Wednesday, January 26, 2022

547. Emery Walker and the Vale Press

Emery Walker - see previous blog - played an important advisory role for private presses in the 1890s. He inspired William Morris to design his first typeface and advised the Kelmscott Press, had a printing press installed for Cobden-Sanderson and supervised the production of the Doves Press for many years, St. John Hornby (Ashendene Press) wrote that Walker was 'a mine from which to draw a wealth of counsel', and Walker advised Harry Kessler (Cranach Presse). In the same breath it is often said that he also advised Charles Ricketts and the Vale Press.

Sir Emery Walker
Unknown photographer
Modern bromide print, circa 1890
© National Portrait Gallery, London [NGP x200016]

This is restated in the reconstruction of Walker's lectures, Printing for Book Production: Emery Walker's Three Lectures for the Sandars Readership in Biblography, edited by Richard Mathews and Joseph Rosenblum (2019):

Walker helped Charles Ricketts with the Vale Press in Chelsea [...]'.

The assertion is seen as a commonly known fact that can do without a footnote. But actually, that footnote would remain empty: there is no known source for this claim.

The earliest possible reference, as far as I can determine, is from 1938, when both Walker and Ricketts were already dead. Greta Lagro Potter wrote: 'Emery Walker was a friend of Charles Ricketts of the Vale Press where the same ideals are expressed.' (An Appreciation of Sir Emery Walker’, The Library Quarterly, July 1938, p. 409.)

This friendship was later redefined as a relationship of adviser and pupil, see Charles B. Russell who suggested that Ricketts and Walker were collaborators. ('Cobden-Sanderson and the Doves Press', Prairie Schooner, Fall 1940, p. 181): 'Walker also helped to design the "Subiaco" type of the Ashendene Press under the direction of St. John Hornby. Later on he went with Charles Ricketts of the Vale Press.'

Later it was presented as fact, as in Rookledge’s International Handbook of Type Designers by Ron Eason & Sarah Rookledge (1991, p. 164) where Emery Walker was mentioned as adviser to the Vale Press after 1908 (The Vale Press ceased to exist in 1904!).

Ricketts and Walker did know each other. Walker, for example, visited Ricketts and Shannon on 9 December 1897. He was then in the company of Sydney Cockerell who apparently met Ricketts before, but not Shannon. Cockerell noted in his diary:

Then with Walker to 8 Hammersmith Terrace where I met Shannon & Ricketts. Liked Shannon, whom I had not met before, very much. 

(See William S. Peterson, Morris & Company. Essays on Fine Printing, 2020, p. 100-101). 

8 Hammersmith Terrace was the address of May Morris, the daughter of William, who was often visited by Ricketts. Ricketts's diary note for 7 March 1902, for example, mentions: 'Dined with Miss Morris. Emery Walker turned up afterwards and told us amusing details of the decoration schemes for the Coronation [...].'

Walker also owned some books from Ricketts's Vale Press which now reside with the Emery Walker Library at The Wilson Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum. On 17 July 1899 Ricketts gave him a copy of A Defence of the Revival of Printing, which had just appeared.

But all indications are that Ricketts and Walker did not know each other when the Vale Press was founded and that the issues of The Dial were not given to him when they appeared, but only later. 

Most importantly, however, Ricketts did not need Walker's advice. Unlike Morris, Cobden-Sanderson and Hornby, he did not have a printing press at home. His books were set by hand and printed on a hand press by expert staff at the Ballantyne Press. If Walker had played a part, Ricketts would have mentioned him in his bibliography, where he mentions the punch-cutter Prince and the engraver Keates (misspelled as Keats) and showed his gratitude:

My books would not have achieved that measure of technical success in "build" and presswork had I not benefited by the untiring energy and the intelligent sympathy of Mr. Charles McCall and of his son, C. Home McCall. It will remain known only to ourselves the tact and patience it has required to secure the success of a printed border, or even a mere page of type with an initial, not to mention those books with recurring woodcuts. (A Bibliography of the Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts, 1904, p. xvii-xviii).

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

546. Ricketts is in the Index

As a Ricketts blogger, I naturally regularly check the index of books in which his name might appear. In the book of letters to and from Emery Walker (1851-1933), the man to whose advice both William Morris (Kelmscott Press) and Thomas Cobden-Sanderson (Doves Presss) owed much, Ricketts's name appears in the index with four page references. 

Sir Emery Walker
Unknown photographer
Glass negative, 1920-1933
© National Portrait Gallery, London [NGP x31052]
Creative Commons Licence

The book was published in 2019, but because of the lockdowns and disrupted transport routes I only saw it last week: Emery Walker. Arts, Crafts and a World in Motion (Oak Knoll Press), compiled by Simon Loxley.

However, of the four references, only two are justified. They refer to the pages (141-142) that repeat the well-known story about throwing punches, matrices, and lead type into the Thames.

In a footnote to a letter from Morris to Walker of 1894 (letter 26, pages 38-39), Ricketts and the Vale Press are mentioned in a biographical sketch of Horace Hart, who worked for the Ballantyne Press, where Ricketts had his books printed. But the chronology is all wrong here, Ricketts and Hart certainly did not meet at Ballantyne, because Hart had already started working for the Oxford University Press in 1883, eight years before Ricketts had his journal The Dial printed by the Ballantyne Press in 1891-1892.

