Wednesday, January 29, 2020

444. A Posthumous Season

One of Charles Ricketts's first posthumous publications was a yearbook from Christie's auction house in London, Christie's Season 1931, covering the period October 1930-July 1931, and illustrated with photographs of paintings, silver objects, sculptures, furniture and stained glass windows.

Charles Ricketts, design for Christie's Season 1931
The book was published in December 1931. The foreword mentioned Ricketts:

This year it is our good fortune to have our Annual Review go forth dignified and embellished by a special cover designed by one of the most celebrated of British Artists, namely Mr. Charles Ricketts, R.A. To him our sincere thanks are due.

Charles Ricketts, design for Christie's Season 1931
These words came too late, because Ricketts had died on 7 October 1931. That's why a loosely inserted printed notice was added:

We have to record with the deepest regret that Mr. Charles Ricketts, R.A., who designed the cover for this volume, passed away while the book was in the press. C.M. & W.

The book is bound in half grey buckram, with white paper covers, with a repetitive design of a winged wheel symbolizing Mercury, patron of commerce, printed in blue. Part of the design contains a drawn label within blue and green lines and lettering by Ricketts (omitting the apostrophe) printed in green.

Charles Ricketts, design for Christie's Season 1931

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

443. Some Zaehnsdorf Bindings for Vale Press Books

In the 1890s, Charles Ricketts had some of the Vale Press books bound by Rivière and Sons, to a design of his own. He quickly switched to another binder, Zaehnsdorf. He had a copy of The Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney bound to his own design for the Arts & Crafts exhibition of 1899. 

Often these bindings are not signed, neither by Ricketts, nor by the bookbinder's. The firm was founded by Joseph Zaehnsdorf (1816-1896), who had come to London in 1837. By the time bookbindings for the Vale Press were executed by the firm, it was headed by the son, Joseph William Zaehnsdorf (1853-1930).

Not all Vale Press books in a binding by Zaehnsdorf were designed by Ricketts. Later collectors often brought their books to the firm, and these bindings have traditional designs.

Zaehnsdorff binding stamp in a copy of Fifty Songs by Thomas Campion(Vale Press, 1896)
Recently I found two online images of such bindings on Vale Press books and their design was identical. Both mention the name of Zaehnsdorf on the inside of the front board, and at the back they show a blind stamp that the company used for quality bindings. Frank Broomhead described the blind stamp (in The Zaehnsdorfs (1842-1947). Craft Bookbinders. Pinner, 1986, p. 73):

This mark is a small oval tool apparently used, along with similar stamps, as a quality mark on the superior bindings produced by the firm. It represents the medieval apprentice seated at the sewing frame and is taken from the wood engraving of a binder's shop by Jost Amman, which Zaehnsdorf's used in their advertising and on their stationary [...]

Binding stamps used by Zaehnsdorf
A copy of Fifty Songs by Thomas Campion (1896) was bound in red goatskin leather, a copy of Charles Ricketts's A Catalogue of Mr. Shannon's Lithographs (1902) was bound in brown goatskin leather of the same design.

Zaehnsdorff bindings on Fifty Songs by Thomas Campion 
and A Catalogue of Mr Shannon's Lithographs
Both bindings have gilt linear tooling to covers and gilt title on spine, inner dentelles with foliate gilt tooling and silk endpapers. They may have been made for one and the same collector - but they bear no bookplates - or for an exhibition of Zaehnsdorf's work. The first was for sale at Capricorn Books in Canada, the other one was offered by Roe and Moore in London.

Zaehnsdorff bindings on Fifty Songs by Thomas Campion

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

442. Sybil Pye's Use of Vale Press Type for Bookbindings

In a 2012 blog post I wrote about the lettering on Sybil Pye's bookbindings. Collector Paul Mallett pointed out to me that I haven't written a sequel; so here's to it. 

