Wednesday, May 31, 2023

617. A Collector-Friend, William Arthur Pye

On 6 November 1933, the collection of 'the late W.A. Pye. Esq.' came under the hammer at Sotheby & Co in London: 131 lots, including over a page of Vale Press books.

Catalogue of Printed Books
(Sotheby & Co., 6-8 November 1933)

How William A. Pye got into collecting Vale Press editions is not known, nor when he met Ricketts, but in December 1903 he was among the group of sixty guests who came to admire Ricketts's and Shannon's newly decorated rooms and studios - about a year and a half after the artists had moved into Lansdowne House.

William A. Pye

William Arthur Pye was born in Exeter in 1852, the son of assistant organist and composer Kellow J. Pye, who gave up his music career to become a partner of a wine merchant firm, Reid, Pye, Campbell and Hall, in London. 

The young William Pye studied at Magdalen College School in Oxford before he too left for the City and went to work as a wine merchant.

He married Margaret Thompson Kidston and they had seven children including the bookbinder Sybil Pye and the artist Ethel Pye. They lived at Priest Hill, a house in Limpsfield, Surrey.

Pye was a great lover of flowers and the Priest Hall gardens were constructed after his design, while he was a successful exhibitor at local shows. He became a Fellow of the Horticultural Society, and a promotor of the Exted and Limpsfield Gardeners Association. He regularly sent special flowers to Ricketts.

Pye died on 2 June 1933.

Pye's artistic circles

Pye developed a passion for collecting oriental and contemporary art. Perhaps that is why he met young Laurence Binyon in the Print Room of the British Museum. Binyon - whose mother had died in 1892 and whose father lived in the north of the United Kingdom - was taken into William Pye's domestic circle after they met in 1895. He became a regular weekend guest in Limpsfield (and earlier in Lee, where the Pye family initially lived).

Nearby lived some families who gave access to modern literary circles: Sydney and Margaret Olivier and Edward and Constance Garnett whose children joined a group around Rupert Brooke that became known as the Neo-Pagans.

Meanwhile, the artists of the Vale also came into their sights. Binyon introduced his friend Thomas Sturge Moore to the Pye family. Sturge Moore, in turn, introduced Pye to Charles Ricketts and to the poets 'Michael Field'. In their diary Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper noted:

Tommy brings his good friend Pye to see us. We are all friends at once – Pye only knows & admires our work in the Vale Editions – He loves Marcia in the Race of Leaves. He delights in the “wide-open” beginning of Julia, but finds the speeches too level throughout. He hates the Fairies in Fair Rosamund. When we laugh at the idea of so strange a bird as an admirer, he is grieved at the mocking note – grieved & a little fired. He is small as Watts-Dunton – but the face is like a Jap. drawing; in itself not easy to look at; but he is good, ringingly intelligent, more than adequately emotional – very fine in emotional sympathy with creative art.

[Michael Field, Journal, 24 May 1903]

Sybil and Ethel Pye were involved in theatrical schemes leading to the 1901 inauguration of the Literary Theatre Club for which William Pye acted as business manager. The club was followed by the equally short-lived Masquers Society before, in 1905, the Literary Theatre Society was founded - Ricketts, Binyon, Moore, William Pye, May Morris and others were part of the group that would, for instance, stage Oscar Wilde's Salome.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Resurrection' (c. 1900-1903)

Pye's collection

Exactly what the contents of Pye's art collection were is difficult to determine. He owned two paintings by Ricketts, 'The Resurrection' and 'Medea', and two bronzes (one of which was 'Herodias and Salome'). 

His book collection will not have been taken to Sotheby's in its entirety after his death. After all, his daughters also had literary interests and one of his books ended up in Neo-Pagan David Garnett's collection. This copy of Michael Field's The World at Auction was probably given to Garnett by Pye himself (or one of his relatives).

