Wednesday, October 1, 2014

166. A Ricketts-Style Binding?

In 1909 John Lane published a play by the German writer and journalist Hermann Sudermann (1857-1928): Johannes was first performed in 1898 and had been reprinted many times. The English translation was published as John the Baptist.  

Hermann Sudermann, John the Baptist (1909): title page
Recently, the green cloth binding with gilt decorations and lettering, was called 'attractive' by a book dealer. Another copy was priced as a 'Ricketts-style binding'.

The lettering on the front cover is not in Ricketts's style, but the flame-like ornament is close to his mode of design, which is self-evident if one knows that the ornament was designed by Charles Shannon.

Hermann Sudermann, John the Baptist (1909): front cover
The design of the front cover of John the Baptist, however is not at all reminiscent of Shannon's careful designs for Oscar Wilde's plays, nor of Ricketts's balanced cover designs. 

Ornament for Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan (top)
and Hermann Sudermann, John the Baptist
However, it is clear that the original ornament was re-used for the Sudermann binding. Shannon had designed it for the first edition of Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan that was published by John Lane in 1893. The design was repeated three times on the front and back cover.

Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan (1893) (a copy on E-Bay 2014)
Shannon designed the ornament for a horizontal use, pointing to the left or right, and used a mirrored image to reach (with a minimum of expense) a lively and pleasing effect. For John the Baptist the ornament was used (certainly without Shannon's knowledge) vertically only, without the subtle variation in the repetition, and placing the designs too close to the title and author's name.

Hermann Sudermann, John the Baptist (1909): front cover (detail)
The circled dots were used as a separate stamp to decorate the spine title of John the Baptist. Shannon had not made use of these dots as a separate ornament. And the spine decoration was not a replica, as we can deduct from the central dot, which was as large as the others, while in Shannon's design it had been a very small and subtle central dot.
Hermann Sudermann, John the Baptist (1909): spine (detail)
Without the assistance of the original artist, most re-used book designs are employed in a less subtle, usually cheap, arbitrary, and less convincing way.