Lettering on Sybil Pye binding (Daphnis and Chloe, 1893)
William Andrews Clark Library]
Blog 66. A Sybil Pye Binding (October 31, 2012) suggested that the lettering on Pye's binding could not have been Vale Type, although Marianne Tidcombe asserted this in her outstanding Women Bookbinders 1880-1920 (1996, page 148): 'The letters she used were Vale Capitals designed by Ricketts'. Why not? In the first place because the Vale letters didn't exist anymore. All lead type was melted down after the closure of the Vale Press in 1904, and Pye first tried her hand at bookbinding in 1906. Secondly, because those letters were not suitable for use on a bookbinding. The process requires special tools that can withstand the heat required for applying the text on a leather spine. For his own bindings, Ricketts had the titles set in Vale type at Ballantyne's, and then printed them on paper  labels. For his linen, parchment and leather bookbindings, plates were made based on photographs of the printed titles, and these were used as stamps for spine titling.

In her book, Tidcombe, didn't quote a source for her assertion, but Mallett reminded me of a catalogue that includes a statement by Sybil Pye herself about the binding for Apuleius's De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis (1901): English Bindings 1490-1940 in the Library of J.R. Abbey, edited by G.D. Hobson (London 1940, page 176): 

The three tools used in this binding were cut to my design by Knights & Cottrell. But the letters for the title, also cut by them, were taken from capitals designed by Charles Ricketts for the Vale Press. A number of fine tools, which the artist created for bindings of his own design, were given to me by him, and I have used them on many books. A few that did not go with my style, I have passed on to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where the whole set will eventually be found.

Knights & Cottrell made the tools and based them on photographs after printed Vale Press characters. That explains two points. First of all that the characters are slightly different from the real Vale Press characters and secondly why the titles on Pye's bindings are not always in alignment, as a separate tool was made for each letter, and she had to stamp them one by one on the spines. See, for example, her binding for the Vale Press edition of Thomas Browne's Religio Medici.

Sybil Pye, binding for Vale Press edition of Thomas Browne,
Religio Medici (1902, binding: 1940)
Tidcombe also pointed out that Pye didn't use Arabic numerals, but preferred to 'form dates with roman numerals'. She had no choice, because Ricketts hadn't designed any numbers for the Vale Type. 

Conclusion: Pye didn't use Vale Type for her bindings, but used specially cut tools of which the design was based on the Vale Type.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

441. An Encyclopaedic Manifesto

The private presses of the 1890s wanted to secure a place of their own in the publishing world and marked their territory with manifestos on the 'revival of printing' and with bibliographies of their own publications. William Morris as well as Charles Ricketts and Lucien Pissarro did so, and others would succeed them.

Ricketts's manifestos appeared shortly after each other: in March 1898 Charles Ricketts's and Lucien Pissarro's De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée. William Morris et son influence sur les arts et métiers appeared; in June 1899 A Defence of the Revival of Printing followed. Finally, in 1904 Ricketts published the bibliography of his Vale Press, preceded by an essay that can once again be read as a manifesto.

Charles Ricketts, 'Book-Printing' (1902)
[Illustration: courtesy of John Aplin]
A lesser-known essay by Ricketts is actually also a manifesto, although it is disguised as a lemma in an encyclopaedia. This is the lemma 'Book-Printing' written by Ricketts for the tenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica from 1902. Although the Vale Press was in its final phase, it would remain active for at least another year.

And although readers would expect a contribution on the art of printing in general, and even though the editors had asked Ricketts for such a contribution shortly after lemmata on 'Bookbinding' and 'Book-Plates', he delivered an article with a much limited scope, focusing on the 'revival of printing', starting with Morris's Kelmscott Press, continuing on the Vale Press and ending with a short list of other presses in America and England (including the Doves Press). 

Ricketts did not focus on the latest technical developments, but on the recent rise of private presses run by artists and especially on the idea that a book should be designed by one artist, in other words: a graphic designer.

