Wednesday, August 29, 2018

370. An Early Computer-Based Antiquarian List, May 1985

From the hundreds of antiquarian catalogues that I recently handled - in an attempt to save space - I found one published by Blackwell's Rare Books in 1985. It has a surprising introduction. I remember seeing catalogues that contain a short preamble on the history of the firm, or an account written by a collector on the eve of the sale of his life's work, or an obituary of one of the owners of the firm, but the 1985 Blackwell catalogue has a rather technical foreword.

It is about the introduction of computer software to improve the firm's sales methods.

Blackwell's Rare Books (May 1985)

The computer-printed introduction is signed in pencil by the firm's dealer, Philip Brown:

You are probably aware that we have been considering for some time the use of computers to assist us with catalogue production, selective mailing to interested customers, and for support in many other vital tasks of our antiquarian bookselling, while retaining total flexibility with the personal touches which are so important. We have selected a range of micro-computers with unique software, which will (we believe) achieve the initial objectives we have set, and the first three of these systems are just coming into use.

Blackwell's Rare Books (May 1985)
Blackwell's modernisation made it possible to send specialised lists to customers such as my friend Ton Leenhouts who received this first list in May 1985. The list could be more topical, and didn't have to be expensively printed, as the introduction explained:

An important facility given to us now is that of producing frequent "proof lists". Each list will be subject-classified, and will comprise a selection of descriptions of recent purchases as they come into stock. They will be produced in-house, and will contain bibliographical information to our usual standards. Overseas copies will be despatched by air-mail, and all proof lists will have a very limited circulation. After a brief period, any unsold items will be forwarded to our more widely distributed catalogues.

And so, a new era began. The descriptions, and the books on offer didn't change, and contemporary collecting fashions were not discontinued. For that to happen, the internet had to be invented first.

Inside, we see the traditional division of modern books into two sections: 'Private Press Books', and 'Modern First and Limited Editions'.

In the first section we find a heading for Ricketts's Vale Press.

Blackwell's Rare Books (May 1985)
Comparing prices, we may perhaps deduct that the more desirable presses were Ashendene Press, Officina Bodoni, and Shakespeare Head Press, while other presses were relatively more affordable, such as Golden Cockerell Press, Nonesuch Press, and, indeed, Vale Press.

Blackwell's Rare Books (May 1985)
The descriptions offer other clues for collecting fashions. Entry No 40, for example, contains a description of the Vale Press edition of William Meinhold's Mary Schweidler, the Amber Witch (1903). The notice very carefully describes every imaginable wear and tear, but also points out that the book has never been used for reading:

very slight rubbing to the corners, endpapers lightly browned, untrimmed and almost entirely unopened[.]

The folded quires that formed the book had not been cut open by previous owners, and there must have been a few in the years between 1902 and 1985. As times goes by, such unopened copies get scarcer, while collecting fashions change. The unread book, the unopened book is not as desirable as it used to be. Is the private press book still some sort of trophy? Other features seem to overshadow that particular one: prices are now dictated by condition, the author's fame, and provenance. Nowadays, an 'ideal copy' is a famous book written by a famous writer and owned by a famous collector, while both collector and author have left their emotional traces - words, drawings, tears - between the pages. On the other hand, prices create fashions as well: the most expensive book must be desirable.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

369. Ricketts, Shannon, and The Double Crown Club

In 1924, the printer Oliver Simon (Curwen Press) formed a then nameless club that somewhat later would assume the name of The Double Crown Club. This society of printers, publishers, book designers, and illustrators still exists and regularly gathers for dinner and talks. 

Co-founder was Hubert Foss, Oxford University Press editor. Apart from these two men, the earliest members of the committee were G. Wren Howard (Jonathan Cape) and Gerard Meynell (Westminster Press), while Holbrook Jackson was invited to accept the office of president. They made lists of potential members of the new 'Typographical Dining Club', (this was shortly before the definitive name had been decided upon) and invitations were sent out to forty-seven ordinary members and twelve future honorary members. Some declined, some didn't reply. 

The Florence Restaurant, Rupert Street, London (Soho Museum)
Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon were among the honorary members, and they were present at the first official dinner on 31 October 1924 in the famous Florence Restaurant in Rupert Street - a restaurant that in the 1890s had been favoured by Oscar Wilde, and other decadent writers.

Initially, the members were all male. That changed in 1979 when Nicolete Gray became the first female member of the club.

There are several books about the history of the club. Some of the talks that members and guest have given, were published, but the main paper heritage of the Club consists of menus that were especially designed and printed for each occasion.

"Double Crown', designed by Noel Rooke (1925)

Ricketts and Shannon started as honorary members, but the honorary membership itself lead to many discussions, and when in April 1925, 'a ballot was taken for  honorary and foreign membership' (as James Moran wrote in 1974), some honorary members were not elected. That happened to John Drinkwater, Sydney Cockerell, Edward Johnston, A.W. Pollard, Robert Bridges, St John Hornby, Emery Walker, R.B. McKerrow, Lucien Pissarro, Ricketts and Shannon. This problem of the 'blackballed eminences' simmered for months.

