Wednesday, June 12, 2024

671. Is This a Shannon Painting?

On 30 May last, a painting attributed to Charles Shannon was auctioned at Cuttlestones. It was called ‘A Gentle Walk’ and described as: 

CHARLES HAZLEWOOD SHANNON (1863-1937). A young girl and her grandfather taking a walk in an ornamental garden with dog following behind 'A Gentle Walk', see verso, signed with monogram lower right, oil on canvas (relined), framed, 91 x 69 cm

CS, 'A Gentle Walk' (oil, undated)

The estimate was £300-500, the closing bid was £950. 

In his early days, Shannon's style was not fixed, and all kinds of subjects that he would not paint later passed by, from landscapes to religious scenes.

Monogram CS, 'A Gentle Walk' (oil, undated) (detail)

Personally, I do not find this attribution to Shannon convincing. The monogram in the lower right hand corner is CS, but Shannon in his earlier days actually always used three letters: CHS. I think the work is by an entirely different painter.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

670. Some of Ricketts's Binding Tools

Throughout the 1980s, numerous exceptional pieces related to the Vale Press and Charles Ricketts were offered through antiquarian booksellers Warrack & Perkins. Some of these can no longer be traced. Among these is a copy of the bibliography of the Vale Press, published by Ricketts after the closure of the firm of Hacon & Ricketts.

In Catalogue Forty-Four, Autumn Stock Catalogue (Autumn 1982) a copy of the bibliography from the collection of Harold Wilmerding Bell was described, and priced at £400. Bound in brown levant morocco gilt, by Riviere, it had Bell's arms gilt-stamped on both covers. It contained:

a sheet of india ink and white bodycolour designs by Ricketts for binding ornaments, each annotated by Ricketts and with directions to the cutter. Inscribed on the mount: 'Given me by Charles Ricketts 7 x 28 H W Bell (Designs for binding tools)'

At the time it remained unsold, and was offered again in a later catalogue, Illustrated Books, Prints and Posters 1880-1914, Catalogue 56 (1985) for £375.

Sybil Pye, binding for G.D. Hibson, Thirty Bindings (1926)

Of course, it is not the Bell copy of the bibliography that interests me, but the inserted sheet with designs of some binding tools with comments by Ricketts. The sheet turned up on 21 March 2005 at a Christie's auction in New York (the first part of the Breslauer collection), but by then it was no longer in a copy of the bibliography, but in an edition bound by Sybil Pye: G.D. Hobson's Thirty Bindings, selected from the First Edition Club's seventh exhibition, held at 25 Park Lane, by permission of Sir Philip Sassoon, Bart (London: The First Edition Club, 1926). Bound in 1944, the volume's current location is not given in Marianne Tidcombe's Women Bookbinders.

The sheet with Ricketts's designs is now probably to be found in a private collection.

A little more information can be gleaned from the first catalogue in which Warrack & Perkins offered the sheet of designs. Indeed, Catalogue Forty-Four has a cover on which one of the binding tools is depicted eighteen times, while inside are other tools which we can compare with the tools Pye received from Ricketts (illustrated in Tidcombe's book, p. 207).

Warrack & Perkins, Catalogue Forty-Four, Autumn Stock Catalogue (Autumn 1982): cover (detail)

The design repeated on the cover was never used by Ricketts and perhaps the tool was never made; in any case, it is not among the impressions of the tools Ricketts gave to Pye.

Charles Ricketts, design for a binding tool
(from Warrack & Perkins, Catalogue Forty-Four,
Autumn Stock Catalogue,
 Autumn 1982)

Two other designs were executed and among the Pye tools impressions.

Charles Ricketts, design for a binding tool
(from Warrack & Perkins, Catalogue Forty-Four,
Autumn Stock Catalogue,
 Autumn 1982, p. 26)

The design illustrated (twice) on page 26 of the catalogue is listed by Tidcombe as tool no. J2B.

Charles Ricketts, design for a binding tool
(from Warrack & Perkins, Catalogue Forty-Four,
Autumn Stock Catalogue,
 Autumn 1982, p. 12)

Another design for a binding tool was illustrated (twice) on page 12 of the Warrack & Perkins catalogue. This one is No. J5A in Tidcombe's Women Bookbinders.

In terms of style, the first design, the previously unknown heart-shaped design, belongs to the devices Ricketts designed for the binding of Lord de Tabley's Poems Dramatic & Lyrical (March 1893).

