Wednesday, October 26, 2022

586. A Vale Press Collector: James Dunn (2)

A separate section within James Dunn's collection, whose core consisted of the eighteenth-century illustrated books and rococo prints, comprised a collection of modern private press editions. He owned a few volumes published by the Nonesuch Press, and acquired a copy of the Eragny Press edition of C'est d'Aucassin et de Nicolette (1904) with colour wood engravings by Lucien Pissarro. This was the last book that Pissarro printed in Vale type (designed by Charles Ricketts). From then on he used his own Eragny type. 

Gradual donations

Judging from the labels pasted by Blackburn's library in the books donated by Dunn, Ricketts's Vale Press editions arrived not all at once, but in five batches. 

Label in Vaughan's Sacred Poems (1897)
(James Dunn Collection, Blackburn)

In November 1940, he donated two Vale Press editions: Vaughan's Sacred Poems (1897) and Meinhold's Mary Schweidler, the Amber Witch (1903), an early Vale Press edition in octavo and a later edition in quarto.

The second batch consisted of three works, registered by the library in April 1941: Landor's Epicures, Leontion and Ternissa (1896), Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1900), and Ecclesiastes, or The Preacher, and the Song of Solomon (1902). Again, a mix of earlier and later works from the Vale press, all text editions without illustrations. The first volume of the Shakespeare edition did have an illustrated opening page and decorations in the margins (like all volumes).

Two more gifts followed that same year: The Poems of Sir John Suckling (1896) and T.S. Moore's Danaë (1903). The last book contains three wood engravings by Charles Ricketts.

Then, on 17 March 1942, three more Vale Press editions from Dunn's collection arrived at the library: John Gray's Spiritual Poems (1896), Arnold's Empedocles on Etna (1897), and The Parables from the Gospels (1903). The second book features no illustrations, the first has a wood-engraved frontispiece by Ricketts, while the third book contains no less than ten wood-engravings. 

Finally, on 14 April 1942, follows The Kingis Quair (1903).

Label in The Parables from the Gospels (1903)
(James Dunn Collection, Blackburn)

Can we infer from this that Dunn's favourite Vale Press books were the illustrated editions? Perhaps so, but then we must also note that a number of important illustrated volumes are missing, such as the two editions of Apuleius's story of Cupid and Psyche with illustrations by Ricketts or the Wordsworth edition with woodcuts by T.S. Moore.

A Selection of Vale Press Books

What we do know with certainty: James Dunn did not (probably could not) aim for completeness. He owned eleven books from the Vale Press from the years 1896 to 1903. He did not buy the concluding bibliography, nor did he own the Vale Press's programmatic books, Ricketts's A Defence of the Revival of Printing, or (a collaboration with Pissarro) De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée, even though this was the Vale Press's only French-language publication, somewhat of an open invitation to a Francophile.

Clearly, he did not subscribe to the Vale Press editions and it is not unlikely that he acquired these works much later, antiquarian, and thus only when the opportunity arose. Michael Field's plays (four in total) are absent, as are editions by Tennyson, Keats, Shelley, Browning and other literary luminaries. Of the 39-volume Shakespeare edition, he owned only the very first volume, Hamlet.

Spine (detail) of
The Tragedy of Hamlet,
Prince of Denmark
 (Vale Press, 1900)

Thanks are due to Mary Painter, librarian at Blackburn Central Library, for providing the scans of Vale Press books from the library's collection.

Next week: more about James Dunn as a Vale Press collector.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

585. A Vale Press Collector: James Dunn (1)

There are many types of book collectors. Some strive for completeness; others settle for a representative selection; some follow fashions, others their own passion; some focus on deluxe editions; others on literary curiosities or series of pocket books; some collectors can financially afford whatever they like, others have small purses. 

A number of British collectors of Vale Press editions will be featured over the next few weeks. I begin this short series with an exceptional collector: we know almost nothing about him and the sparse trivia about his life and collecting tendencies are drawn from only one source: his obituary.

James Dunn, a shy collector

Dunn died in December 1943 in Blackburn where he was born in 1867. His wife, Clara Dunn (born Cott) died in 1907, aged 35. His son Ernest emigrated to South Africa around 1918, and his daughter married a Trevor Simpson and moved to Wrightington near Wigan. 

James Dunn
(Northern Daily Telegraph, 16 December 1943)
[published on Cotton Town Blackburn with Darwen
by Philip Crompton, 2019]

For much of his life - between the two world wars - he lived alone. Perhaps that is why he spent his time reading books and came to be a collector. Reading was a form of self-education. Dunn came from a poor family and had no formal training. After primary school, he was employed and at 14, he was a cotton piecer (1881 Cencus). His father ran a big drapery shop in Montague Street. According to an advertisement, his was the 'best and cheapest house' for general drapery, oilcloths, linoleums, mattings, carpets, rugs and more. As the eldest child, James Dunn continued this business in the working-class area of Blackburn.

Dunn household based on 1881 Cencus

Reading was not his only passion. A second pastime was walking - he walked, for example, from his home to Blackpool, over 40 kilometres, or to his daughter's house. But he also made trips to North Africa where he walked from village to village, probably in the then French territories of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. He had taught himself French.

In Paris, he explored the many bookstores and antiquarian bookshops, and in order to properly assess what he wanted to buy, he had begun to learn the country's language when he was older. His obituary said he not only could read French well, but also spoke it fluently (we do not know who in Blackburn could judge the level of quality of his French).

In the early years of World War II - he was already in his 70s - he developed a third craze: he regularly travelled to London to witness air raids. Incidentally, this sensationalism also existed during the First World War, when he travelled far and wide to spot a zeppelin or see the effects of a bombing raid with his own eyes.