Finally, in October 1925 the rejected honorary members were asked to become ordinary members.

Ricketts never gave a talk at the Club's meetings, nor did Shannon. Their friend Thomas Sturge Moore talked about the books of Ricketts on 21 March 1929, the text of which was never published, and I don't know whether the subject was present in the room.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

368. A Written Picture of Charles Ricketts (3)

Green Lizard Sonnet

O Love, the transformations thou hast given!
Love, through all transformations I believe.
The Jove that I have seen casting his levin
I wear as a green lizard on my sleeve...
Love, Love! Can'st thou take on such utter dearth,
Nor lovely as the moon in lapse of powers,
Nor burning frangipanni at the hearth,
Nor with soft incense incensing the hours?
Why move so alien, why art thou thus?
Wear any mask, so thine eyes pierce the shaft,
Or turn thee wailing to thy Genius:
Sighs are there that to me thou can'st not waft,
Imaginations, hopes that must divide --
Yet, as thou art a god, interpret wide!

                                                          Michael Field

This complete version, based on manuscripts, was published for the first time in Ivor C. Treby's anthology of Michael Field's poetry, A Shorter Shirazad (1999).

Michael Field, 'Green Lizard Sonnet'
in Wild Honey from Various Thyme (1908)
 When Michael Field published the poem in their book Wild Honey from Various Thyme in 1908, the printer mutilated the sonnet, which, lacking line 9, became a 'triskaidekain', as Treby pointed out. 

Charles Ricketts, detail of binding
for Michael Field's Wild Honey from Various Thyme (1908)
The subject was Ricketts: 'recently he had not been sufficiently attentive', and on 18 November 1904 the Michael Field journal noted: 'I tell Painter [Ricketts] I have written a furious sonnet against him called the Green Lizard Sonnet'.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

367. A Written Picture of Charles Ricketts (2)

An Enchanter

To all men of the earth a foreigner,
He lends his alien glance to every eye;
The other side the moon he passes by,
And we too, of his freedom, double her.

We tingle with his rhapsody of sight,
And shiver in the coldness it employs;
Yet warmth the lizard from its slab enjoys
We feel the moment that we curse our plight.

From cunning distance his caress we take -
So wild things of the woodland please & mock:
In hours of gravity his thoughts forsake

His troubling mortals of the magic flock.
Ah, but his laugh detains us! He has need
His malice should enliven ears that heed.

                                    Michael Field

Ivor C. Treby in 1986 (Bodleian Library)
This poem about Charles Ricketts was written by Michael Field (Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper). There are manuscript versions written by Katharine and Edith - a joint poem that was written in 1901 and published in Wild Honey from Various Thymes (1908).

A collection of their poems was published in 1999 by Ivor C. Treby (1933-2012). He was a biochemist, and worked as a teacher in London, but was also a poet and literary researcher. His research focused on Michael Field, and he published several books about these poets, in which he wrote about poems, books, manuscripts, correspondence, and more. 

For these he arranged the work in idiosyncratic ways, talking about this poem, for example, as T0988. It always takes me some time to decipher the codes he so cleverly fabricated for cross references. He unearthed a wealth of material. His archive is now in the collection of the Bodleian Library, not only as a testimony of him as a poet and researcher, but as a gay man whose archive now testifies of the 20th-struggle for equal rights. (See the announcement of the online publication of his archive.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

366. A Written Portrait of Thomas Sturge Moore

The Poet

Within his eyes are hung lamps of his sanctuary:
A wind, from whence none knows, can set in sway
And spill their light by fits; but yet their ray
Returns, deep-boiled, to its obscurity.

The world as from a dullard turns annoyed
To stir the days with show or deeds or voices;
But if one spies him justly one rejoices,
With silence that the careful lips avoid.

He is a plan, a work of some strange passion
Life has conceived apart from Time's harsh drill,
A thing it hides and cherishes to fashion

At odd and bright moments yo its secret will:
Holy and foolish, ever set apart,
He waits the leisure of his god's free heart.

                                                                 Michael Field

'Michael Field' (Katharine Bradley and Emma Cooper) first met the poet Thomas Sturge Moore in June 1901.

Katharine Bradley and dog Whym Chow

Katharine made a note in her diary:

Moore, the Poet, comes to dine with us

and about his eyes she said:

from illuminated eyes gives worship to his god

The poem dates from around this time, and was published in Wild Honey from Various Thymes (1908). 'Henry' (Edith Cooper) wrote to her sister Amy that Moore was a 'genuine new friend', and that he was 'intensely modern & in no wise decadent'. (See Ivor C. Treby's anthology A Shorter Shirazad. 101 Poems of Michael Field (1999).