The book collection consisted of presentation copies from Laurence Binyon and T. Sturge Moore to Pye, first editions of Rupert Brooke's poems, art publications including L'Art japonais (1883) and Ricketts's The Prado and its Masterpieces (1904). Most of these books contain Pye's bookplate with the motto 'Veritas sine timore' (Truth without fear), designed by Thomas Sturge Moore.

Thomas Sturge Moore, bookplate for William A. Pye

A special section covered private press books: Daniel Press (Binyon's Poems, 1895); the Doves Press (four editions including The Bible in five volumes); the Eragny Press (thirteen books); the Kelmscott Press (ten editions including four texts by William Morris) and the Vale Press (the largest section containing fifty-nine publications in eighty-three volumes).

Pye did not own a complete run of the Vale Press: some important books such as The Parables and Keats's Poems were missing, for example. Michael Field's The World at Auction was not part of the auction, but the other three Vale Press editions of their plays were present: Fair Rosamund, The Race of Leaves and Julia Domna. Pye also possessed a copy of the pre-Vale Daphnis and Chloe and some Wilde books designed by Ricketts. 

Three of his Vale Press books were later owned by the eminent collector John Roland Abbey: Daphnis and Chloe (1893) [Abbey owned several copies of this book]John Milton's Early Poems (1896) and The Kingis Quair (1903).

It would be wrong to claim that William Pye formed his collection around his friendships, - his interests were too broad for that - but it is true that the work of friends occupied a valued place in his collections, as it did in his life.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

616. Ricketts and an Attack on Him by a 'Fool'

On Wednesday 20 June 1903 Charles Ricketts noted in his diary that 'old Maccoll', that is, Charles McCall, manager at the Ballantyne Press where the Vale Press books were printed, or D.S. Maccoll, the art critic, 'showed me an attack on me by the fool who wrote years ago in the Fortnightly [...]'.

The fool's name was Albert Louis Cotton. His earlier critical essay on modern printing was published in August 1898 in the Contemporary Review, not the Fortnightly Review - it was typical of Ricketts to err when he got angry.

The second article was published in The Monthly Review in May 1903. Ricketts wrote:

[...] he uses my definitions of book printing against me & Morris, and also the beastly work done in America, this made me realize that work suffers more from its imitation than by its own faults.

Cotton ridiculed the neo-Gothic decorations of an American Morris adept and fired arrows at Clarke Conwell's Elston Press editions, accusing William Morris and Charles Ricketts of aiming for ornamentation rather than readability for their books:

I suppose that Mr. Ricketts'[s] Vale Press may be considered the most important undertaking in "artistic" bookwork now among us. Like his fellows, Mr. Ricketts prefers to regard a printed book as a mere piece of decorative furniture.

He based his accusation on the sometimes peculiar alternation of capitals and lowercase letters on opening pages of the earlier Vale Press editions and praised the restraint in the decorations of the multi-volume Shakespeare edition.

Vale Press edition of The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton,
volume 2, page [5]: designed by Charles Ricketts (1898)

Cotton quoted an example from the The Rowley Poems of Thomas Chatterton, but he erred in the rendering of the word 'SKyNS', as it read 'SKYns' - but his point, of course, remained.

It must have stung the artist that Cotton claimed Ricketts produced his books just to showcase his borders and initial letters and Cotton was repeating an old complaint from the printing world, when, in the early 1890s, it was confronted with artists who demanded something different from nineteenth-century printing - think Morris, but also Whistler and Ricketts. The bottom line was that artists should mind their own business:

A study of "artistic" presses, indeed, brings one to the conclusion that the professions of an artist and a printer are not compatible with one another.

As an artist, you only got in the way of - above all - the author; as the most important thing had to be the text itself.

Cotton then spends several more pages bashing the Essex House Press and sets the Doves Press as an example because of its lack of decorations. He ends with a dystopian vision of the future: a time when the artist can instruct the author to write something to match his decorations. What he failed to see was a growing need for a 'graphic designer', a concept that, after the turn of the century, was not completely unknown but still undefined.

