Wednesday, January 20, 2016

234. Copeland & Day Bookplate

The Boston firm of Herbert Copeland and Fred Holland Day was one the commercial American publishing firms that tried to follow in the footsteps of the Arts and Crafts movement and the English private presses. They strove to set a new standard in 'imaginative publishing' (as their bibliographer, Joe W. Kraus puts it).

During the six years of its existence (1893-1899), Copeland & Day published some innovatively designed books, such as Stephen Crane's book of poetry The Black Riders and Other Lines (1895) with a cover design by Frederic C. Gordon, and Robert Louis Stevenson's An Elegy and Other Poems Mainly Personal (1895) with a title page designed by Will Bradley. Some of their books were joint publications with the London firm The Bodley Head. An example is Oscar Wilde's poem The Sphinx of which 50 copies were for sale in America; only the large paper edition mentions the name of Copeland & Day. Ricketts had designed The Sphinx, at the request of Elkin Mathews and John Lane, but he also did some design work for the Boston publisher.

Charles Ricketts, 'Copeland & Day' (1894/1895)
Ricketts did not design a book for the American firm, but, at the request of Fred Holland Day he designed a bookplate for the firm. He was asked to do this towards the end of 1894. 

In his bibliography Messrs. Copeland & Day (1979), Kraus includes an illustration of the bookplate; the caption reads: 'Copeland & Day Bookplate, design by Charles Ricketts. Printed in deep yellow green (Centroid 118) on yellowish white paper (Centroid 92). 13.2x8.7 cm.' The bookplate is not mentioned in the bibliography, nor in the introduction.

What was the use of this bookplate? It was not meant for the private libraries of Copeland and Day, nor for books sold by the firm, but apparently in use as 'office copies' that were kept on the shelves of the firm. At least one book bearing this bookplate has been identified: it is a copy of Oscar Wilde's Salome (1894) that was sold at auction in 2009.

The bookplate was printed in green, Kraus recorded. However, a few copies have been printed in black. These may have been proof copies. One such copy can be found in the Carl Woodring Collection, Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texas. Another copy was recently sold at auction.

Charles Ricketts, 'Copeland & Day' (1894/1895)

Both copies, printed in green and in black, are quite rare, and more difficult to find than a copy of The Sphinx. The design is very much in style with The Sphinx drawings and lettering. The 'O' and 'A's in the bookplate have the same sort of curved lines. 

Charles Ricketts, initial letters for The Sphinx (1894)
In The Sphinx these letters are used as initials, printed in green after Ricketts's drawings (these are not wood engravings). In the bookplate they also have been drawn and photomechanically reproduced. The Art Nouveau style of these letters exaggerates the horizontal curve in the 'A' to the extent that is has become diagonal. In the 'O' such a line is quite unusual.

Even the landscapes in Ricketts's drawings for The Sphinx display similarities, especially in the curved lines and rock formations, see for example the lower left corner of the third drawing in The Sphinx

Charles Ricketts, illustration (detail) for The Sphinx (1894)
The drawing for the Copeland & Day bookplate resembles those of The Sphinx, but it was not intended to illustrate Wilde's poem; there is not one line in the poem that refers to the figure of a woman, bending down to pick a flower that seems to be the source of a stream that flows from the rock. 


1866 Charles Ricketts 2016

In 2016 this blog will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Ricketts's birth on 2 October 1866.
Contributions are most welcome.