MA 1994, p. 31; Catalogue Number 165. Books from the Library of John Lane Publisher. London (Dulau) 1928, p. p. 97-98, item 932.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

118. Prices realized or unrealized

Auctioned, yesterday, at Christie's in New York, were two Ricketts and Shannon related items from the collection of Arthur & Charlotte Vershbow. One was a deluxe version of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894) for which a price of $25.000 was realized. The other item was only a proof, printed however in gold, for Lucien Pissarro's Twelve Woodcuts which was published by Shannon & Ricketts. This item did not realize the estimate of $800-$1200. It was a single leaf for the cover, signed in pencil by Pissarro underneath his note 'épreuve d'essai'.

The collection of Arthur (1922-2012) and Charlotte (1924-2000) Vershbow was sold in four parts of which this was the final one. Highlights from the earlier sales included a complete first edition of Francisco Goya's La Tauromaquia , Piranesi's Invenzioni Capric di Carceri, and several manuscripts.

Title page for Lucien Pissarro, Twelve Woodcuts (part)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

117: A Vale Press publisher's contract

Most texts that were issued by private press publishers during the 1890s and 1900s were written long ago and needed no copyright protection, but in a few cases contracts were drawn up. For Michael Field's The World at Auction a draft for the publisher's agreement is dated January 7, 1897. It is kept in the Bodleian Library (Bodleian Library, MS.Eng. letters d. 121, fol. 26).

The book was announced in 1898; there were to be 210 copies, of which 200 copies on paper and ten on vellum. The price was to be fifteen shillings net. for a paper copy. A letter of appreciation by the poets, Katherine Bradley and Emma Cooper, who adopted the name Michael Field as their joint pseudonym, was written on 24 May 1898. The British Library copy is date-stamped on 22 August 1898.

Michael Field, The World at Auction (1898), page lxxxiv-lxxxv
The draft for the agreement, in black ink, is on Hacon and Ricketts's writing paper with the address No. 52 Warwick Street, Near Piccadilly Circus: 'Memorandum of agreement between Messrs. Hacon & Ricketts Publishers of 52 Warwick St London, W., & Michael Field [crossed out is: 'the misses Bradley' and underneath is written ' M.F.'] at the Durdans Reigate, writing as Michael Field'. There were four stipulations:

'Hacon & Ricketts shall be the first publishers of "The World at Auction" of which "Michael" Field is the author & shall hold the copyright of that book for one year from the date of such publication & shall offer for sale an edition of the book not exceeding two hundred copies'.

'In consideration of this Hacon & Ricketts shall pay "Michael Field" the sum of Five Pounds on the day of the publication of "The World at Auction", & after one hundred copies of the work have been sold by them in the ordinary course of Trade, they shall pay a royalty of 20 per cent on the published of all remaining copies sold by them before the day of the republication of the play by "Michael Field" as provided for by clause iii. Hacon & Ricketts shall render accounts half yearly in January & July.'

'At the expiration of one year from the day of first publication "Michael Field" shall be free to republish "The World at Auction" as the second number of a Trilogy & shall acquire the right of publication as such, together with all acting rights, and all profits arising from such rights.'

'Such republication & transfer of rights shall not interfere in any way with the right of Hacon & Ricketts to continue to offer for sale any copies of their edition that may remain unsold at the time of such republication.' 

The Vale Press publication of The World at Auction was not reprinted by another firm. C.J. Holmes, who acted as manager to the firm of Hacon & Ricketts, wrote to the authors on 21 June 1898 that the book had been sent out the day before, 'so that June 20th may be taken as the date of its formal publication'.

Holmes send them 'the twelve prospectus as you request, also three presentation copies making four with the one we previously sent. This was the number which you had of "Fair Rosamund" so I suppose it is right.' 

The agreement did not mention the number of presentation copies that the authors should receive. The £5 (mentioned in the second part of the agreement) was enclosed by Holmes in the form of a cheque', and as he was busy these warm days of June, he added 'In haste (+ HEAT)'.

Michael Field, The World at Auction (1898), page  v with decorations by Charles Ricketts

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

116. Reading Ricketts

Recent book historical research has come up with new tools that can be of use to researchers in many other fields. A fine example of this is the Reading Experience Database (RED) about reading in Britain from 1450 to 1945. This open-access database, launched in 1996, is housed at The Open University and contains over 30,000 records drawn from published and unpublished sources, such as diaries, memoirs, surveys and court records.