Intriguing is a reference to Ricketts on page 121, letter 82 from R.B. Cunninghame Graham to Emery Walker, 5 November 1912. Cunninghame Graham wrote: 

Dear Mr Walker,
I have written to Ricketts asking him to call on me. All I can tell him are my personal recollections of Morris.

A footnote provides a brief biography of Ricketts:

Charles Ricketts (1866-1931), artist and theatre designer, whose Vale Press was one of the significant private presses inspired by Morris. 

But why would Ricketts want to hear about Morris? Was he working on an article about the founder of the Kelmscott Press? Loxley is silent on that and does not explain why Walker thinks it necessary for Cunninghame Graham and Ricketts to meet. During this period Ricketts wrote articles and books on art, and letters on art policy, to the editors of newspapers, but he was not concerned with typography or figures like Morris.

The explanation is, of course, simple; Loxley is not a thorough editor. 

This passage is not about Ricketts at all, but about the author of a biography that would be published by Herbert Jenkins in 1913, William Morris, a biography written by Arthur Compton-Rickett.

Sir Emery Walker
By William Strang (1859-1921)
Etching, 1906
© National Portrait Gallery, London [NGP x31052]
Creative Commons Licence

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

545. Leonard Smithers, Charles Shannon and An Ideal Husband

The Rivendale Press has for some time been publishing a series of simply produced booklets (in a marble paper cover) under the title Questing Collector Series. The title says it all: the booklets contain questions, suggestions and finds from collectors of 1890s figures and publications. Not all conjectures seem justified to me, but the finds are always interesting. [For the list of titles, go to the website of the Rivendale Press].

Part 3 of the series, written by Steven Halliwell and Michael Seeney, is called Leonard Smithers, Charles Shannon and An Ideal Husband (2020). It deals with several issues: reuse of a (perhaps earlier) binding for An Ideal Husband, variant spine titles and binding variants for The Importance of Being Earnest.

Oscar Wilde,
An Ideal Husband
spine design 1
[photo: Steven Halliwell]

For some inexplicable reason, one may find two different bindings for An Ideal Husband, and the variations do not concern the decorations designed by Charles Shannon, but the lettering on the spine.

Oscar Wilde,
An Ideal Husband
spine design 2
[photo: Steven Halliwell]

A serif typeface was used for most of them, but a non-serif typeface was selected for some copies.

The difference is most obvious in the distance between the publisher's name and the year, and and there is a variant in Co where the dash under the letter o is replaced by a dot after the letter.

Wilde's bibliographer Stuart Mason (C.S. Millard) noted such a difference in typeface for The Importance of Being Earnest, published six months earlier, but not for this book. Since neither book was reviewed by the press and sales were disappointing, it is not implausible that not all copies of the editions were bound at the same time, especially if the lack of success was anticipated. And, perhaps, Mason misplaced his note? After the sales of The Importance were disappointing, it would be logical for him not to have all copies of An Ideal Husband bound at once.

That does seem the most reasonable explanation, but then it remains strange that so few copies with that variant binding turn up. Other possibilities cannot therefore be ruled out. It may be that a printing plate was made for the decorations on the front and back cover including the spine, but without lettering, or that proof bindings were used later for some copies.

[Thanks are due to Steven Halliwell for providing the scans].

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

544. Paul Lambotte

Searching for Belgian Vale Press collections - not found by the way, there seem to be surprisingly few copies of this private press in Flemish, Brussels or Walloon libraries and museums - I came across some letters by Ricketts in the collection of the Royal Library in Brussels.

The cards and notes are addressed to the Belgian art historian Paul Lambotte (1862-1939), who put together exhibitions of contemporary Belgian art in London, Brighton, Cardiff, Oxford (and elsewhere) during the Great War. At the openings Lambotte gave a talk in 'mellifluous French, aiding our comprehension of the range of the exhibition' (West Sussex Gazette, 29 April 1915). 

There was a pathetic side to some of this work, and that was many of the beautiful pictures represented architectural details of one sort and another of buildings which had been ravaged, and many of which had disappeared, and the world would know them no more.
(Oxford Chronicle, 14 May 1915)

A portrait photograph of Lambotte, with a handwritten dedication to Isidore Spielmann in the National Portrait Gallery, bears witness to his English adventures and the network he maintained. He came to London in November 1914 to set up the Fund for Poor Belgian Artists. 

The Westminster Gazette reported (16 November 1914) that a large number of the artists were unable to leave their homes in Antwerp or Ghent, and funds to assist them were already exhausted. Lambotte, director at the Ministry of Fine Arts in Belgium, had been sent over to London with a number of Belgian works of art at his disposal, organising a first exhibition at the Goupil Gallery in London, a show that was opened on 18 November and closed eights days later. 

On 28 January 1915, a Belgian section - arranged by Lambotte - was added to the War Relief Exhibition at the Royal Academy. Many of the works sent from Belgium had not yet arrived, so he had to tap into his English network in order to complete the exhibitions.

Portrait of Paul Lambotte, 1915
[Unknown photographer]
[National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG x139993,
Creative Commons License]

In one of his letters Ricketts refers to this fund: 'I sincerely trust that your fund may obtain all the success it deserves. Alas! Would that real art lovers were rich!' (Undated card, probably November 1914, Royal Library Brussels, Ms II 7.133/760).

Ricketts and Shannon received Lambotte and his wife in early December and afterwards they wrote about a print of Shannon, and about a possible meeting with the collector Edmund Davis.

Jan Vanden Eeckhoudt, portret van Paul Lambotte (1933)
[Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels]