Wednesday, December 30, 2015

231. Vale Press Spine Label Variations

The labels on the spine of Vale Press books usually carry the title of the book, and the name of the author. Nine of them only mention the title (Empedocles on Etna, 1896, Bibliography of the Vale Press, 1904, among others). One of them only mentions the name of the author, namely the edition of Lyrical Poems of Shelley, 1898; the label has: 'Shelley'.

Twelve books have spine labels mentioning both author and title; four of those include the Christian names (Thomas Campion for example), two have the initials for the Christian names (H. Vaughan) only. The two Blake editions have not been treated identically: The Book of Thel (1897) mentions 'W. Blake' on the spine label, while Poetical Sketches (1899) has his full name: 'William Blake'. It is not always a question of lack of room on the labels: some labels have been lettered from head to foot, others have been lettered across. 

Four spine labels mention the title and the initials of the author's name: Sonnets by E.B.B. (1898) being the first of those, while three plays by Michael Field only mention 'M.F.' underneath the full title: The World at Auction (1898), The Race of Leaves (1901) and Julia Domna (1903). The first play of Michael Field, however, mentioned the full name Michael Field on the spine label: Fair Rosamund (1897). 

'Sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning' was a bit too long for the spine label of this small book, the spine measuring 154 mm; the full name would have required a label of about 140 mm; it would have covered almost the whole spine. (By the way: the title page mentions E.B. Browning; only the colophon mentions the full name of the author.) The Michael Field trilogy is another story.

There is quite some variation, and moreover, even for the same book spine labels may differ. As not all books were bound at the same time (certainly not during the early years of the press), the printer was asked to print new ones when sales made this necessary. Note, for instance, the spine label on two copies of The Race of Leaves.

Michael Field, The Race of Leaves (1901): spine labels

On the left spine label (see the image above) the initials M.F. have been placed much closer together than on the one on the right: 5 mm instead of 11 mm. The left one is the more common of the two. More importantly, the decorations are not identical. One has an acorn motive, the other one a leaf ornament. Both - and other small decorations, such as stars - were used for the spine labels, but usually the same design was used for all copies of an edition. Not in this case. 

As the two other titles of the Roman trilogy - as they called this series of three plays - had spine labels with the M.F. at the far ends of the label with ample white in between, it may have been the label on the right that was the later one. However, The Race of Leaves was the second play of the trilogy, and therefore no standardization may have been intended. Also, there are more descrepancies. The first volume has an acorn motive on the spine label, the last one has no decoration at all. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

230. Printing black in The Race of Leaves

Michael Field's play The Race of Leaves was published by The Vale Press in June 1901. The border for the first text page was based on a wood-engraving by Ricketts, which he had begun working on in January. There were four panels, the left and right one running the whole length of the page with images of thyrsus, vine branch and rings in the left panel, and a portrait of Commodus and an Amazon with a lamp in the panel on the right.

Michael Field, The Race of Leaves (1901), page [v]: border designed by Charles Ricketts
The border pages were printed from electrotypes, but this did not always mean that the black was evenly printed, as a comparison of several copies of this book can prove. The lower left and lower right hand corners show grey areas in some copies.

Charles Ricketts, border for The Race of Leaves (1901), detail

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

229. Charles Ricketts and the Search Engines

The title of this week's blog sounds a bit like a children's book, and I have to admit that what could have become serious research was mostly play. I compared the results of a number of search engines using the same query: "charles ricketts".

The list of results for this search in Google starts with Wikipedia, followed by this blogspot, and then by links to the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Tate.

Google search for "Charles Ricketts" (December 2015)

In Bing the results are slightly different. First result is Wikipedia, followed by 'Top 25 Charles Ricketts profiles' on LinkedIn (none of them being our Ricketts of course), and third in place is this blogspot.

Bing search for "Charles Ricketts" (December 2015)
The results in Yahoo, again, were slightly different: first comes a link to Whitepages (addresses found), followed by Wikipedia, Top 25 LinkedIn profiles, and images. This blogspot follows after those.

Yahoo search for "Charles Ricketts" (December 2015)
The Chinese Baidu search machine gives a markedly different result. First comes Wikipedia, then some links to other search machines (of Baidu and Bing), then another Wikipedia page on Charles Holmes, followed by a page of Mostly links to links and links to advertisements. Could not read all the details in Chinese characters of course.