UK Red logo
Searching for Ricketts yields four entries, all about one reading experience. The quote is based on The Diary of Virginia Woolf, volume V, 1984, p. 252. 

On Sunday 17 December 1939 she wrote: 'We ate too much hare pie last night; & I read Freud on Groups [...] I'm reading Ricketts['s] diary -- all about the war the last war; & the Herbert diaries & ... yes, Dadie's Shakespeare, & notes overflow into my 2 books.'

Woolf was reading Self Portrait, Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, RA that had been published only a fortnight earlier on 7 December 1939.

The database has separate entries for each book mentioned by Woolf, and they contain details about the reading experience, the reader, the book (not including the date of publication) and the source information. One can browse by reader, author and reading group. Ricketts as a reader has not yet been processed. His diaries are the perfect source for this. Woolf is not mentioned in Ricketts's published diary notes that were selected by Thomas Sturge Moore for Self Portrait.

This is the UK RED; other REDs are in preparation for Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, and New Zealand. Obviously, a lot of work is involved in gathering the data, so volunteers are requested to come forward. 

The introduction tells you how to contribute to RED UK, and specifically says: 'Anyone interested in working on a particular individual who lived in or visited Britain during the period 1450-1945 and who left letters, diaries, annotated books, autobiographies etc. which contain references to their reading should get in touch with one of the RED directors listed below. Follow this link for a list of famous readers whose experiences have not yet been entered into the database'. RED is looking for volunteers to work their way systematically through such materials in order to record evidence of reading.'

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

115. A Charles Shannon dedication

A dedication copy of a book about Charles Shannon can be seen on YouTube. The book is inscribed by the artist to the Princess of Monaco, 'with the kindest good wishes from the artist'. 

The commentary says that it is of course 'unusual, an artist giving a book about himself to somebody there'. 

The monograph, Charles Shannon, was published in 1924 by Ernest Benn, Ltd., London, in the series about 'Contemporary British Artists'. It was simultaneously published by Smalley's in McPherson, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri.

Dedication copy of Charles Shannon (1924)
This particular dedication copy was on sale on e-Bay, but has now been removed.

The Princess was born as Alice Heine in Louisiana in 1858. In 1875 she married the Duke of Richelieu, and became the 'Duchesse de Richelieu'. The duke died in 1880, and in 1889 she married Albert I of Monaco, thus becoming Alice Princess of Monaco. She died in December 1925.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

114. Charles Ricketts's birthday in 1900, 1914, and 1916

On 2 October 1866 Charles Ricketts was born in Geneva. On his 34th birthday, in 1900, he wrote in his diary:

We are about to offer a hundred pounds for the Stevens ceiling in the Crystal Palace.

The ceiling could not be removed, as it was painted on the plaster, and Ricketts was told that it was to be incorporated in the Crystal Club premises. Jan Piggott's The Palace of the People (2004) describes the Italian Court of the Crystal Palace for which the painter Alfred Stevens had designed a copy of Raphael's ceiling in the Camera della Segnatura in the Vatican. The court was an homage to the painters of the Renaissance, Raphael and Michelangelo. The ceiling was destroyed in the Crystal Palace fire of 1936. 

On 2 October 1914 - Ricketts's 48th birthday - his diary entry is longer:

Poor [Emile] Verhaeren came to dinner with [Laurence] Binyon. We had not met for fifteen or twenty years, when he called at Beaufort Street together with Toulouse Lautrec. He looks older than his years, and now slightly resembles Mallarmé. He met Dostoieffsky's daughter - or sister - (I forget) in Paris. She, it seems, is quite commonplace, but full of reminiscences of Dostoieffsky and his faltering sanity before he actually became insane. Dostoieffsky had sinned in his own estimation, and felt the need of confession and punishment for his sin. What should he do? Confess his action to his greatest enemy. Who was his greatest enemy? The Latinized and European Turgeniev. He must confess to Turgeniev. He calls, is announced, etc.; Turgeniev is astonished, courteous, slightly embarrassed, he invites Dostoieffsky to sit next to him, who then says: "I have called to confess to you this abominable act of mine." He confesses it. Turgeniev says nothing. Pause. Dostoieffsky rises, wild with grief and anger. "I thought you would have kissed me after what I have told you. Never have I despised you as much as I despise you at this moment!"