Ricketts concluded his diary note with the observation:

I suppose I should not grumble since book making has meant a comfortable livelihood to me for 4 years.

But he could not stop grumbling:

Yet why should education lead in England to this university type that runns [runs] forward not to advocate the excellent but merely to find fault.

(Thanks are due to John Aplin for the transcription of the diary note.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

615. Charles Ricketts's Illustrations of Cupid and Psyche

This week I received a Canadian query about Charles Ricketts's woodcuts for two editions of Apuleius. The Vale Press published an English translation of this classic love story in 1897, followed in 1901 by a Latin edition, both with woodcuts by Ricketts: six roundel wood-engravings for the first edition and five square wood-engravings for the later one.

Copies of the small editions have ended up in libraries, but of course not every university library has both editions.

For the convenience of academics and others, complete sets of these illustrations are shown in this blog.

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches (1896)

Text: the translation by William Adlington (1566).
The illustrations are not positioned adjacent to particular scenes but, for printing convenience, in the top right-hand corner on the first page of each sheet.

Signed upper right: CR (Charles Ricketts)
81 x 80 mm (p. 9)
Text on this page: Apuleius, Metamorphoses. IV, 34

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches
(1896, wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page 9)

80 x 80 mm (p. 17)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses. V, 8-9

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches
(1896, wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page 17)

80 x 80 mm (p. 25)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses. V, 17-18

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches
(1896, wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page 25)

81 x 81 mm (p. 33)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses. V, 27-28

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches
(1896, wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page 33)

Signed upper right (initials mirrored): CR (Charles Ricketts)
81 x 80 mm (p. 41)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses. VI, 4-5 
[See also: initial P from The Dial 4 (1896): read blogpost 334]

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches
(1896, wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page 41)

78 x 78 mm (p. 49)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses. VI, 14-15 

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupide & Psyches
(1896, wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page 49)

De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis (1901)

Latin text: edited by Charles Holmes. 
The illustrations are not positioned adjacent to particular scenes but, for printing convenience, in the top right-hand corner on the first page of the second, third, fourth and fifth sheet (with one illustration on the fifth page of the second sheet).


Page [iii]: Apuleius, Metamorphoses. IV, 28-30; page iv: IV, 30-32; page v: IV, 32-34; page vi: IV, 34-35, V 1; page vii: V 1-4; page viii: V 4-6; ; page ix: V 6-8; page x: V 8-10; page xi: V 10-12; page xii: V 12-15; page xiii: V 15-16; page xiv: V 17-19; page xv: V 19-22; page xvi: V 22-24; page xvii: V 24-26; page xviii: V 26-28; page xix: V 28-30; page xx: V 30-31; VI 1-2; page xxi: VI 2-3; page xxii: VI 3-6; page xxiii: VI 6-9; page xxiv: VI 9-11; page xxv: VI 11-14; page xxvi: VI 14-17; page xxvii: VI 17-19; page xxviii: VI 19-22; page xxix: VI 22-23; page xxx: VI 23-24. 

[Psyche in the House]
9,3 x 8,6 cm (p. v)
Text on this page: Apuleius, Metamorphoses, IV, 32-34
[See also an earlier version of this image in The Pageant, 1896: read blogpost 401]

De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis
(1901: wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page v)

[The Toilet]
9,4 x 8,7 cm (p. ix)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses, V, 6-8

De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis
(1901: wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page v)

[The Flight of Cupid]
9,8 x 8,6 cm (p. xiii)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses, V, 15-16

De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis
(1901: wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page xiii)

[Pan and Psyche]
9,3 x 8,7 cm (p. xxi)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses, VI, 2-3

De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis
(1901: wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page xxi)

[Cupid Embracing Psyche]
9,7 x 8,8 cm (p. xxix)
Text on this page: Metamorphoses, VI, 22-23

De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis
(1901: wood-engraving by Charles Ricketts, page xxix)

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

614. Several Pairs of Ricketts's Gloves

Charles Ricketts designed several pairs of gloves. 

