Wednesday, November 10, 2021

537. Ricketts's Publisher's Device for Osgood, McIlvaine & Co. (1)

From 1891 onwards, by virtue of Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts was commissioned  to design book covers (and sometimes more) for commercial publishers. In 1891 a series of books was published by James R. Osgood McIlvaine and Co: three books by Oscar Wilde, three titles by Thomas Hardy (in various editions) and a work (in two volumes) by Hélène Vacaresco. Most of these were reprinted several times, but the Wilde volumes least of all.

Oscar Wilde, Intentions (1891):
title page designed by Charles Ricketts

The first book in this series was Oscar Wilde's Intentions, which appeared in April 1891 and was reprinted once by this publisher in May 1894. 

James R. Osgood (1836-1892) was an American publisher who ran a successful business with several partners until he went bankrupt in 1885 and started working for Harper's Magazine. In 1891, together with Clarence Walworth McIlvaine (1866?-1912), he started a new firm in London: Osgood, McIlvaine & Co., whose first issues were reported in The Publishers' Circular of 25 April 1891. The books were published simultaneously in London (by Osgood) and New York (by Harpers Bros).

Ricketts designed a unique cover for each of these books, but he also drew a different publisher's device for their title pages. He played with Renaissance motifs and based the device on that of the Wechel family. Over the years, Chrestien Wechel (??-1581) and Andre Wechel (1495-1554) themselves also used a series of different but related publisher's marks for their title pages, quite a few displaying 'a caduceus at the centre of the image, flanked by cornucopias and with a Pegasus above, clouds below with shaking hands' (quoted from the website of the British Museum).

Publisher's device used by André and Chrestien Wechel
[British Museum, number 1895,1031.1100]
Image © The Trustees of the British Museum
Released under a Creative Commons
(CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Publisher's device used by Chrestien Wechel,
depicted by Ph. Renouard,
Les marques typographiques parisiennes des XVe et XVIe siècles
(Paris, 1926), device 1116

Publisher's device used by Chrestien Wechel,
depicted by Ph. Renouard,
Les marques typographiques parisiennes des XVe et XVIe siècles
(Paris, 1926), device 1118

Among them were broader and slimmer marks, as shown in the accompanying illustrations. Sometimes a jumping horse, sometimes a rearing horse.

Compared to the Wechel design, Ricketts's first publisher's device for Osgood, McIlvaine & Co is more refined in execution, even elegant and compact, although a little crowded, while the elongated image refers to his Pre-Raphaelite influence, and early Art Nouveau concept.

Charles Ricketts,
publisher's device designed for
Oscar Wilde, Intentions (1891)

Device No. I
May 1891. 33 x 19 mm.
Oscar Wilde, Intentions. Title-page. Printed in black.
At the foot, two hands emerge from the clouds, enclosing a caduceus with the winged horse Pegasus on top. Two pairs of wings, two snakes and two ribbons are attached to it. Two crossed horns of plenty support the horse. At the bottom is the publisher's name, written in Ricketts's script with the last 'o' characteristically placed in the curve of the 'C'. The horse on top faces left.
(Cf. Paul van Capelleveen, 'The Revival of a Publisher's Device. Charles Ricketts and Osgood, McIlvaine & Co.', The Book Collector, volume 55 No 3 (Autumn 2006).