The story about Turgenev and Dostoyevsky is probably apocryphal. Emile Verhaeren had been a contributor to the final number of The Dial in 1897. He might have visited them at the time in Beaufort Street where Ricketts and Shannon lived between October 1894 and March 1898.

On 2 October 1916, Ricketts wrote a letter to Gordon Bottomley:

Your books are packed at last and leave to-morrow. Therewith is a paper Javanese doll, as backshish for patience, and also because to-day is my fiftieth birthday and the thirty-fourth anniversary of my first meeting with Shannon at Kennington Park Road, which was bombed on Monday last. It is an Oriental custom for the birthday patient to give gifts to friends, hence paper doll. [...] To celebrate my birthday I have ordered in a pianola and spent pounds on Chopin's Preludes, Scherzos, Ballades, Schumann's Carnaval, Fantasia, Quintet, and Le Coq d'Or. Nearly all Schumann is cut; not so Wagner: of Tristan, for instance, there is only the "Liebestod." This is amazing! Yet new things, Scriabine's early works for instance, are cut, and other Russian music in course: Moussorgsky's Pictures, and other unexpected things. I look forward to getting drunk on sound, just as a sailor determines to get drunk on beer. Dulac has Schéhérazade, I shall probably get it out of him later.'

Frédéric Chopin, Fantasie Impromptu, pianola performance by Awardaudio on You Tube
Edmund Dulac had made him familiar with the sound of the pianola at the end of 1914, and Ricketts had wanted to buy one, which became possible after 'Michael Field' left him an inheritance. The pianola arrived four days later, on 6 October, and the following days Ricketts listened to the music. 'This has made me feel years younger.'

Frédéric Chopin, Fantasie Impromptu, pianola performance by Awardaudio on You Tube
On later birthdays, Ricketts wrote in his diary (about the death of Edgar Degas, 1917), or he corresponded with friends (Gordon Bottomley, 1918; Cecil Lewis, 1928), without mentioning gifts or festivities.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

113. Charles Ricketts on film

There are painted portraits and photographs of Charles Ricketts, but some moving images of him have been preserved as well. In 1926, Ricketts was filmed while he was working on the rough sketches for the new set of costumes for The Mikado, the Gilbert and Sullivan opera. This promotional film of the D'Oyly Cart company can be seen on YouTube.

Charles Ricketts at work on the sketches for The Mikado (1926)
The title of the film is 'The Mikado redressed in 1720 Period Costumes', and it contains 'exclusive pictures in colour' of 'the new designs by Mr. Charles Ricketts, A.R.A.'. There are images from several scenes in the opera. After circa 3 minutes a text announces images of 'Mr. Charles Ricketts, who designed the costumes, at work on the rough sketches'. He sits at a table, with a sketch board in his lap, and a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. The floor is scattered with designs. 

Next, we are informed that 'the famous artist has no use for an ash tray', as he uses a bowl of water for cleaning his brush as well as for extinguishing his cigarettes. An assistant picks up the bowl of dirty water and several cigarettes, and also an almost unused ash tray, and provides the artist with a bowl of clean water, in which he immediately cleans his brush before throwing in another cigarette.

Charles Ricketts during a break (1926)
Then a wall with fourteen sketches comes in sight, followed by a close up of Ricketts on the balcony of his studio during a break. He talks to the camera, alas, the words are not recorded (we need a lip reader for that). Then he takes off his glasses, and laughs, uncovering his rather bad front teeth.

Ricketts was almost sixty at the time. Although the whole sequence does not take longer than about a minute, it is of course touching to see him alive. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

112. The death of a vellum subscriber

Last week, I wrote about the collector Laurence Hodson, whose impressive collection was sold earlier this year. 

After the closure of the Vale Press in the Summer of 1904, Hodson bought six vellum copies that were offered to him by Ricketts. This happened a few months after the last book of the Vale Press had been published, A Bibliography of the Vale Press (June 1904). A vellum copy had been reserved for Hodson and was dispatched in August 1904.

