Wednesday, June 14, 2023

619. The 2023 Alphabet: X

Years ago I started a series on initials and letters that Charles Ricketts designed for illustrations, for commissioned books or for his Vale Press editions and we almost got to the end, but I could not find any examples for X and the series was temporarily suspended. 

Initial X designed
by Charles Ricketts

I had overlooked the specially designed enlarged initials based on the Avon Type used for the title-pages of his 39 volume Shakespeare edition from 1900 tot 1903 as well as for the identically executed single-volume edition of Doctor Faustus by Marlowe. These series of initials came in two sizes that were combined on the title-pages. The larger ones were also used to introduce the first text line of each play. 

X is for

A Most Pleasant and Excellent Conceited Comedy of Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor

William Shakespaere, A Most Pleasant and Excellent Conceited Comedy
of Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor
(Vale Press, 1902)

The Avon Type was specially designed for the Shakespeare so that the lines were less wide and the pages could contain more text.

The title-pages always contain only the title, however short or long. In the case of the Sonnets or Doctor Faustus, not even a single line was filled, but Ricketts refrained from decorations on these pages, as they were followed (two pages later) by two opening pages containing both the publisher's device and a decorated text page, the latter with a border that differed for the three types of plays (tragedies, comedies and histories).

But he did do something else that would raise eyebrows and showed that the criticism of his early title-pages would not stop him from carrying out such practices in a different way. As we saw in A.L. Cotton's criticism [read blog 616. Ricketts and an Attack on Him by a 'Fool'], he had in the past used a peculiar alternation of capitals and lowercase letters on opening pages. However, Cotton praised the restraint in the decorations of the Shakespeare volumes. Did he overlook the title-pages or did he consider the combination of two formats of initials on the purely typographical pages to be according to the rules?

William Shakespeare, The Excellent History of the Merchant of Venice
(Vale Press, 1902)

On these title-pages, we see idiosyncratic word breaks, the letters of one word are often in two sizes, even names are not sacred - like that of FALSTAFf - and quite often two smaller characters are placed on top of each other, or one is placed above an asterisk.

This was not necessary, of course; with careful measuring and drawing, the titles could also have been set in smaller initials only. Even the larger initials would have fit, although this would have resulted in many more hyphenations. As is often the case, we do not know what Ricketts's thoughts on this were. But I assume both regular solutions would have seemed uninventive and boring to him.

What is clear is that he also saw these pages as decorations, and let's face it: everyone pretty much knew these titles by heart. A single key word - Hamlet, Othello, merry, merchant - sufficed.