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

669. Charles Shannon Starts Designing Oscar Wilde's Plays

Tomorrow, at Forum Auctions, a number of letters, contracts, and notes regarding Oscar Wilde will be for sale. (See  Forum Auction). Among those is a letter from Charles Shannon to John Lane about the design of Oscar Wilde's plays. 

Charles Shannon, letter to John Lane, c. May 1893
[Forum Auctions, London]

This letter was first partly quoted by James G. Nelson in his 1971 study The Early Nineties. A View from the Bodley Head (Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1971). At the time, the letter was still in the archive of the Bodley Head Firm. The letter was probably written in May 1893.

Charles Shannon, letter to John Lane, c. May 1893
[Forum Auctions, London]

The Vale | Chelsea

Dear Lane,

Oscar called tonight. He decided very wisely I think that the plays Lady Windermere's Fan etc. should be published at 7/6 net with a limited Edition de luxe at 1 guinea instead of the uniform price at 10/6. These you can announce simply in this way.
In a binding & title page specially designed by Charles Shannon.
With regard to the W.H. he has also decided, we think wisely, that the 500 should be published at more than 10/0 (he thinks 15/0 on reconsideration we think 12/6 might be more wise). The book alone is worth 10/- apart from its get-up. It would be a mistake to allow very delicately fashioned books to go too cheap and its paper & format might do much.
This week can be announced Mr WH etc by Mr. Oscar Wilde with Initials & a binding designed by Charles Ricketts
Oscar says Lady Windermere which is to be the first of the series is to come out at once during the Season[.]
Oscar is averse of the idea of them being all bound in the same cover. Let me know when you have the material of Lady Windermere in hand & I will take it to the Ballantyne the next day.
The order of plays is
1. Lady Windermere's Fan
2. The Duchess of Padua
3 The Woman of No Importance
You had better write to him concerning the proper order.
Yours faithfully
CH Shannon

Charles Shannon, letter to John Lane, c. May 1893
[Forum Auctions, London]


However, the series of plays called Dramatic Works did not take off immediately. The first volume (Lady Windermere's Fan) was published in November 1893. The announced edition of The Duchess of Padua did not appear, nor did The Incomparable History of Mr. W.H. that was to be designed by Ricketts.

Shannon would be responsible for the design of the book, including the graphic design, but his wish to have the books printed at Ballantyne's - where their own magazine The Dial was printed -  was not met by the publisher who had them printed at R. and A. Constable in Edinburgh.

The two plays published at the Bodley Head, later followed by two more plays that were published by Leonard Smithers, would be bound in similar, but distinctly different mauve bindings, as Wilde had demanded.

PS, 31 May 2024
The lot was sold for £4.500.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

668. Charles Ricketts Plants a Love Tree

Recently I reread all the catalogues of Claire Warrack & Geoffrey Perkins who offered mainly British and continental books from the 1880s-1920s, including many by and about the Vale coterie, including letters, ephemera publications and prints. 

One of these catalogues (Catalogue Sixty-one issued in 1987)  includes a description of Paul Verlaine's Romances sans paroles, an 1887 reprint. The provenance of this copy is fascinating. Charles Ricketts wrote on the title page: 'Cs Ricketts | The Vale | His Book'.

Charles Ricketts, ownership entry and drawings in
Paul Verlaine, Romances sand paroles (1877)
[© With permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil]

He gave this copy to John Gray, who had translated some poems by Verlaine, and who added his own bookplate with several Latin phrases such as 'E Bibliotheca' 'Domine Tu' and 'Omnia Nosti'. A later owner was A.J.A. Symons whose Brick House bookplate was pasted on the free endpaper, and there is a note by the famous dealer George Sims.

But the point is the first leaf of the book on which Ricketts wrote his name. In fact, he did more than that, he added two original pen drawings in india ink. The bottom one of these is a small decoration, but the other is an important drawing.

This drawing is related to several drawings Ricketts made for Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates, and a tentative assumption would be that the drawing dates from 1891. It is not the central figure we recognise from other images, as the sad harlequin does not appear in Wilde's book; it is the writhing thorn branches that recur in several drawings, for example on page 23 where 'the young king' is compared to Christ.

Charles Ricketts, illustration for Oscar Wilde,
A House of Pomegranates (1891, p. 23
)

Wilde's young king wore a 'leathern tunic' and a 'rough sheepskin cloak' and when his page asks him 'but where is thy crown?', he 'plucked a spray of wild briar', and 'made a circlet of it, and set it on his own head' (pp. 20-21). In the book illustration he is seen on the back.

