Wednesday, July 20, 2016

260. Dust-Jackets on Ricketts's books (3): In the Key of Blue

In Mark R. Godburn's recently published Nineteenth-Century Dust-Jackets, examples of dust-jackets in many varieties are given, and the most compelling evidence for their widespread existence after 1850 is found in the collection of file copies of John Murray Ltd. (incorporating Smith, Elder & Co.), a collection that is housed at the Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Mark R. Godburn, Nineteenth-Century Dust-Jackets (2016, pp. 168-169)
The list of more than 200 jacketed titles in the archive from 1858 to 1900 shows the increasing usage of dust-jackets: 1 from the 1850s, 4 from the 1860s, 11 from the 1870, 44 from the 1880s, the rest dates from the 1890s.

The list contains plain waxed paper jackets, illustrated jackets with advertising, printed jackets, plain semi-transparent jackets, printed jackets with price on spine, plain jackets, decorated jackets, blue printed jackets, jackets printed on spine, and printed jackets repeating binding design. 

There are also publishers who printed advertisements on the flaps, for example with information about other books in the same series.

There was a great variety of styles of printing on the jackets, including colour, but even after the initial use of the wrapper as a marketing tool, many jackets still were plain without any form of decoration.

John Addington Symonds's In the Key of Blue and Other Prose Essays, published in the week of 7 January 1893 by Elkin Mathews & John Lane in London and Macmillan & Company in New York, was issued in a plain jacket.

John Addington Symonds, In the Key of Blue and Other Prose Essays (1893):
back cover, spine and front cover (copy without a dust-jacket)
No image of this dust-jacket is known to me, and only one copy seems to have survived. It was mentioned in a catalogue issued by John Updike Rare Books in Edinburgh in August 2000: The Eighteen Nineties. Listed on page 40, no. 224, was a copy of the first edition of this book in the cream cloth binding designed by Charles Ricketts.

The 'elaborate gilt-stamped design of curvaceous laurel and hyacinth by Charles Ricketts is still bright', the catalogue mentioned, and this may partly have been the case because of its protective paper wrapper: 'original plain paper dust jacket just a little edge-worn'.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

259. Dust-Jackets on Ricketts's books (2): A House of Pomegranates

Last week I wrote about the earliest known Ricketts dust-jacket, for The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). Several copies of the original edition in the paper wrapper with Ricketts's design exist, both of the ordinary and the deluxe edition of Oscar Wilde's novel.

For the next Ricketts related dust-jacket, there is only one known copy, and I have never seen an image of it. This dust-jacket appeared on the next cooperation between Ricketts and Wilde, including four plates by Charles Shannon, published later the same year by James R. Osgood McIlvaine: Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates

This collection of stories was published at the end of November 1891, and originally all copies must have been delivered in a paper jacket.

Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates (1891): cover design by Charles Ricketts
Ricketts not only designed the cover that came to be harshly criticized - and subsequently ardently defended by Wilde - he also designed 12 illustrations (one including a large letter T), 2 initials (1 repeated), and 17 decorations (1 repeated 10 times, 1 repeated 17 times, 1 repeated 3 times). Wilde came to the defence in a letter to The Speaker (December 1891) (see The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, 2000, p. 501): 

Indeed, it is to Mr. Ricketts that the entire decorative design of the book is due, from the selection of the type and the placing of the ornamentation, to the completely beautiful cover that encloses the whole.

Wilde mentioned the cover, but not a wrapper of any sort. The reviewer for The Speaker had also spoken about its 'cover'. Wilde went on to mention 'the overlapping band of moss-green cloth that holds the book together'. 

Obviously, Wilde had immediately discarded of the wrapper - if he received a copy having one in the first place of course.

Anyhow, there was a wrapper. A copy of the book in its original wrapper was offered for sale in 1989 by Bernard J. Shapero in London. The firm's catalogue Oscar Wilde. A Collection listed as No. 25 a copy in its original binding and ‘in original paper wrappers in original box’.

Not only was there a copy of the dust-jacket, and not only was it in its original box, the dust-jacket was not just a plain wrapper: ‘To find a copy in its original dust wrapper designed by Ricketts and in an original box not even mentioned by Mason is extremely rare, thus this copy is a highly prized item’.

Ricketts's design was printed on the dust-jacket. But which design? The drawing for the title page? The elaborate design of the front cover, or the spine design?