The James Dunn Collection

Only a single photograph is known of Dunn - it accompanied his obituary. Family papers do not seem to have survived, nor a photograph of Dunn at the Eiffel Tower or on a Moroccan beach. His public profile was limited, Dunn shunned publicity, but he was, however, a trustee of the Primitive Methodist Church (old Montague Street).

As an autodidact, Dunn will no doubt have made use of Blackburn's public library, and after getting his collection of books together, he took a remarkable step and wanted to bequeath the collection to the Blackburn's Library, Museum, and Art Gallery.

Lancashire Evening Post, 17 October 1940

On 17 October 1940, the Lancashire Evening Post reported that the Blackburn Public Library Committee had decided to accept the gift of 'part of his collection of fine and rare books'. From then on, rows of books moved from his home to the library, not all at once, but in portions. His Vale Press books, for example, were donated between November 1940 and April 1942, as evidenced by the labels recording the gift in the books.

The last years of his life saw his library gradually disappear from Dunn's bookshelves. This is extraordinary. Usually, collectors donate their library as a whole, preferably only after their death, so that they will not have to face the emptiness of their own bookshelves. 

Many book collectors do not limit themselves to publications and let their interests spread to prints, paintings, antiquities - but Dunn seems to have concentrated on books and prints. He will not have had much financial room for digressions. However, his donation also included a painting that was, remarkably, of recent date: a floral still life by Louise Dimond (c. 1940). It was accepted somewhat reluctantly by the committee, not for its qualities but so as not to jeopardise the donation of books. Two years later, Dunn bought a second flower still life, by Ethel Fordham, and that was also accepted.

In addition, he donated - yet another collecting area - 'four choice pieces of pottery'. He probably owned a larger collection of ceramics. Paintings were probably not an essential part of his collection: otherwise he would have donated more.

His field was that of the book and print, particularly those from the Rococo era. He collected illustrated books (about British birds or Russian costumes for example), early printed books (a sixteenth-century Erasmus edition, a sixteenth-century herbal), but also owned some historical documents and parliamentary papers. His favourite writer was Charles Dickens; he managed to buy a convolute of letters, photographs and other documents by and about Dickens.

As one of Blackburn's few bibliophiles, he set an important example for others. His donation was followed in 1946 by that of an entirely different type of collector from Blackburn, the wealthy rope dealer Robert Edward Hart (1876-1946), who donated 500 books and illuminated manuscripts and 6000 coins. Hart and Dunn must have known each other - Hart attended Dunn's funeral.

Next week: the Vale Press books in the James Dunn Collection.

Some links to the John Dunn Collection:

  • Philip Crompton, 'The Dunn Collection. Finding the needles in the haystack', Cotton Town, Blackburn with Darwen, April 2019.
  • Philip Crompton, 'Oil Paintings in the James Dunn Collection', BM&AG blog, 27 May 2020.
  • Cynthia Johnston, 'The James Dunn Collection', BM&AG blog, 26 May 2020.
  • Interview with Cynthia Johnston, 'A Life Less Ordinary. The Elusive Mr Dunn', 'Tales from the Collection. Blackburn Museum at You Tube, 19 March 2022.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

584. Presentation Copies of Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan

Firsts, London’s Rare Book Fair (Saatchi Gallery, 15-18 September 2022) featured a presentation copy of Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan (1893). The book was offered for £30,900.00 by Whitmore Rare Books Inc of Pasadena (CA).

Oscar Wilde, dedication to R.V. Shone, November 1893
in Lady Windermere's Fan (1893)

Wilde inscribed this copy to R.V. Shone, one of the managers of the St. James's Theater that staged the play in 1892. The dealer's website mentioned: 'First editions signed by Wilde are scarce on the market, with Lady Windermere being particularly rare as only 500 copies of the first edition were printed [...]. Auction records show that the six known association copies of this play were all signed trade editions, as the run of 50 large paper copies came out after.'

Indeed, it seems Wilde only used copies of the regular trade edition as dedication copies.

In its description, Whitmore Rare Books, refers to a second dedication copy ('also presented to someone involved in the production') auctioned by Leslie Hindman in 2018 - I have no record of this sale. It could be the dedication copy for George Alexander (manager) or Marion Terry (actress).

How many dedication copies can we trace? Whitmore keeps it at six, but dedication copies are much less rare. I count 15 of them - and have undoubtedly missed a few more!

Douglas Ainslie
George Alexander
Arthur Clifton
W.L. Courtney
Alfred Douglas 
Edmund Gosse
Francis Jeune 
Otho Holland Lloyd
Elisabeth Marbury
Robert Ross
Marcel Schwob
R.V. Stone
Marion Terry
Byron Webber
Jane Wilde (Wilde's mother)

Any more? Please mail me if you know of other dedication copies.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

583. A Pastel Sketch by Charles Shannon

Early paintings and studies by Charles Shannon have regularly turned up at local auction houses in Britain in recent years. Now, at Reeman Dansie in Colchester, an undated sketch by Shannon is on offer. The auction will take place on 9 October. 

Charles Shannon, pastel sketch, interior, undated, probably 1880s-1890s 

We see a bedroom with a four-poster bed in front of which a woman sits in a chair, holding her  head, while a second woman behind is combing or brushing her hair. The light comes from the left, from two candles placed at different heights. It is a pastel sketch and clearly never finished. On the right is a rather tall shadowy female figure not executed in colour. The face of the standing woman also remained in a preliminary state.

Charles Shannon, pastel sketch, interior, undated, probably 1880s-1890s  (detail)

Zooming in on the scene, we see another thing: the sketch is applied over a regular pattern of horizontal and vertical lines, as if the sketch was intended for a large-format painting.

The same combination of grid, square format, and unfinished state can be recognised in a sketch for St Mark's Eve at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. [See here for an image.]