Charles Ricketts, decoration for Oscar Wilde, 
A House of Pomegranates (1891, p. 59)

For the book Ricketts also designed several roundel devices, some of which were used a few times. This device of a rose, a heart and thorny rose branches was used solely on page 59. 

Charles Ricketts, illustration for Oscar Wilde, 
A House of Pomegranates (1891, p. 149)

Even more thorny branches are depicted in an illustration for Wilde's story 'The Star-Child'. This illustration of the star-child and the hare in a trap (p. 149) is signed by Ricketts: 'CR inv et del.'

In the case of this book by Wilde, attention is often focused solely on Shannon's plates (because of their technique and its partly unsuccessful execution in Paris), but Ricketts' illustrations are worth a closer look, if only because they can be divided into six types (excluding the decorative binding). There are decorative endpapers, chapter devices, illustrations, marginal circular devices, pomegranate ornaments and initials. 

Charles Ricketts, original drawing in a copy of
Paul Verlaine, Romances sand paroles (1877)

The words in the original drawing 'J'ai planté un arbre d'amour' do not refer to a line by Verlaine, but to the first line of the 18th ballad by François Villon: 'J’ay ung arbre de la plante d’amours'.

The whereabouts of Verlaine's book with Ricketts's drawings is unknown.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

667. Edward Woodville Ricketts's Album

Charles Ricketts was not fond of his father, but his grandfather was a different story. His house was hung full of art that Ricketts remembered many years later. Edward Woodville Ricketts (1808-1895) was also a skilled draftsman as we saw almost 140 blogs ago: he made an etching depicting the bell tower of Seville (read blog 528: Ricketts Grandfather in Seville). 

Yesterday, another 302 pencil and pen drawings and watercolour paintings came up for auction at  Chiswick Auctions, all demonstrating his talent.

Edward Woodville Ricketts, Album (c.1829-1860s)
[Chiswick Auctions, 14 May 2024]

The album contains 152 sheets on which most of the drawings are mounted, often several on a sheet, sometimes folding panoramas, while some drawings are loosely inserted. The album captures several of Ricketts's travels. There are landscapes, panoramas, coastal views and images of ships (grandfather Ricketts was a keen yachtsman).

Edward Woodville Ricketts, Album (c.1829-1860s)
[Chiswick Auctions, 14 May 2024]


But there are also portraits, costume drawings and images of architecture and plants. Some travel destinations were in Spain: Madrid, Toledo, Seville - as we saw earlier - Alameida, The Alhambra, Alhama, Loxa, Gaucin (with a view of Gibraltar and Africa), Algeciras, Ceuta, Tarifa, and Ricketts travelled on to Morocco where he drew the mosque of Tangier. This was a 1833 journey.

Edward Woodville Ricketts, Album (c.1829-1860s)
[Chiswick Auctions, 14 May 2024]

There are drawings of steam locomotives at Liverpool, of Bala Lake, the lighthouses at Pierhead, portraits of horses, ships that are firing salutes, and a view of Dover Castle.

Edward Woodville Ricketts, Album (c.1829-1860s)
[Chiswick Auctions, 14 May 2024]

Ricketts also made drawings in Smyrna (now Izmir), Athens, Rouen, Nice, of the Mont Blanc, the Eiger and even of a Dutch gunboat seen in 1849. The album was estimated at £500 - £700. It sold for £750.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

666. Ricketts and 'the Ridiculous Price' in 1900

As the deadline approaches for the Collected Letters of Charles Ricketts, John Aplin and I are frantically trying to fit undated letters into the chronology. But sometimes it is the content that is not dateable, for instance the day of a trip or an auction. 

Sometimes an envelope is preserved with a date stamp. This helped date a letter to Pissarro to 20 March 1900.

Dear P.

The Vale Books fetched tall prices at the sale notably your Queen of the Fishes which sold for £8-15-0.

There were quite a few auctions in March 1900 and it was not immediately clear which auction Ricketts attended.

In a postscript, Ricketts wrote:

I was unable to buy 3 books at double the published price. The Chaucer Kelmscott £65-0-0.

This could provide an auction date thanks to William S. and Sylvia Holten Peterson's The Kelmscott Chaucer: A Census (New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2011). However, in the 'Catalogues' section one cannot find any 1900 auction in which the Chaucer was sold for the amount Ricketts mentioned. Prices were £66, £67, and £72.