And more importantly, where is this copy now?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

258. Dust-Jackets on Ricketts's books (1): The Picture of Dorian Gray

Recently, the Private Libraries Association and Oak Knoll Press published Nineteenth-Century Dust-Jackets by Mark R. Godburn, an American bookseller and collector. The book traces the use of dust-jackets in Great Britain and America. From his research it becomes quite clear that the use of dust-jackets started in Germany in the early 1820s, then spread to England during the early 1830s, and by the time that Charles Ricketts's design for Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray was reproduced on the dust-jacket (1891), these jackets were quite common, although only a fraction of them have survived.

They were not seen as part of the book, but as a much-needed protection until the moment of sale, and it is only around the time of the First World War that collectors, and later bibliographers, came to see them as part of the published book.

Dust-jacket for the ordinary edition of Oscar Wilde's
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
Interpretations of the importance and meaning of the dust-jacket for Oscar Wilde's novel have focussed on Wilde's own vision of the book. Nicholas Frankel, for example, has asked: 'What does the book's cover say about how we might read Wilde's novel itself?'. Wilde wrote about book ornamentation and bookbindings in this novel, and according to Frankel, 'it is the details of the book in question [Gautier's Émaux et Camées] that connote the meanings Wilde wants to suggest (rarity, luxury, self-conscious artfulness and so forth).' 

About the dust-jacket for Wilde's own novel Frankel wrote:

As a book, the novel was originally issued in buff-colored outer wrappers, which we would now term a dust-jacket, with the designs and lettering printed in brown. G. Thomas Tanselle records just thirty-two instances of such wrappers in England prior to 1890, from which we infer that the book jacket wrapping of the 1891 edition of Wilde's novel must have represented a dramatic departure from normal publishing practice. More than anything else in the edition's design, it calls our attention to, as much as it protects, the book as a significant entity in its own right.


Whether Wilde intended his binding to "reflect" those changes or not, his book's binding is composite with them by virtue of the fact that no text can wholly escape the actual mode of its existence.

Now that we know that dust-jackets were far more common than previously surmised on the basis of the small number of surviving jackets, we should reconsider the meaning of the dust-jacket, the involvement of Wilde in its appearance and in its existence in the first place. Most jackets were simply used for protection, and for that they didn't need to have text or images on them. Most jackets were plain (blank, unprinted) paper folders. Some had attractive borders, and coloured paper or ink were used for others.

By the 1860s dust-jackets had become quite common and their use had changed. Publishers had begun to see their promotional value, and started to print advertisements on them, or reproductions of the title-pages, and many large publishing houses were doing this: Blackie & Son, Chapman & Hall, George Bell & Sons, Macmillan & Co, George Routledge, and many others. The jacket had become a marketing tool as early as the 1860s.

The binders delivered the books in a jacket, and the publishers decided what was to be printed on them. The reproduction of the binding's design by Ricketts on the dust-jacket of his novel was probably the result of a normal procedure at the publishers. There is no reason to assume that Wilde was the instigator of the dust-jacket. Even Ricketts - who liked to interfere - may not have been aware that a dust-jacket echoing his design would be printed. 

And Wilde will have disposed of the dust-jacket almost immediately, as did most readers, and as did Ricketts himself, in all probability.

The large-paper edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray - different format, more elaborate design - was also issued in a dust-jacket. 

We shouldn't read too much into it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

257. Brexit and Charles Ricketts's political ideas

The Brexit votes in Great Britain have won: 52% of the population voted for leaving the European Union; 48% voted for remaining, but lost. The British Isles are a divided country, but the votes are similar to those that would have been expected in other countries had there been a referendum - for example in France, Denmark and the Netherlands. Nationalism on the one side, mercantile reasoning on the other - the debate about borders is not likely to fade away. 

What Charles Ricketts would have thought about the referendum is impossible to say. As an artist, he hated the bureaucracy that came with borders, and art works themselves were not seen by him as the work of a country, a people, or a national character; they were the expression of an individual. Still, he believed that the English were different from the Germans, and the Italians. The English hated artists, German paintings did not have a sense of beauty.

His political ideas were conservative, and driven by his concerns about art. But after visiting Canada and the United States, the English seemed indifferent and apathetic, and he missed the vitality of the other continent. As Paul Delaney noted: 'Among the European countries he had visited, only Italy under Mussolini showed at the time the same wish to advance'. 

Ricketts wasn't a propagator for democracy - it would undoubtedly harm the arts - and he looked for order, duty, a sense of real values, and 'a return to construction and veneration for firm things'. He wrote these words in a letter to the poet W.B. Yeats in 1922, the year that Mussolini marched on Rome, and became prime minister of Italy; and two years before the socialist Giacomo Matteotti was murdered by fascist militia.

