Wednesday, May 12, 2021

511. Charles Ricketts's Own Colophon for Silverpoints

Charles Ricketts designed the poetry collection Silverpoints by John Gray. The book appeared in March 1893, but not quite in the way Ricketts desired. In the bibliography of his Vale Press editions, he wrote that some of the books he designed before the Vale Press was established had been the subject of occasional difficulties with printers. This was the case with Silverpoints.

What exactly was missing? 

This is one of the early commissions Ricketts received from Elkin Mathews and John Lane (At the Bodley Head) and he wanted to put his name to it.

His name is represented only by his monogram found on the front and back of the binding: a square with the initials CR in the lower left corner, and by a second signed monogram opposite the last text page. Above the printer's name, the monogram CR appears between three branch and leaf motifs.

Colophon of John Gray, Silverpoints (1893)

In the front of the book, on the reverse side of the title page, is the justification for the edition. Proofs of the title page show that Ricketts had wanted his full name mentioned there. In 1989, the firm of Warrack & Perkins offered a copy of Silverpoints with these proofs in the catalogue The Turn of a Century, 1885-1910: 

Tipped in at the front of this copy is a proof of the title-page with a holograph inscription, “Dear Mr. Matthews (sic). This is the way these pages should be arranged - as I have numbered them, according to Mr. Ricketts. So now Mr. Leighton can proceed with the binding. Yours most sincerely, John Gray.” At the foot of the proof, on the right, opposite the imprint, is pasted a small slip, printed in red in the same italic face as the text of the book: “The binding design of water and willow leaves is by CS Ricketts. The build of the book has throughout been founded on the Aldine Italic books.” It is not clear whether Gray was returning a complete set of galleys (he had asked Lane to send him one in October 1892) or simply proofs of the preliminary leaves (as the phrase ‘these pages’ might suggest). If that were the case, then the red-printed slip might represent an addition to the preliminary text that Ricketts wished to be made (the wording is unmistakenly his) but which was never realized.

John Gray, Silverpoints (1893): verso of title page

Since the additional text was set in the book's typeface, it must have been Ricketts's intention that it be added to the title page, or to the verso of it.

The text was not completely lost. The earliest Bodley Head advertisements for the book contain this very phrase almost verbatim:

Cover (Water and Willow Leaves) and Initial Letters designed by C.S. RICKETTS. Limited Edition (Twenty-five Copies on Japanese paper, £1 1s.). Long 12mo, 7s. 6d. net. The build of this book has been founded throughout on the Aldine Italic Books. 
(The Academy, 10 December 1892, p. 548.)

This leaves room for several possibilities, such as: Ricketts saw the advertisements (based on his own information) and may have thought that this piece of information should actually be in the book; or: the book had already been printed, but not yet bound, and the publisher could merely use it in advertisements.

And questions remain: why was the request not granted, and why are the unused additional lines printed in red? Why would the publisher use Ricketts's name for advertisements, but not in the book itself?