There is one auction that seemed interesting and promising. This was the Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge auction at 19 March, a day before Ricketts's letter: Catalogue of a Valuable Portion of the Library of H. Sidney. Disappointingly, Peterson and Peterson mention that the lot was 'withdrawn' and without sales, there was no price. In a footnote, the withdrawal is explained: 'According to a letter from [Frederick S.] Ellis to [Sydney] Cockerell, 26 March 1900 [...], Sotheby advertised an unbound copy of the Chaucer for its sale of 19 March but withdrew it when Ellis obtained an injunction.'

Due to the hack of the British Library website, John was unable to consult the catalogue of the 19 March 1900 sale. However, the Grolier Club sent me images of the relevant pages - thanks are due to Jamie Elizabeth Cumby, Kevin McKinney and Scott Ellwood.

Catalogue of a Valuable Portion of the Library of H. Sidney, Esq. ...
London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 19 March 1900, p. 8
[Grolier Club, New York]

This is a priced copy. After the sale Sotheby distributed catalogues with the prices noted in the margins. This copy has the Chaucer lots crossed out. Thanks to Ricketts, who wrote a letter to Pissarro the day after, we know that initially the Chaucer must have been sold, only to be withdrawn sometime later. Its - never paid - price was £65. Ricketts was a reliable witness. All the prices he mentioned in his letter match those in the Grolier Club catalogue:

The book of Ruth & Esther £2-0-0. The Typographie £1-15-0, all books with the exception of the Milton nearly doubled their published prices[:] Hero & Leander £4-0-0 Daphnis etc £4-5-0. Sonnets Mrs Browning fetched the ridiculous price of £5-7-6. Hand & Soul £1-10-0 & £1-12-6 Keats £5-15-0.

The prices are indeed remarkably high, especially since all these copies were printed on paper, these were not vellum or specially bound copies and they did not include extras such as enclosed letters or portraits. 

Catalogue of a Valuable Portion of the Library of H. Sidney, Esq. ... 
London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 19 March 1900, p. 14
[Grolier Club, New York]

By the way, H. Sidney did not exist. The collector had used a pseudonym and his name was Sidney Humphries (1862-1941). This is probably a unique case. Usually, when a collector wanted to stay anonymous, her or his collection was advertised as 'The Property of a Lady or 'The Property of a Gentleman'. To think of a pseudonym - reversing the name Sidney Humphries to H. Sidney - seems a bit redundant. Anyway, when 'the remaining portion' of his library was sold, the same pseudonym was used. This portion, again, contained many Vale Press books, including duplicates and vellum copies.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

665. A Select Danish Vale Press collection

Small collections of Vale Press books in northern Europe mostly emerged after the death of William Morris, while new museums for applied art were established under the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement. A collection in Sweden grew under the influence of the printer Waldemar Zachrisson, see blog 657. A similar core collection was established in Hamburg by Justus Brinckmann and his assistant Richard Stettiner. In Denmark, books and many other objects were collected by the Kunstindustrimuseet which is now the Designmuseum Danmark.

Vale Press books
Designmuseum Danmark
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

The collection comprises nine Vale Press editions. There is also a single edition illustrated by Ricketts and Shannon, Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates. The books were obtained over a long period of time, but the nucleus was gathered in the 1890s.

One of the first books that was acquired was a pre Vale book, Daphnis and Chloe (1893). It was bought at Hacon & Ricketts in May 1898 for £2 12s. The original price had been £2 2s.

Daphnis and Chloe (1893)
Designmuseum Danmark: II464
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

The other early acquisition was Lucien Pissarro and Charles Ricketts's De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée. William Morris et son influence sur les arts et métiers (1898) which was bought in May 1898 at H. Floury (Paris), who is mentioned on the title page as the French co-publisher, and had received fifty copies of this book at the beginning of April.

Charles Ricketts, Lucien Pissarro,
De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée.
William Morris et son influence sur les arts et métiers
 (1898) 
Designmuseum Danmark: I703
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

Founded in 1890, and opened to the public in 1894, the Danish Museum for Art and Design (Kunstindustrimuseet) amassed a collection of porcelain, faience, silver, furniture, glass and textiles that was exhibited in several galleries. In 1898, the secretary Charles Arnold Been (1869-1914) travelled to London to acquire material for exhibitions. Been had not finished his university education (History), and in 1893 joined the museum for which he undertook some travelling.