Announcement of A Bibliography of the Vale Press (1904) [detail]
In a letter, postmarked 23 September 1904, Ricketts wrote to Hodson: 'The unreasoning death of one of my vellum subscribers has placed six Vale vellums on my hands'. 
He offered, 'at Booksellers discount', the following:

The Parables  £ 6 . 6 . 0
Ecclesiastes  £ 5 . 5 . 0 
Amber Witch  £ 9 . 9 . 0
Julia Domna  £ 4 . 4 . 0
Kingis Quair  £ 4 . 4 . 0
Danaë  £ 5 . 5 . 0

Hodson seized the opportunity, and bought the lot. On 23 September Ricketts wrote that the books 'will be shipped soon', but on the 29th he added that he still had 'to get Shannon in a packing mood in conjuction with brown paper which is not always easy'. Shannon used to pack their paintings, prints, or books, to be send off to exhibitions, or buyers, as in this case; and in the earlier years he also used to write letters for Ricketts, who would only add his signature underneath. On 24 October 1904 the magic packing trick had been performed.

The Hodson sale may have given the impression that Hodson collected all paper copies and all vellum copies, but in fact, in some cases, he must have had duplicate vellum copies. One of them, a copy of The Parables, was inscribed by him to another collector in 1918. This copy later turned up in the collection of Robert Wayne Stilwell. A second copy was in the Hodson sale in April 2013.
Announcement of A Bibliography of the Vale Press (1904) [detail]
Ricketts's list of prices gives a unique insight into the vellum business practices. The annoucements of the Vale Press books did not mention a price for the vellum copies, as they were all subscribed beforehand. There is one exception. The prospectus for the bibliography, probably issued late May, early June 1904, mentioned: 'Two hundred and fifty copies printed in red and black for England and America, ten on Vellum. Price fifteen shillings net on paper, three guineas on Vellum.'

The bibliography was not on the list, and the prices for the vellum books that were on offer are new to us.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

111. Special bindings for a Vale Press collector

Not much is known about contemporary collectors of Vale Press books. A large collection was owned by the architect and surveyor John Morgan (of Rubislaw House, Aberdeen), for whom Ricketts designed a bookplate in 1899. He ordered books from Ricketts, and his collection was auctioned in 1908. The American collector Emilie Grigsby sold her collection in 1912, Max Kirdorf's collection was sold in 1929, Thomas Bird Mosher's collection was for sale in 1948, but it is doubtful whether any of them bought their copies directly from Hacon and Ricketts in London.

There is one exception, Laurence Hodson (1863-1933), the West Midlands brewery owner, collector and philanthropist. See my earlier blog on The Laurence Hodson Sale. A batch of letters written by Ricketts, Shannon, and C.J. Holmes, manager of the Vale Press, emerged from his collection, containing details on acquisitions, and discussing copies printed on vellum.

As soon as Ricketts announced he was to design special bindings in pigskin and morocco, Hodson must have placed an order. This followed the decision to publish, apart from paper copies, a small number of copies on vellum. The first book of which vellum copies were printed was the English edition of Apuleius' Cupid and Psyche (November 1897), but there were only two vellum copies. Of E.B. Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese eight copies were printed on vellum, and later vellum editions were usually limited to ten copies. 

E.B. Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese (Vale Press, 1897) [vellum copy, binding for Laurence Hodson, dated '1889', read: 1898 or 1899]
In a letter of 28 October 1901, Holmes wrote that Hodson had been 'our first subscriber' to vellum copies, which must have been in 1897, as the earliest letter to have survived seems to be a letter by Holmes to Hodson from 1897.

A letter from Charles Ricketts to Laurence Hodson
The first letter written by Ricketts to Hodson is postmarked 1 September 1898. I can quote and illustrate it in full, thanks to Bromer Booksellers who now offer this letter for sale. It was written by Ricketts, not at home or at the printer's, but from Hacon & Ricketts's shop, 'At the Sign of the Dial':

Charles Ricketts, Letter to Laurence Hodson, 1 September 1898, p. [1]  [image provided by Bromer Booksellers]
52 Warwick Street
Regent Street

My dear Hodson
Your vellum copies will reach you in a few days, they have been finished this week past, but there are one or two delicate amendments to be made by the good binder, and on Holmes' return they will reach you with the ever persistent account.
I find the dictionary lacking in beautiful words to express my admiration and astonishment over these new designs of mine and Time only "that great colourist" could improve them, by that tender warming of the red of which he has the secret.