The May Morris Gloves

The best-known is the pair of ecclesiastical gloves that was embroidered by May Morris, and bequeathed to the V&A in 1939.

Pair of ecclesiastical gloves, linen embroidered in coloured silks,
designed by Charles Ricketts, made by May Morris, Britain, c. 1899
[V&A, London, 
accession number T.71&A-1939]

They are sometimes called the 'Easter' or the 'Bishop's' gloves (or 'Episcopal gloves'), and executed in linen, with yellow silk braid and seed pearls, and with silk embroidery in shades of yellow, green, red and pink. There are three ears of corn rising from a leaf which twines round the stalks (see the exhibition catalogue Victorian Church Art, 1971, page 158). 

At the time they were dated c. 1907 (perhaps because they were first illustrated in The Art Journal in that year); the V&A database now has: c. 1899. They were exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition in November 1899.

The V&A mentions that the gloves are worked 'in chain stitch, satin stitch, stem stitch, speckling, herringbone stitch, back stitch and couching', and they measure (when flat): 36 cm by 16,7 cm by 0,7 cm. (accession number T.71&A-1939).

Two Other Pairs of Gloves

During the commemorative exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art, two years after Ricketts had died, three different pairs of gloves were on display. One was May Morris's, the other two were lent by his friends, Thomas Sturge Moore and Thomas Lowinsky.

A pair of Christening gloves, also embroidered by May Morris, came from Thomas and Marie Sturge Moore, and must have been designed by Ricketts in 1905 when Daniel was born (Ricketts became godfather to the first-born). 

Such a pair of Christening gloves is illustrated in William Morris. Art and Kelmscott, edited by Linda Parry (1996, page 63): said to be in the V&A collection, these depict butterflies and blossom sprigs. Datewise (c. '1905-6') they fit the Sturge Moore connection.

Christening gloves, designed by Charles Ricketts
and executed by May Morris, c.1905-6

A third pair of gloves, also Christening gloves, came from Thomas and Ruth Lowinsky's collection. If these gloves were designed by Ricketts for the christening of one of their (four) children, they may have been made in 1920 (first daughter), 1923 (first son), 1925 (second daughter) or 1929 (second son).

The whereabouts of the last set of gloves is unknown to me.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

613. A Yeats Design in Green, Red-Purple or Blue

Charles Ricketts designed the binding for the works of W.B. Yeats, published in six volumes, 1922-1926. For the American editions an altered drawing was used in which various details were executed differently. [See my blog No. 174 (26 November 2014).]

W.B. Yeats, Autobiographies (London, 1926)

Two years after Ricketts had died, an edition of The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats was published in New York (1933), followed a year later by the London edition, and the differences in execution now became substantial.

The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (London, 1933)

The spine design was identical, but in colour the bindings were different and both deviated from the original design - Ricketts had chosen a gentle green. However, the London edition was issued in red-purple cloth, the New York edition in dark blue cloth. 

The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (London, 1933): dustjacket

The London edition retained from Ricketts's design only the spine section. Front and back cover were left blank. (Evidently, this was cheaper to produce.) The dust jacket, displaying the Macmillan monogram, mentioned the title.

The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (New York, 1933)

However, the New York edition also reproduced the front cover design, blind-stamped on blue cloth. Ricketts himself would never have chosen this dark blue background (nor the dark green used for the American Yeats editions in the 1920s).

A light shade was needed to keep the blind-stamped design subtle but visible. The dark blue made it almost undetectable.