Letter from Ch. A. Been, 29 December 1898
Designmuseum Danmark
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

In a letter, dated 9 December 1898, Been reported back to the museum about his finds, mentioning the names of Ashbee, Nicholson, and Hacon and Ricketts. His purpose was to collect English illustrations, books and posters for an exhibition that was opened the following year. From 7 February to 12 March 1899 works by Walter Crane, Aubrey Beardsley, William Morris, William Nicholson, Lucien Pissarro, Robert Anning Bell, and Dudley Hardy were exhibited. (There is no catalogue, but these names are mentioned in a review.)

Ricketts's name is not mentioned, but several of his books were on display. These (or a selection of them) were acquired by the museum after the exhibition closed. In May 1899, four books were not returned to Hacon and Ricketts, but added to the museum's collection:

Matthew Arnold, Empedocles on Etna (1896): 8s 5;
Apuleius, The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches (1897): £1;
The Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney (1898): 16s 10;
Michael Field, The World at Auction (1898): 12s.

Then, in December 1900, the museum acquired the second pre-Vale publication Hero and Leander (1894). It was bought from no other than Been himself, who had apparently also bought books for himself, but now decided to add his copy to the museum's collection. He was paid 25 Danish Kroner for it.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891)
Illustrated na designed by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, Lucien Pissarro,
Designmuseum Danmark: I1254
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

A few years later, in November 1903, two more Vale Press books were acquired - along with books from The Eragny Press and the Essex House Press. These were bought from the German firm Breslauer & Meyer, founded in April 1898 by Edmund Meyer and Martin Breslauer. The first one was Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates (1891) which cost 40 Mark, the second one was Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (1903), priced at 27 Mark.

Accession Protocol 1899
Designmuseum Danmark
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]


Accession Protocol 1899 (detail)
Designmuseum Danmark
[Photo: Sara Fruelund]

Between these two titles featured The Parables, illustrated by Millais, one of the Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces of the 1860s, showing that the museum's interest in the English book was broader than just the modern 1890s.

In the following years, the Vale Press collection more or less ground to a halt. Only in 1941 another purchase followed: Thomas Campion, Fifty Songs (1896). This came with a large collection of books from the Forening for Boghaandvaerk (The Association for Book Craft) in May 1941.

The Vale Press collection at the Designmuseum Danmark was created largely through active acquisition in the years 1898-1903, making it a typical example of a national collection that sought to inspire local arts and crafts through purchases (among others) of contemporary foreign works from the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau period. The question arises: have any publishers or artists actually been influenced by Charles Ricketts's work? 

In Germany, his influence is visible, for example, in the work of Marcus Behmer. For Sweden and Denmark it seems less clear.

[Thanks are due to Sara Fruelund, teamleader Biblioteket / Bibliotekar, Designmuseum Danmark, for her answers to questions, her provenance research and her photographs.]

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

664. A Vale Press Collector: Ambrose Heal

Some collections of major collectors may be preserved as a whole, for example by bequeathing them to a museum, archive or library, while others may be scattered among family members or through auctions. This is what happened to Ambrose Heal's collections. Heal (1872-1959), born into a family of furniture manufacturers, joined the family business Heal & Son in 1893, and, inspired by the Arts & Crafts Movement, he designed simple and somewhat sturdy furniture that was shown at the Arts and Crafts exhibitions and reached a broad middle-class public. For an impression of his way of decorating his own home, see Cross Nelson, 'Ambrose Heal at Home' (Heal's, 19 April 2023).

His collection of trade-cards is now at the British Museum, his collection and documentation of sixteenth and seventeenth century writing masters and their copy books is now kept in the V&A. He wrote books on both subjects as well as on London history, including subjects such as furniture makers, goldsmiths and signboards. 

Signature of Ambrose Heal
in a copy of
The English Writing-Masters and Their Copy-Books, 1570-1800 (1931)
[KB, National Library, The Hague]
,
But his impressive library was not preserved as a whole. It was auctioned by his son Anthony S. Heal at Sotheby & Co in London in July 1964.

 Collector's mark of Ambrose Heal (4.3 x 3.2 cm)
[From Frans Lugt, Marques de collections de dessins et d'estampes online

The auction catalogue states on the title page that his collection included 'almost complete sets' of a number of private presses: Ashendene, Doves, Kelmscott and Vale Press, while he also had copies of books of other presses such as Daniel, Eragny and Essex House. This makes it a regular collection in terms of subject matter, but an exceptional one in terms of completeness.