Ricketts died in 1931, and probably never changed his thoughts on Mussolini.

[J.G.P. Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A Biography (1990), p. 365; Self-Portrait Taken from the Letters & Journals of Charles Ricketts, R.A. (1939), pp. 342-343.] 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

256. A Rough Advance Proof for Hamlet (2)

Last week, I described an advance proof for Hamlet dating from 1899 - the book was published in 1900. It displayed several deviations from the final text. I left one remarkable feature unmentioned. Between the proof and the publication of the Vale Press book, Ricketts decided to change the letter 'G' of his newly designed Avon Type.

The Avon was an adaptation of his Vale Type, and for the title pages the letters were enlarged to two larger sizes. We see combinations of these sizes on most of the title pages, where the smaller types are occasionally piled up.

The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark (1900)
The capitals do not protrude below the lines. However, originally, the down-stroke of the letter 'G' did reach lower, which we can see in the advance proof for Hamlet. It is only a slight difference, that did not occur in the normal size of the Avon. We only see it in the enlarged capital letter 'G' in this proof. The normal size types were individually cut by punchcutter Edward Prince; the enlarged ones were produced by an engraving machine.

The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark (proof, 1899)
The final down-stroke looks a bit blunt in comparison.

The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark (1900)
As the letter 'G' appeared in many titles, it is no wonder that Ricketts took a good look at the final design of it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

255. A Rough Advance Proof for Hamlet (1)

A fire at The Ballantyne Press at the end of 1899 jeopardized the imminent publication of the first two volumes of The Vale Shakespeare: Hamlet and Othello. Hamlet had been printed, while Othello was in the press. Both volumes had to be set and printed anew.

There is a proof for the Hamlet volume marked 'Rough Advance Proof' in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. Of this proof several copies are in existence, and all show small deviations from the final pages.

The title page of the final edition has an ornament placed between (or after) some of the words in the title.

The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark (1900)
The advance proof looked a bit different by the addition of another ornament at the end of line four. It formed a line with those in the line before and after, and that must have been the reason for Ricketts to delete that ornament. What we do not know, is when he took that decision. The proof may have dated from well before the fire (9 December), and have been followed by another proof that has not survived.

The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark (proof, 1899)
The page facing the opening page of the play mentioned the year of 1899, while the definitive text had 1900.

The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark (proof 1899)
There were several textual changes as well. On page vi Marcellus's 'O' later became 'Oh', the spelling of 'relieved' was changed to 'reliev'd', and there were similar changes in spelling and punctuation on the next few pages.

The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark (proof 1899) and final text (1900, below)

In the final text the opening page displays a slight difference between the words Act I in the left margin and the first text line with the words 'SCENE I.' The marginal note is placed somewhat higher than the line of the text.

In the proof they were lining and placed exactly on the same height. Apparently, Ricketts was not pleased with this, and after correcting this, every opening page of The Vale Shakespeare (39 volumes) would display the same slight line difference.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

254. Two of Ricketts's Legros Engravings For Sale

In 1898 Ricketts and Shannon exhibited wood-engravings of the younger generation to which they belonged in a show called 'The first exhibition of original wood engraving'. Some items, however, expressed their admiration for some older artists. Three wood-engravings were designed by Alphonse Legros and engraved by Ricketts. I wrote about these in October 2012 - see my blog 63 Alphonse Legros (2).

Two of these engravings have come up for auction in Italy: 'Death the Wooer' (or 'Death the Persuader') and 'Young Girl and Death' (or 'Jeune Fille et la Mort').

Alphonse Legros (engraved by Charles Ricketts), 'Death the Wooer'
The first one has a starting bid of €500, bidding for the second one starts at €400. Estimates are €500-600 and €400-500.

Alphonse Legros (engraved by Charles Ricketts), 'Young Girl and Death'
Philobiblon Auctions lists these engravings in their 'Modern and Contemporary Art' sale, which will take place today in Rome.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

253. Internally Clean Copies Currently For Sale

Copies of Vale Press books in their original paper covers or buckram bindings have often lost their original freshness and copies without any kind of damage to the corners or the upper and lower part of the spines have become rare. It is, however, still possible to find Vale Press books that show no signs of aging. 

Today, this blog presents a series of defects.