But the design had by then become the property of the publisher - and even if Ricketts had still been alive, he probably would not have protested against the later (lesser) versions of his design - if he had come across them in the first place.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

612. Michael Field in a Collection of Books by New Women

The New Woman. With some fellow travellers and a few antagonists is the title of the second part of Phil Cohen's collection that Maggs Bros in London has issued (Catalogue 1517). The number of names unknown to me in this catalogue compiled by Alice Rowell - 490 pages - is large - it is a real treasure trove. Alice Rowell characterises the research into this collection as 'a highpoint' of her 'Maggs career thus far'.
The New Woman (Maggs Bros, catalogue 1517)

The majority of the collection was sold en bloc 'to an institution' (email from Alice Rowell, accompanying the e-catalogue, 19 April 2023). 

About sixty books are for sale, however, and these include a number of books by 'Michael Field': Edith Cooper and Katharine Bradley.

More than twenty pages in the catalogue are devoted to Michael Field's work, covering numbers 249 to 303, and including Bradley's first book The New Minnesinger and Other Poems (1875). There is (among the autographs) an early letter giving permission to publish one of the poems, a translation from Heine's 'The Fisher Maiden', 'with music'.

Multiple copies and multiple editions of many works are present, including deluxe and presentation copies, the whole forming a complete Michael Field collection.

The New Woman (Maggs Bros, catalogue 1517, nos. 270-280)

The four plays published by the Vale Press are all present. There is a copy of Fair Rosamund in the so-called 'flame binding' (survivor of a fire in 1899). The prospectus for this edition is also present - the prospectuses of the other three Vale Press books are absent.

The series of plays for which Ricketts designed some 'devices' is - exceptionally - complete, from Borgia (1905) to In the Name of Time (1919). 

The late poetry collections for which Ricketts designed the bookbindings are present as well: from Wild Honey (1908) to Dedicated (1914). 

The New Woman (Maggs Bros, catalogue 1517, no. 295)

There is a copy of Dedicated in the extremely rare (plain) dust jacket.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

611. Silverpoints on an American Shelf

Only a minority of book collectors write about their collection, but some collectors actually enjoy writing about the books they surround themselves with.

One such collector and author was Lawrence Clark Powell (1906-2001), a bookseller turned University Librarian on the Los Angeles campus of the University of California and Director of the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library.

Lawrence Clark Powell, Books in My Baggage (1960) [cover]

In May 1949, he published an essay titled "Nine by Nine" in Hoja Volante, the magazine of the Zamorano Club. (He was a member of all the significant bibliophile societies in the USA.) The essay was later published in Books in My Baggage (1960). [I am indebted to antiquarian Nick ter Wal (Artistiek Bureau) who drew my attention to this essay.]

In this essay, Powell describes the books in his study, which housed half of his collection: 1,000 books. The room measured nine by nine feet.

This compels me to discipline my tastes and to choose for roommates only those volumes which I feel I must see every day.
Note that I said "see" every day, not necessarily read. For next best to reading books is to sit at slippered ease and look at their backs.

For example, there are childhood books, little books, a collection of Greek lyric and pastoral poetry, Chinese poetry in translation and the works of Peter Lum Quince (Ward Ritchie).

Close by is my favorite book of the 1890s - John Gray's Silverpoints, exquisitely designed by Charles Ricketts as a tall, narrow octavo.

Lawrence Clark Powell, Books in My Baggage (1960) [page 21]

This copy is now at Occidental College Library, Los Angles, California, Mary Norton Clapp Library: Special Collections & College Archives: Fine Printing 821.89 G779s 1893, as 'Gift of Lawrence Clark Powell'.

He eventually relinquished it, after years of watching its back from his easy chair. Incidentally: an unremarkable back: green and slender, but undecorated!

You have to know the book well to think of the fantastically vivid design of the covers when looking at its spine.

John Gray,

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

610. Ricketts and Shannon in a Limerick

As they gradually became famous personalities in the art world - exhibitions, articles and opinions on museums and art purchases made them more familiar - Ricketts's and Shannon's names popped up in unexpected quarters.

R.D. [Randall Davies], A Lyttel Booke of Nonsense (1912, cover)

John Aplin found a reference to a limerick in a letter from Charles Ricketts to Sydney Cockerell, dated 10 May 1912. Ricketts quoted the limerick, which he found 'charming' (BL Add MS 52746, f 66).

R.D. [Randall Davies], A Lyttel Booke of Nonsense (1912, title page)

The poem was published in an edition whose author hid behind the initials R.D., but Ricketts knew they stood for Randall Davies and presumably he received A Lyttel Booke of Nonsense as a gift from the author. Randall Robert Henry Davies (1866-1946) was a major collector of old masters, drawings and English watercolours, who as a young man befriended Herbert Horne, became his executor, and edited the catalogue of Horne's art collection. He wrote several books about artists, Chelsea architecture, caricatures, and watercolours. Portraits of Davies were painted by James Kerr-Lawson and Glyn Philpot (who had also portrayed the artist Gladys Miles, who later married Davies) and, additionally, there is a bronze buste by Romano Romanelli. In 1930, Davies was selected by the Trustees of the Melbourne National Gallery to buy paintings in London. 

James Kerr-Lawson, portrait of Randall Davies
[Chelsea Library, London]

The manager of the Vale Press, Charles Holmes, knew Davies, and Ricketts may have known Davies as well.

R.D. [Randall Davies], A Lyttel Booke of Nonsense (1912, page 139)

A Lyttel Booke of Nonsense was published in 1912 by Macmillan & Co. Ltd. The old-fashioned spelling of the title was chosen to match the woodcuts collected by the author, which were about four hundred years old at the time.

R.D. [Randall Davies], A Lyttel Booke of Nonsense (1912, poem on page 138)

Most limericks are about 'an old fellow called Cox', 'a young housemaid at Ashdown' and 'a young lady called Mabel'. Only three actual persons appear in it. The third (page 138) is a sportsman mentioned in a limerick about an amateur golfer who fears he shall 'never beat Vardon'. Henry Vardon (1870-1937) was a famous golfer from Jersey. 

Two persons more familiar to us are mentioned on page 126:

There was a young Lady of Annan,
Whose father-in-law was a Canon;
        But she gave up the Church
        For artistic research,
And consorted with Ricketts and Shannon.

R.D. [Randall Davies], A Lyttel Booke of Nonsense (1912, poem on page 126)

The woodcut that inspired these lines explains why it made Davies think of Ricketts and Shannon. The centaur on the left does resemble Ricketts - who, by 1912, had exhibited some bronzes of a centaur. 

R.D. [Randall Davies], A Lyttel Booke of Nonsense (1912, page 127)

The centaur on the right bears little resemblance to Shannon, but then: where one saw Ricketts one expected to see Shannon.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

609. "The Property of J.G. Paul Delaney"

On 30 March 2023, Forum Auctions' Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper included a 'Private Press & Limited Editions' section, the first part of which was presented as 'The Property of J.[G.] Paul Delaney, author of a biography and other books on Charles Ricketts'. These lots, numbered 471 to 479, do not comprise the complete collection of Delaney, who returned to his native Canada years ago after a long stint in London - previously he sold exceptional items from his collection, such as letters from Ricketts and Shannon.

The books did remarkably well at this auction and easily reached the highest estimates, with the exception of the last lot that contained a single book: The Parables from the Gospels (1903); hammer price was £300 - against an estimate of £400-£600. Recent hammer prices for this book were £350 (2020), £460 (2021), €650 (2022), £320 (2022), and prices ranged between US$2,400 (2020), £1,475 (2021), £2,000 (2022). Delaney's copy went for a low price.

Marlowe, Hero and Leander
(wood engravings by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon)

The only other lot containing one work was lot 474: Marlowe's Hero and Leander with wood-engravings by Ricketts and Shannon (1894). Hammer price was the highest estimate: £1,000.