Ambrose Heal

The magazine The Dial was not part of his collection, but two significant pre-Vale editions are present: Daphnis and Chloe (1893) and Hero and Leander (1894).Then, spread over four pages of the auction catalogue, follows a 'complete set' of the Vale Press books: lots 198 through 219.

Most books are grouped into lots with multiple books: 2 (4 lots), 3 (1 lot) and 4 (6 lots). Ten lots focus on a single title, but these are, for example, the three-volume Shelley edition or the complete series of thirty-eight Shakespeare volumes with the Marlowe included.

This was the custom at Sotheby's - and still is - for ordinary copies of private press editions. Indeed, Heal owned only a single Vale Press book printed on vellum: James I, The Kingis Quair (lot 218). He also owned a paper copy. 

The vellum Kingis Quair was unopened. Heal apparently had a preference for 'unopened' copies and possessed no fewer than fifteen volumes that were never cut open and read. These include the editions of Constable, Drayton, Sidney, Wordsworth, EcclesiastesT.S. Moore's Danaë, Shakespeare's The Passionate Pilgrim, Michael Field's plays The World at Auction and The Race of Leaves, the two-volume edition of Chatterton, the three-volume edition of Shelley's Poems.

In 1915, he acquired some volumes from the sale of the famous collection of George Dunn of Woolley Hall. Others had the bookplates of John Morgan, R.A. Walker, Francis Edwin Murray or Alice Marion Trusted and Herbert S. Squance.

Heal also owned one specially designed binding by Ricketts, for Apuleius' The Marriage of Cupide and Psyches (1897), executed in white pigskin, tooled in gilt and blind. This had the bookplate of John Morgan, whose collection was sold in 1908. The volume was acquired by Henri M. Petiet at the Heal auction and resurfaced in 1994 at the sale of his collection. This is now the Morgan-Heal-Petiet copy, although Heal's name was not mentioned in 1994, and the book probably does not have his bookplate. Current whereabouts unknown. The book was sold by in Paris Piasa in 2009 and by Sims Reed in London around 2011 when I saw it at the London International Antiquarian Book Fair. The volume contained handwritten notes by its first owner John Morgan about the costs of the special binding. The asking price in 2011 was £5,000.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

663. The Announcement of the Vale Shakespeare

The Academy. A Weekly Review of Literature and Life of 17 March 1900 published some critical notes on the announcement of the Vale Shakespaere. By this time, its editor was Charles Lewis Hind (1862-1927) who previously had been editor of The Art Journal and Pall Mall, and was a co-founder of The Studio

Cover illustration for The Academy (1900)
[KB, National Library, The Hague]


His ironic contribution (I assume he wrote these paragraphs) highlighted that the merits of the private press publications were small because of the small print runs and that the books were exploited by investors.

The Vale Press artists think that “no edition of Shakespeare’s Plays at present exists that is notable as a finely-printed book on paper whose permanence is undoubted.” So the Vale Press is going to issue its own Shakespeare, printed in a new “Avon” fount of small pica type, and adorned with borders and half-borders by Mr. Rickett[s]. Each play will be issued in a demy 8vo volume, and separate schemes of internal decoration have been arranged for the Tragedies, Comedies and Histories. Good! The world will soon have its well-printed enduring edition of Shakespeare. Scholars, book-lovers, critics – rise, welcome it in your myriads! Stay – what is this? “Only 310 sets of the Vale Shakespeare will be printed, of which 100 sets are for sale in the United States of America and 187 sets in Great Britain . . . The whole of the English edition of the Vale Shakespeare has been taken up by collectors and the trade.” Vale! 

Unfortunately these special editions are always exploited by speculators and those who have never before made a penny out of books succumb to the temptation. Only last week a gentleman having bought his right to a copy of the edition at 16s. a volume, transferred the right the next day, at a profit of 5s. a volume. The publication of the edition would have begun last year had it not been for the fire at Messrs. Ballantyne’s, which destroyed the type and the sheets of the first two volumes. (The Academy, 17 March 1900, p. 216)

The Acadamy (17 March 1900)

The notice was briefly summarised in the Dutch magazine De Kroniek of 25 March 1900. Hacon & Ricketts had announced the Shakespeare edition with a four-page prospectus (including order form) that probably appeared in the last quarter of the previous year. However, a fire at the printing firm on 9 December 1899 necessitated a delay. 