Charles Ricketts, Letter to Laurence Hodson, 1 September 1898, p. [2-3]  [image provided by Bromer Booksellers]
With regard to your very own extra special design I am hesitating about: the future use of plate blocks and in the light of recent investigations we may leave the good Rivière for the gooder Leighton who used to bind for Morris (he has lost all his hair) he has the use of the Kelmscott founts for Kelmscott bindings (we have just cast a Vale set of punches) a great advantage this for the binding of our beautiful books.
I have been binding some Morris books in rose gardens, forests, and cathedral front doors for the good Downing of Birmingham I feel after all this exercise of design and gold stamps that the books should belong to me and not leave Warwick Street, or rather Richmond.
I find that Reuter the illuminator has left England for the continent, not on a visit, but for good, that he may live on a small income of his and yet illuminate.
Shannon & I are for the bloody sea-side, on our return I hope we shall see you again in Richmond.
I fancy that Shannon will not have finished against the Autumn much else besides my portrait, but it is a big thing and only wants a little varnish to be ready for the National Gallery.
Do remember me to Mrs Hodson
and believe me
ever yours
CS Ricketts

[Downing was a bookseller from Birmingham; Shannon's portrait of Ricketts is now in the National Portrait Gallery.]

Charles Ricketts, Letter to Laurence Hodson, envelope postmarked 1 September 1898 [image provided by Bromer Booksellers]
The earlier books were all bound in paper covers, for which the paper title labels were printed at the Ballantyne Press (the one exception being the first book, Milton's Early Poems, which had a leather title label on some copies, while others had the title printed in gold on the buckram spine). For the lettering of his special leather bindings, the binder needed to have Vale type, and, as Ricketts mentioned, he had given orders to cast punches for that purpose.

Vellum copies
It seems that Ricketts left the binder Rivière for Leighton, Son, and Hodge around this time, although he also had business with Zaehnsdorf, but the bindings are not signed. They are marked with the Hacon & Ricketts initials, sometimes accompanied by those of the collector. Not only vellum copies were bound in specially designed bindings, some collectors also wanted the earlier paper copies to match their sets. Lord Rosebery, for example, ordered such bindings for several early Vale Press books.

The vellum for the Vale Press books was manufactured by Henry Band and Co in Brentford. Printing vellum copies, which happened after the paper copies had been printed, proved to be difficult, and at one point there was a 'virtual strike over their vellum books' at the Ballantyne Press, as Paul Delaney recorded. Ricketts made a note of that in his diary for 13 August 1901. The costs involved were high, and that is why Ricketts decided not to print vellum copies for the collected edition of Shakespeare that appeared between 1900 and 1903. C.J. Holmes explained this in a letter to Hodson (28 October 1901): 'the cost would be so great, at least £180 apiece, that they might prove only a splendid species of white elephant'.

The Cellini Binding 
Binding vellum copies was quite a challenge. For the two volumes of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (302x205 mm) Hodson had ordered a special binding, and Holmes wrote him on 28 October 1901, almost a year after its publication: 'Your vellum Cellini is at last finished & has been sent off to you today. It has been rather a large undertaking - over 2000 toolings in all! but I trust you will think the result justifies the trouble. We haven't printed any vellum copies of our recent books as the supply of vellum lately has been uneven in quality & in consequence, we have found it difficult to ensure having out as good work as we want to do. This doesn't of course apply to your books, as you being our first subscriber get first pick of the lot'. 

The trouble over the binding can be deduced from Holmes remarks: 'it apparently takes a good deal to destroy good morocco & a book like the vellum Cellini is not likely to be dropped in a pond or left on a roof by accident for a few months'. Indeed, in April 2013, the Hodson copy sold for £8500. The design had 'twenty-nine rows of alternating LH monogram and bird and spray of leaves tool interspersed with small dots' (see the catalogue description). The bird and leaves motif was based on the Hodson family crest. 

Earlier, on 22 August 1901, Ricketts had written to Hodson that he had decided not to use clasps for the bindings, 'as my working jeweller has gone on strike, no, not on strike, he has refused point blank to work any more for me, for ever and ever!' Printers, binders, jewellers, all were exposed to Ricketts's fits of temper if in his eyes their work did not come close to perfection. However, Ricketts wrote to Hodson: 'The vellum Cellinis are a great success, but in the face of the difficulties of binding vellum, there is a chance of our dropping vellum altogether, all the big London binders being either on my black books or on the outer edge of strike, revolt, retaliation & revenge.'