Ricketts seized the opportunity to consolidate his position by naming his own Vale Press second and spending almost as many words on it as he did on the Kelmscott Press. Moreover, this essay did not appear as an article in a fancy magazine, or as a newspaper article to be quickly forgotten, but as an official lemma in the most important English encyclopaedia. His vision was now laid down for eternity in a publication considered extremely reliable.

Because this manifesto is less well known than the others, the complete text follows here.

Book-Printing. - The latest development in printing, in which each component of a book is controlled by a sense of harmony and beauty, owes its conception and realization to William Morris, and takes definite form in the founts and books of the Kelmscott Press. Previous efforts by Morris himself, Mr Daniel of Oxford, and others, count only as experiments towards a tasteful use of materials to hand. The great originality of the Kelmscott books lies, not merely in the order and design shown in their "build" and decoration, but in the vivifying of each part from type to paper by a high order of design and execution. Herein they differed in 1891 in all essentials, and in many new particulars, from all other modern books both in aim and aspect.
    The Kelmscott Press is distinguished by the use of three founts designed by William Morris. The Troye and Chaucer founts, both of them Gothic, named after books in which they first appeared, are best fitted for ornamental mediaeval works. These books owe their chief interest to the bold handsome decoration by Mr Morris, and to woodcuts after designs by Sir Edward Burne-Jones; one of the most noteworthy examples is the "Chaucer," of a page of which we are, by the special permission of William Morris's trustees, enabled to give a reduced facsimile (p. 307). In Swinburne's Atalanta in Calydon we note the partial failure of this order of type to fit the character of a modern book. In the Golden or Roman fount lie the strength and future of the Kelmscott Press as an influence on type. The Golden Type is without the exaggerated contraction of form laterally, the exaggerated use of thick and thin strokes, or the vicious stroke-terminations common to modern founts. It is a type of full body, designed in careful relation to the up-and-down strokes, and resting upon solid serifs, as with Jenson, for instance, but in detail more allied to fine penmanship or even black letter. The character of the decoration in the Kelmscott pages is stamped with the vigour which one expects from a designer of Morris's importance. Usually on a black ground, the forms combine a northern character in thistle leaf and composite flower, with a fluency of curve comparable to the famous borders of Ratdolt of Venice.
    The Vale books, often classed by writers and collectors with the Kelmscott, may be counted with them so far as they also are singular in being controlled by one designer, from the important matter of type, decoration, and illustration, to that of "build" and press-work. The first Vale book in which each of these conditions was achieved is Milton's Minor Poems (1896). In this the Roman type, known as the Vale fount, designed by Charles Ricketts, differs from the Venetian and Kelmscott founts by a greater roundness or fulness of body, and in a modification of details by the conditions of type-making. The second fount used in the Vale issues, first employed in The Plays of Shakespeare (1896) [i.e. 1900], is less round in body, more traditional in detail, and lighter in effect. To be mentioned with the foregoing are some half-dozen books, printed by L. Pissarro in the Vale fount at his press, "The Eragny Press," with woodcuts decorations. They are unique in the revival of printing by the occasional use of colour and gold.
    No other books have hitherto combined the conditions specified of new type, woodcut decoration, original woodcuts, and personal control. Two American founts, adapted from Morris, are tentatively used by publishers. Mons. Grasset, in France, has designed an eclectic fount, but none of these can be associated with a special press or series of notable books. Recently, however, Messrs. Sanderson and Walker have recut Jenson's fount and established the Doves Press, conspicuous for its taste and technical excellence.
    A certain number of technical conditions had to be faced in the revival of printing for the first time in late years, i.e., the printing of woodcuts on hand-made paper, and the printing of borders and initials in the body of the text; both in pitch and in sustained evenness of tone the Kelmscott Press (notably in the Chaucer) remains unsurpassed. The inking-up process employed to achieve the above conditions is a very gradual one. The paper chosen for its regular thickness is, moreover, slightly damped, to avoid a gritty aspect in the blacks; hence the delicate embossed appearance of the pages, and the absence of all overloading with ink. In the manipulation of English or "Roman" vellum the consistency of the inks used is even greater, the vellum, of course, not being damped. The so-called "Roman" vellum is made at Brentford. The vellum used for the Kelmscott Chaucer was damped.
   Authorities. - Articles on the revival have appeared in the Athenaeum, the Saturday Review, Magazine of Art, The Studio, and the Contemporary Review. More detailed and more accurate information will be found in A Note by William Morris on his Aims in founding the Kelmscott Press. Kelmscott Press, 1898. - Floury. De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée. Paris. - Hacon and Ricketts, A Defence of the Revival of Printing. - See also article, Morris, William. (C.Ri.)
[The New Volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica constituting in combination with the existing volume of the ninth edition The Tenth Edition of that work, and also supplying a new, distinctive, and independent Library of Reference dealing with recent events and developments. The second of the new volumes, being Volume XXVI of the complete work.(Edinburgh & London, 1902, page 306]