The wording of The Academy is often literally that of the prospectus - which does not refer to the fire. The magazine seems to be relying on this same prospectus, as if Hacon & Ricketts reused it as an announcement without modification. There were, however, two other notices referring to the fire either because it caused the publication programme to grind to a halt or to report which books were now still available. It is somewhat puzzling why no new announcement was made in February/March 1900. It would have been quite logical, although the books that had appeared in 1899 had all been fully subscribed. 

And there is another puzzle. When the announcement was sent out in 1899, the press did not pay any attention to it. It was only after the fire that it was reported that the Vale Press was working on this multi-volume edition to be published between 1900 and 1903.

The only solution is that it was not sent to the press at the time, but to Vale Press subscribers, dealers and collectors, and apparently, their numbers were sufficient to sell out the entire edition. That would explain why the Shakespeare was fully subscribed in advance, as one of the two later notices explained: 

Any subscribers who desire to cancel their orders on account of this postponement are requested to notify their intention at once, so that arrangements may be made for the transfer of their sets to those who were previously disappointed.

But, as The Academy, stated, in the meantime, there were subscribers who wanted to profit from it and instead of withdrawing their subscription, they sold it for high amounts to other collectors or dealers. One of those was John Lane, who from the latter half of 1900 was the sole agent for the Vale Press in America. He offered to buy back Vale Press books, only to sell them for higher prices.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

662. A Working Drawing for an Exhibition Room

Charles Shannon focused mainly on his fine art in lithography, pencil or oil. But in the early days he designed and made furniture, later, when Ricketts and he resided in the Keep of Chilham Castle, he designed fabrics for the four-poster beds. On occasion he designed a baptismal font, magisterial dressing gowns or the likes.  Although there is a catalogue of his lithographs, a survey of his paintings has never been published, and an inventory of his decorative works will probably never be made.

After his death, Christie's auctioned a four-fold screen. It is listed in Catalogue of Drawings and Paintings comprising […] Paintings by C.H. Shannon, R.A. Esq. Sold by Order of the Executors […]. London, Sotheby & Co., 29 March 1939, p. 18, no. 114, and described as 'A four-fold screen depicting various harvesting scenes by C.H. Shannon, R.A. each panel 70in. by 36in.' It was sold for £3 15s to Francis Howard.

Perhaps this was the 'decorative panel' called 'Autumn' that Shannon had exhibited in 1923 at the Royal Academy, see Exhibition of Decorative Art. Winter Exhibition Forty-Eighth Year. London, William Clowes and Sons, Printers to the Royal Academy [1923], p. [1], no. 2. 

In most cases, there are no images of such decorative works.

The British Museum holds a working drawing for a design that may have been intended as a tapestry, a folding screen, a tiled tableau, or some other type of decoration. It has no title.

Charles Shannon, Figures decorating an interior
[Location: British Museum, London: 
1962,0809.32]
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license
[© With permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil]

The drawing on paper (see the description on the British Museum website) is a brush drawing in grey ink, and graphite, squared for transfer, 34 x 43.2 cm. It is inscribed 'Shannon', and: 'Study for a Decoration'. Numbers have been written on the left-hand side.

It is an interior scene, in which ten characters engage in different activities. On the left side are tall windows, and a figure standing on a ladder arranging the curtains, aided by another on the floor.

Charles Shannon, Figures decorating an interior (detail)
[Location: British Museum, London: 
1962,0809.32]
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license
[© With permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil]


To their right, on the floor in the foreground sits a figure, apparently lifting a rug to some extent, perhaps to straighten it. 

In the corner by the window is a cabinet on legs. Paintings hang from left to right on the back wall.

Charles Shannon, Figures decorating an interior (detail)
[Location: British Museum, London: 
1962,0809.32]
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license
[© With permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil]

In the left-hand corner, a figure supports another, standing on a ladder, hand held to the top edge of a painting, presumably to hang it straight.

Next to them is a figure with a broom, while in front of this person another worker kneels on the ground, apparently with a dustpan and brush.

Charles Shannon, Figures decorating an interior (detail)
[Location: British Museum, London: 
1962,0809.32]
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license
[© With permission of the executors of the Charles Ricketts estate,
Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmain O'Neil]

On the right, a person is holding a painting in front of a seated figure, while in the middle behind them another figure is holding a painting diagonally. In front of the seated figure appears to be a table (perhaps the person sits in a wheelchair?).