The remaining seven lots in this auction were composed around particular authors, such as Gordon Bottomley and Oscar Wilde, while other lots included small collections of editions by Ricketts or the Vale Press.

An interesting stowaway aboard lot 473 was a book from Ricketts's own library - Ricketts, by the way, was not a neat librarian; many of his books show that his books were there for his daily use, not for his aesthetic pleasure. In this case, it was a monograph on furniture: Wilhelm Bode's Die Italienischen Hausm̦bel der Renaissance (Leipzig, 1907). The lot contained thirty-four other works and the hammer price wasʣ1,000.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

Most lots fetched around £1,000, but there was an upward exception. The second lot in this section of the auction consisted of four books by Oscar Wilde: a first edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray, a copy of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime & Other Stories, a second edition of Intentions and a copy of the play A Woman of No Importance. None of these books was in ideal condition. Terms such as 'rubbed', 'foxed', 'soiled', 'rather rubbed and soiled' applied to all four, but for Wilde's novel it applied in extenso: the spine was damaged at the top, had a transverse tear halfway down the spine and the spine was almost detached from the covers. 

The upside was that no restoration attempts had been made and all parts were original. Perhaps this was appreciated. Anyway, initial bids immediately exceeded estimates of £1,000 to £1,500 and the hammer price was £3,800.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

608. The Binder of Ricketts's Beyond the Threshold (1929)

Regularly I receive questions from collectors, and the most straightforward questions are often the hardest to answer. Last week, a bookbinder asked me about the binding of Charles Ricketts's 1929 Beyond the Threshold: 'In this case I wonder if you know which bindery made the 150 copies - I have an idea it could be Riviere & Son.' My initial response was that I considered that unlikely, but would attempt to find out. Promptly came a second suggestion: 'Perhaps the binder was Leighton - they did a lot of large gilt block-work'.

At the time of the Vale Press (1896-1904), Ricketts did indeed have special copies and even entire runs bound by Riviere and Son, Zaehnsdorf and J. & J. Leighton, but with a late work such as Beyond the Threshold, it is questionable whether he commented on possible binderies or left the choice to others.

Charles Ricketts, Beyond the Threshold (1929)
"CR" monogram

Beyond the Threshold is a difficult case because it was not a commercial edition, but an obscure combination of a private edition by Ricketts and an edition coordinated by A.J.A. Symons on behalf of the First Edition Club. Copies were traded only by Symons; Ricketts gave at least a dozen copies, if not more, as gifts to friends. Financially, the business was handled by the First Edition Club who also paid Ricketts for the brass plate made for the execution of the cover he designed.

The book itself gives no clues about the binder. The binding does mention the designer's monogram ("CR"), but not that of the bookbinder, nor does the turn-in - where the bookbinder's name is sometimes stamped - mention a name.

Charles Ricketts, Beyond the Threshold (1929)
turn-in at the back of the book

The colophon is equally sparse with details, and information about the edition and paper are absent. However, the printer is mentioned: 'PRINTED IN ENGLAND AT THE CURWEN PRESS PLAISTOW MCMXXIX'.

Charles Ricketts, Beyond the Threshold (1929)

This could point us in a certain direction. During the interwar period, the Curwen Press was one of the leading modern printing houses in Britain, where the teams of typographer Oliver Simon and printer Harold Curwen worked together to produce books that could stand any test of criticism. The First Edition Club had several books printed there, such as A Bibliographical Catalogue of the First Loan Exhibition of Books and Manuscripts Held by The First Edition Club 1922 (1922) and Book Clubs & Printing Societies of Great Britain and Ireland (1929).

One of the major financial successes of the Curwen Press in those years was The Legion Book, which was reprinted many times. This is where it gets interesting, because the deluxe first edition of this book - which I wrote about earlier - featured a binding designed by Ricketts that was executed by Henry T. Wood Limited in London. The book included a statement to that effect.