Baidu search for "Charles Ricketts" (December 2015)
Our blogspot can be found, but one has to search for my name in combination with Ricketts's in order to get the result. A search for "ricketts" [and] "shannon", does not give any relevant results. Google answers this new query with a list headed by a link to this blogspot; Yahoo and Bing show this blogspot in second place, while Facebook comes first.

A search that combines results from several search engines - using Dogpile - lists Wikipedia, followed by LinkedIn profiles, and immediately after that this blogspot. Another combined search, using IxQuick delivers us a listing of Wikipedia, LinkedIn, and this blogspot (interspersed with links to Wiki pages about Ricketts and Wilde). Dogpile and IxQuick change your query while you type it: they insist that you are not looking for "Charles Ricketts", but for "Charles tickets". Much more popular, apparently. 

Apart from the Chinese search engine, most sites have similar results.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

228. Japanese closets in Ricketts's design?

For Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx Ricketts made his best known binding design. The vellum covers are blocked in gold with a design of four figures (on the front and the back of the book) and the geometrical lines suggest a room - by night (back cover) and by day (front cover).

At the top of the design on both covers is a strip of what seems to be some sort of Japanese closet with simple sliding doors. The similarity to such closets is suggested by the panels underneath the image, which seem to be larger doors in front of which the figures are standing:  a woman with a lantern, a leaping sphinx, a crouching sphinx, and a woman with a garland.

Charles Ricketts, design for Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1893): front cover
The interpretation of the 'closets' is, however, complicated by two opened doors, one on the front cover which gives a view of a bell and a bell wheel, and another one of the back cover, which shows a dove carrying a branch in its beak. Both are Christian symbols.

Charles Ricketts, design for Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1893): back cover
Both opened 'doors' show features from the world outside; we can not assume that the flying dove is locked up in the closet, or that the bell is located within the house. The row of 'closets' must be a set of windows.

A comparison of the back and front cover shows that the doors have knobs on either left or right. It seems that the dove appears when the left door is opened, and the bell when the door on the right is opened. The knob is visible on both sides. The other option - the sliding door has been moved to the left or right - does not explain the changed placement of the door knobs.

Conclusion, for now: there are no Japanese-style sliding doors in front of a row of closets on the cover of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx. What we see, possibly, are shutters placed in front of the top windows. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

227. The Dynasts in 1920

For the production of Thomas Hardy's play The Dynastst at the Kingsway Theatre in London, Ricketts designed a lithographic poster. The play ran from 25 November 1914 to 30 January 1915. 'Owing to a cold', as his wife later wrote, 'Hardy was unable to be present on the first representation, but he went up two or three weeks later.'

The play was about the Napoleonic Wars, and the main figure on the poster is that of War, a three-headed figure with a headdress of horns, possibly a satyr. It holds a scythe in one hand, and on the palm of his other hand is a toga-clad figure, who can be identified as Napoleon. Along the bottom edge of the poster are battle scenes with soldiers and a horse. 

Charles Ricketts, poster for The Dynasts (1914)
The lettering on the poster was written by Ricketts and mentioned the title and author above the image and the name of the theatre underneath. This poster was printed by Vincent Brooks Day & Son Ltd. in London. Additionally there were 50 proofs, signed by Thomas Hardy and Charles Ricketts. On these the text-lines had been omitted. Furthermore, there was a limited edition of 12 copies, signed by author and designer, with small signed drawings by Ricketts. These little drawings depicted 'Napoleon and Death', 'Napoleon and the Sphinx', 'Napoleon as a Sphinx', etcetera.

R.L. Purdy, in his bibliography of Thomas Hardy, mentions the performance, but not the poster. He also mentioned a later performance by the Oxford University Dramatic Society at the New Theatre Oxford, 10 to 14 February 1920. For this occasion a new poster had been printed, of which I was not aware when I published my checklist of the books designed by Ricketts and Shannon in 1996. The text for the poster was not in Ricketts's lettering. A copy of this rare poster was given to the Victoria and Albert Museum by Mrs T.E. Griffits in 1958.

Charles Ricketts, poster for The Dynasts (1920) (©) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Note, 10 May 2023
Martin Steenson (Books & Things, London) wrote me that Mrs T.E. Griffits donated the poster in memory of her husband T.E. Griffits who was in charge of the Vincent Brooks, Day & Son were the poster had been printed.