The scene seems to be this: a room is transformed into a temporary exhibition space, or a personal gallery of paintings. The patron is then the seated figure.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

661. An American Vale Press Collector: Frederick W. Lehmann

Frederick William Lehmann (1853-1931) was an American lawyer, politician, United States Solicitor General, and rare book collector.

His parents had moved to the US from Prussia when he was two years old, his mother died young, and because of his father's strict upbringing, he ran away from home when he was ten. He roamed the Midwest, as a shepherd, farmhand or newspaper boy. When he was seventeen, he worked on the farm of Judge Epenetus Sears of Tabor, Iowa, who was so much impressed with his ability that he sent him to Tabor College. Lehmann graduated in 1873, and practised law in several cities. In 1890 he moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Active in Iowa politics, in 1910 William Howard Taft named him as United States Solicitor General. He had a remarkable, possibly photographic memory and was called 'the best educated man in St. Louis.'

F.W. Lehmann (1914)
[Wikimedia Commons]

He also manifested himself tirelessly on the cultural front, being a founder of the St. Louis Art Museum and the State Historical Society of Missouri and a president of the St. Louis Public Library. As a bibliophile, he collected works by Robert Burns and Charles Dickens and illustrations by George Cruikshank and Aubrey Beardsley.

He left a collection of autographs to the Missouri Historical Collection. The Frederick William Lehmann Papers at the Washington University St. Louis contain letters, pictures and documents of American political figures and authors including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Thackeray, and ephemera such as bookplates and calling cards.

He had the vast majority of his collection auctioned off at the Anderson Galleries in New York in 1930: A Charles Dickens Collection of Superlative Merit and Equally Fine First Editions of American and English Authors. The Library of the Honorable Frederick W. Lehmann St. Louis. MO. The catalogue [read the contents here] shows that his collection was rich in first editions of Dickens (lots 233-366), Emerson, Harte, Hawthorne, Longfellow, and others. 

Strengths, moreover, included extra-illustrated copies and bindings (such as an edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland bound by Cobden-Sanderson), and private press editions: The Cuala Press (42 books), Daniel Press (4 books),  The Doves Press (5 books), Essex House Press (5 books), Kelmscott Press (36 books  in 46 volumes [not including Chaucer], of which one printed on vellum), The Vale Press (18 volumes).

A Charles Dickens Collection of Superlative Merit and Equally Fine First Editions
of American and English Authors. The Library of the Honorable
Frederick W. Lehmann St. Louis. MO
(1930, p. 158)

The Vale Press books were offered in one lot (unlike the other private press books). A few things can be noted. 

First, the lot contains two books published not by the Vale Press, but by George Allen in London: John Ruskin's Of King's Treasures and Of Queen's Gardens. These books were printed by the Ballantyne Press, the firm where Ricketts also had his books printed, and even though the publisher's name is clearly stated in the colophon, these books were often attributed to the Vale Press. [See my earlier blog 'A Summer's Miscellany of Mistakes (1)'.]

That leaves: 18 volumes. Compared to Kelmscott Press, Lehmann owned a smaller collection of Vale Press books (still relatively large).

The incomplete set contains one pre-Vale edition: Daphnis & Chloe (but not: Hero and Leander). Lehmann did not have copies of the magazine The Dial (he did acquire copies of magazines that printed Beardsley's illustrations, such as The Savoy).

Nor does the set include the much-sought-after volumes with wood-engravings by Ricketts, such as The Parables, but it does include the last book illustrated by Ricketts: T.S. Moore's Danae that has three wood-engravings by Ricketts.

The set is made up of volumes that reprinted early English poetry by Suckling, Drayton, Campion, Constable, Chatterton, and The King's Quair. There is also prose by French author Maurice de Guérin and the memoirs of Cellini.

Of the programmatic works, he owned only Ricketts's A Defence of the Revival of Printing (1899).

Notable is John Gray's religious collection, Spiritual Poems, but particularly the four plays by Michael Field, and Lehmann thus owned all the Vale Press editions by this author. Indeed, he collected all the editions of contemporary authors in the Vale Press publishing fund.

The tentative conclusion may be that Lehmann was mainly interested in private press editions of literary texts by contemporary authors and that he found editions by more or less forgotten authors equally fascinating. He was less interested in Ricketts as a book artist.