The Legion Book (1929)
turn-in with the name of Wood, London

Can we find a connection between the First Edition Club, Charles Ricketts and Henry T. Wood Limited? Yes, that is entirely possible. 

An exhibition of 132 examples of English bookbindings at the First Edition Club in January 1934 included 'transparent vellum bindings, designed by Mr. Kenneth Hobson and executed by Messrs. Henry T. Wood, Limited' (The Times, 4 January 1934).

The Book-Collector's Quarterly, April-June 1935

The bookbinder placed an ad in The Book-Collector’s Quarterly (April-June 1935), which was issued by The First Edition Club:

All the special bindings for The First Edition Club Binding Group have been entrusted to the old-established firm of Henry T. Wood Limited.

A later binding, for the Letters from Aubrey Beardsley to Leonard Smithers (The First Edition Club, 1937), was, however, executed by Leighton-Straker-Bookbinding Co.

However, in the first volume of The Book-Collector’s Quarterly (1930-1931), Wood was the only bookbinder among the advertisers.

The Book-Collector's Quarterly,
October-December 1931

Perhaps - because of the short interval between Beyond the Threshold and The Legion Book - we may assume that the binding of Beyond the Threshold was executed by Henry T. Wood.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

607. Ricketts's Drawings for Oscar Wilde's Prose Poems (1924)

In 1924, Charles Ricketts made a series of drawings for (a never realised) edition of Oscar Wilde's prose poems. The set was sold (along with a set of new drawings for Wilde's The Sphinx) in America. None of this set of eight drawings were known in the 1970s.

There was a set of preparatory sketches though (and there were earlier ones, probably executed around 1894, and found again in 1918). The preparatory sketches ended up in the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle. (For these, see blog 97: Pen and Ink Drawings in My Earliest Manner).

Charles Ricketts, 'The Teacher of Wisdom'
(preparatory sketch, c. 1924)
[Location: Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery, Carlisle]
[© With permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil]

The American drawings differ from the sketches: they are signed with Ricketts's monogram 'CR'. Moreover, the original sketches were made on paper prepared with a variety of colours, while the American sketches were drawn on white paper. 

After completing them, Ricketts wrote to Gordon Bottomley that he had 'executed eight drawings in my old manner illustrating Wilde's Poems in Prose' (Charles Ricketts to Gordon Bottomley, 13 June 1924: BL Add MS 61719).

How many can we trace today?

Two of these drawings are in the Arts Institute of Chicago and are described and illustrated on the museum's website: 'The Hermet' and 'Narcissus by the Pool'. In 1925, both were given to the museum by philanthropist Robert Allerton (1873-1964).

A third one, exhibited in 1979, but not known to me until recently, is in the RISD Museum in Providence, Rhode Island. This is the drawing for 'The Teacher of Wisdom'.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Teacher of Wisdom' (1924)
[Location: RISD Museum, Providence, Rhode Island]
[©With permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil]

This drawing has been catalogued as: pen and ink off-white, medium weight wove paper, 229x152 cm, signed l.r.: “CR”, Gift of the estate of Mrs. Gustav Radeke. Eliza Greene Metcalf Radeke (1854-1931) was another patron of the arts, and seventh President of the Rhode Island School of Design (in office 1913–1931). Her alma mater was Vassar College, Brown University. She was a client of the art dealer Martin Birnbaum who sold the Ricketts drawings in America. The drawing was exhibited in 1979, 1991, and 2006, and illustrated in the 1979 catalogue by Diana L. Johnson, Fantastic Illustration and Design in Britain, 1850-1930.

The final drawing for 'The Teacher of Wisdom' is neater than the sketch. Whereas the sketch shows improvements in Chinese white and newly drawn lines, the later drawing comes without improvements. Lines have been drawn together, messy details tightened. The rock outline along the right side of the drawing, for example, is simpler, lacking subdivisions, making the landscape look more harsh and monolithic. Overall, however, the drawing is faithful to the sketch.