The letters are for sale at Bromer Booksellers.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

110. A Figure Study by Charles Shannon

The firm of Abbott and Holder will exhibit some twentieth century watercolours and drawings at their premises in London's Museum Street (No. 30). The exhibition opens at 12 p.m. on Saturday 7 September, and the show closes on 5 October. The works have been on view already since Saturday 31 August, however, nothing will be sold before the actual exhibition opens.

On show are works by Edward Ardizzone (a sketch for The Festival of Britain, 1951), Max Beerbohm (a drawing of Lord William Nevill), Dora Carrington (a pencil portrait of Ralph Partridge, nude, seated in an armchair, 1921), Augustus John (a composition study), and other works by the likes of Paul Nash, Ronald Searle, Walter Sickert, and Stephen Tennant.

Listed as number 68 is a drawing by Charles Shannon. It is a figure study in red and black chalks, signed and dated, 1911 ('11x16 inches. Framed: 18.5x22.5 inches'). The price is £1600.

Charles Shannon, Figure study (1911)
The drawing depicts three figures: a bending figure, feet wide apart, probably male, dressed in a long sleeveless shirt; a bending topless female figure, and a smaller, seated female figure. The larger studies seem to be for field workers, such as harvesters.

The catalogue says: 'Nothing will be sold before the exhibition opens'.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

109. Oscar Wilde in Philadelphia

On my return from Philadelphia, last July, I was pleased to see a parcel from Oxford University Press with a copy of volume V of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, subtitled Plays 1, containing the texts of The Duchess of Padua, Salomé (the original French text) and Salome (the English version). The combined texts only occupy some 285 pages, whereas the editorial matter needs another 500.

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, volume V
Oscar Wilde visited Philadelphia himself on his American tour in 1882. On 17 January 1882 (he arrived a day earlier) he lectured about 'The English Renaissance' at the Horticultural Hall in Fairmount Park, a building that was erected for the Centennial Exposition in 1875 and that lasted until 1954. In May Wilde returned there to speak about 'The House Beautiful' at the Association Hall (10 May). The 'Association' in question was the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and its venue was located at 1430 Chestnut Street (at 15th Street) in a building that has since been demolished.

An announcement of the second lecture was printed on translucent paper. There is a copy in the Rosenbach Museum and Library. I did not see the flyer when I was there.

There is more about Wilde at the Rosenbach Museum and Library. An image in the new volume illustrates a floor plan for Salomé (the French original). Salomé, daughter of Herodias, dances for Herod, 'the Tetrarch'. Herod is so taken with her dance, that he promises her everything she wants, which turns out to be the head of John the Baptist, who is a captive (in a cistern) in the palace, and who is called Iokanaan. Salomé has fallen in love with him, he has refused her, and she demands his execution by asking for his head on a silver tray. Then, while she kisses the dead lips, Herod has her killed. 

The 'ground plan' in the Philadelphia collection is in several hands. The hand of Wilde is easily recognizable, see for example his 'o la lune', and other words that are written in ink.

'Plan de la scene' for Salomé [detail] (Rosenbach Museum and Library)
The editor of this volume, Joseph Donohue, states: 'Another hand, in pencil, has adjusted some of the features of the scene, moving the wall of the building and the staircase to opposite positions and the cistern to the centre of the stage. The hand is probably that of Charles Ricketts, who, at an early point, at W[ilde]'s request sketched a ground plan for a production of the play - perhaps for Paul Fort's proposed production in 1892 - to which the present sketch may well be related. Ricketts later appears to have used this sketch for his own London production. Earlier, he discussed in detail with W, at W. request, details of the design that might be used for a production of the play.' (p. [508]).

However, the words written in pencil do not show Ricketts's characteristic handwriting. Although the re-location of staircase and cistern are confirmed by Ricketts's own staging of the play in 1906, we must still doubt his involvement in this particular, early sketch of the scene.

The Rosenbach also possesses the third manuscript draft of Salomé, with 'interlinear interventions in the presumed hand of Pierre Louÿs, whose grammatical corrections Wilde accepted but whose other suggestions he steadfastly rejected' (p. 335).

The long, informative introduction frequently quotes Ricketts, who repeatedly wrote about the play.