[The text is reprinted in Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art: Selected Writings. Edited with an introduction by Nicholas Frankel. High Wycombe, The Rivendale Press, 2014, pages 113-115].

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

440. Ricketts in Academia

Charles Ricketts's oeuvre continues to attract the attention of scholars, whether because of his book designs for Oscar Wilde, his costumes for plays by Yeats, or as an example of a partner in a (partly) homosexual household in Edwardian England, his name appears in indexes and his letters and essays are quoted.

One of the newer monographs - published last year - discusses the relations between decadence and modernism and 'radically heterogeneous moments of literary dynamism': Decadence in the Age of Modernism is edited by Kate Hext and Alex Murray, and Ricketts is already quoted in the introduction on page 3.

The book includes an excellent and inspiring article by Ellis Hanson on 'The Queer Drift of Firbank', an essay that immediately takes you to Firbank's work to reread chapters. That was my intention anyway, after I recently visited his grave in a cemetery in Rome, and I wasn't disappointed.

Ricketts is dealt with in chapter two of  Decadence in the Age of Modernism, an analysis of the various performances of Wilde's Salome, as the introduction points out:

Aubrey Beardsley, Salome and the head of Iokanaan (detail)
Ellen Cromwell focuses on the halting and derided appearance of Iokanaan's severed head in productions of Wilde's Salome between 1896 and 1908. As Crowell explains, the naturalistic appearance of the severed head was controversial in large part because of its contrast with the symbolist aesthetic that defined both these early productions and the simile-laden dialogue of Wilde's play. In examining this appearance, she argues that Salome brings naturalism and symbolism together in a rejection of nineteenth-century realism, rooted in the text of Wilde's play but only realized in production.
(p. 21)

This chapter is titled: 'The Ugly Things of Salome' (pp. 47-70), and Ellen Crowell is referring to the severed head of Iokanaan to be shown at the end of the play:

Even when a production garnered general praise for all other production aspects - acting, lighting, sets, costumes, choreography, musical accompaniment - the prop heads designed for productions of Salome in the early modernist period inspired merciless mockery.
(p. 49).

Charles Ricketts, design for Oscar Wilde's Salome (1896)
[location: Courtauld Institute, London]
Ricketts has made designs for Salome several times. A stage design dates back to around 1896, but that remained unexecuted. In 1906 there was a performance in London for which Ricketts enjoyed visiting the mysterious, messy studio of the theatrical property man. This 1906 performance for which he provided costumes and stage designs was successful, only the head of Iokanaan was severely criticised. Max Beerbohm thought it was a stylistic break in a symbolist play. Ellen Crowell doesn't agree:

As an early aesthetic experiment in deliberate tedium, dullness, and irritation, Salome works by not working, and by making us think about how it is not working. With its final tableau compounded of equal parts "enervation and shock," Wilde's decadent experiment in meta-response may have been lost on his early modernist audiences. But in the work of later twentieth-century artists, including Bertolt Brecht, Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett, Andy Warhol, and John Cage, we again find artists pursuing productive aesthetic failure as catalyst for the creation of new generic forms.
(p. 67)