Wednesday, July 4, 2018

362. Charles Ricketts's Design for Oscar Wilde' Poems (1892) (8)

For the new issue of Oscar Wilde's Poems in 1892, a prospectus was issued by Elkin Mathews & John Lane.

Prospectus for Oscar Wilde's Poems (1892)
[Image: Vincent Barlow]
It is printed on a sheet of cream laid paper (without a watermark), c. 20x12,3 cm, which is slightly larger than the title page in the book (18,9 x 12,5 cm).

Collector Vincent Barlow was so kind as to send me an image of it. 

The printer of the book?

The front side reproduced the image of the title page that was drawn by Ricketts. After Ricketts forwarded the drawing to the publishers', a block was made of it. In some copies of the book a small circle to the left of the word 'London' outside the border indicates that the page had not been typeset, but reproduced after a zinc block that was mounted on wood to the height of type. The small nails that fastened it should not have caught on any ink, but that sometimes happened. (See blog no. 352).

The same goes for the prospectus: the word 'London.' is part of what Ricketts had drawn by hand. However, here two blocks of typeset texts have been added, both decorated with a printer's flower, the first one a leaf, the second one an acorn. 

These might indicate - as Nicholas Frankel suggests - that the bifolium for the new issue and the prospectus were printed at the Ballantyne Press that had used these decorations for Ricketts's and Shannon's magazine The Dial. However, this kind of flower was quite common. Anyway, the new pages or the prospectus were not printed by the Chiswick Press (the firm ended the contract with Mathews almost six months earlier), nor by T. and A. Constable in Edinburgh (as their records do not contain any information on this book; the records do contain information on other works that were printed for Mathews and Lane around the time).

Date of publication?

The first text block gives information about number of copies, format, price, and the exclusiveness of all copies that were to be numbered and signed by the author. The prospectus also mentions the intended date of publication: 'April, 23, 1892'.

The contract for the book had been signed in 1891 (and the new edition was announced in The Publishers' Circular of 10 October 1891). More details about the book were published in the Christmas issue of the same magazine. Then the book was announced for 'Early in 1892'. At that time, the number of copies was stated as '230' and the format as 'Post 8vo'. But there was some delay. 

The binder gave an estimate in February 1892. In The Publishers' Circular of 5 March 1892, the book was announced again. This may have been based on the prospectus.

The Publishers' Circular (5 March 1892)
The book was published in May 1892. The date in the prospectus suggests that there had been another delay that may have occurred after the binder wasted 10 copies. 

Wilde's bibliographer Stuart Mason (Christopher Millard) stated that Poems was published on 26 May 1892.

The Athenaeum, 18 June 1892
Elkin Mathews and John Lane published a 'Notice' (The Athenaeum, 18 June 1892) in which they announced the postponed publication of two books, while Michael Field's Sight and Song was said to be 'just ready'. Wilde's Poems wasn't even mentioned. 

And the book wasn't advertised in The Publisher's  Circular or in The Bookseller, or, for that matter, in newspapers such as The Times. But then, the limited editions of Mathews and Lane were not intended for a large audience, and the publishers didn't want to waste money over advertisements for booksellers, publishers, and others that worked for the trade. They would have preferred to reach their audience without intermediaries such as local bookshops, and so they published their announcements in journals of standing that were read by book collectors. The Athenaeum and The Academy were examples of those. Even here, we see that the publishers didn't waste their money on advertisements. First, we have to turn to The Athenaeum of 30 April 1892.

Just a week after the date that was mentioned in the prospectus, The Athenaeum, published an announcement.

The Athenaeum, 30 April 1892
The description of Wilde's Poems follows the text of the prospectus, stating that 200 copies are for sale, and that - probably because the prospectus had already reached the customers - 'Very few remain'. The phrase, of course, emphasizes the limited number of copies, and the exclusivity of owning one of those. However, the announcements also made clear that the book had not yet been published! It would be published 'Next week'.

After this, The Athenaeum, didn't mention Poems anymore.

So, we open the ledgers of The Academy. In the week of 30 April the journal remained silent about the intended publications of Mathews and Lane. However, a week later, on 7 May 1892, The Academy published a follow-up advertisement of the publishers.

The Academy, 7 May 1892
And here we find that Oscar Wilde's author's edition of Poems is 'Just ready'. In the case of Mathews and Lane, the phrase 'Just ready' might be intended to increase the book collector's eagerness to obtain a copy, and doesn't really have to mean that the book had been published. One remembers the case of Sight and Song by Michael Field. It is 'Just ready' in The Academy of 7 May and also 'Just ready' in The Athenaeum of 17 June. Let's assume the former statement is closer to the truth than the latter. The Academy also announced that the Field book would be published 'next week' (14 May), while J.M. Gray's  review of it appeared in the issue of 18 June. The word 'Ready' was used with the same kind of nonchalance: The Book of the Rhymers' Club was said to be 'Ready' in the 7 May advertisement, while a review had appeared in The Academy of 26 March 1892.

The prospectus for Oscar Wilde's Poems was not noticed by The Academy, nor by The Athenaeum.

However, we may now assume that the publication date of Poems by Oscar Wilde is not 26 May (as stated by Mason or other bibliographers and scholars), but around 7 May 1892.

Poems didn't appear in the November 1892 list of 'new and forthcoming books' of Elkin Mathews and John Lane that was inserted in Michael Field's Stephania (1892), nor in subsequent lists of their books; therefore, we may assume that the book had sold out before the end of the summer.