The antiquarian dealer's descriptions of Vale Press books today usually mention defects such as: 'some chipping to spine', 'worn at foot of spine, corners and hinges', 'browned', 'some marking and rubbing to corners and top', 'some sunning', 'offsetting at the endpapers', 'some wear and discolouration to paper over boards', 'two splits to the paper along the rear hinge which have been repaired with glue', 'cover slightly rubbed at the edges', 'binding darkened and soiled', 'spine ends slightly frayed', 'spine very slightly dulled', 'some finger soiling to covers', 'rear free endpaper mostly torn away', 'mild shelf wear', 'spine age-toned', 'showing some brown stains', 'slight nick to corners', 'unfortunate dampstain along bottom edge', 'minor bubbling to cloth'.

Notwithstanding all these defects, most dealers conclude their description with the phrase: 'an internally very clean and an overall good copy', or at least 'none-the-less quite a decent copy', and some dealers simply ignore the defects, and present the book as 'a very good copy'.

'worn at foot of spine, corners and hinges'
'unfortunate dampstain along bottom edge'
'minor bubbling to cloth'
'binding darkened and soiled'

'some marking and rubbing to corners and top'
'Very good'

'spine darkened'

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

252. Cyril W. Beaumont

Recently, a new issue of The Private Library was published. It is the Winter 2014 issue, published with the magazine's customary delay in April 2016. 

The Private Library (Winter 2014) [cover, detail]
The issue, written by Stephen R. Thomson, is entirely devoted to the publications of Cyril W. Beaumont that appeared between 1917 and 1931. Starting as a private press, with its own printing press, The Beaumont Press soon developed into a semi commercial firm that focussed on illustrated books and books about ballet.

The Vale Press and Charles Ricketts are mentioned a few times. Cyril Beaumont belonged to a younger generation (he was born in 1891 and died in 1976) and when he considered setting up his own press, the major private presses of the 1890s had all closed down. Beaumont, Thompson writes, 'claimed to have been particularly inspired by the Kelmscott Press, Doves, Vale and Eragny presses'.

The Private Library (Winter 2014)
In 1920, printing books in his basement of 75 Charing Cross Road in London came to an end, and he abandoned craft printing. He, as Thompson argues, 'was happy to oversee and assist staff at an established printing firm'. He may have felt that he was 'departing from the private press ideal', but Thomson sees it differently: 'In reality, though, he had moved to a state of production similar to that of Charles Ricketts, whose publications were printed at the Ballantyne Press as though they were private press books, using a carefully selected group of compositors, readers, pressmen and binders released from their normal work routine to concentrate on the printing of the Vale Press books.' (page 161).

Some details in the last statement are arguable, but there are some similarities. Beaumont was not merely a publisher, he also acted as an editor and a writer, which Ricketts also did. But Ricketts could go further and illustrate the books he published. Beaumont never designed his own illustrations. 

There is a further similarity that could have been noted. Both men were lovers of ballet and modern dance, and they were especially delighted by the Ballet Russe that visited London for a popular series of performances. Ricketts, however, was disappointed by the later shows. During the 1920s, Beaumont published some books about the later group of dancers: The Art of Lydia Lopokova (1920), and Serge Lifar (1928) were among these.

The Private Library (Winter 2014)
Ricketts decided, when the Russian Ballet had returned to London in September 1918, that the principle dancers such as Lopokova and Massine had lost their genius, and that the ballets were no longer the 'life-events' that had impressed him so thoroughly. Massine could not compare with Nijinski or Fokine; he lacked imagination and temperament, although his appearance was tempting:

He is stark naked save for rather nice bathing-drawers, with a huge black spot on his belly. Two or three idiot girls in the gallery shrieked with laughter when he came on. They shrieked again when the nice coral-red men came on, they again shrieked when Cleopatra was brought out of her veils and when the fauns appeared.

[Ricketts's diary had: 'fawns'].

[A photograph of Massine in this production of Cleopatra was made by E.O. Hoppé, and can be viewed on the website of the E.O. Hoppé Estate.]

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

251. Mother and Child

Last week, a drawing by Charles Shannon came up for auction. The auction house of Cheffins in Cambridge listed it in the catalogue for their Art & Design from 1860 sale which took place on 12 May.

Charles Shannon, 'Mother and Son' (undated drawing)
The description of lot 395 read: 

Charles Haslewood Shannon (British, 1863-1937) 

Mother and child 
Signed lower right "Charles Shannon"
H:26 W: 18 cm

The estimate for this drawing was £300 - £500. It was sold for £460.

The condition report mentioned a 'foxing spot on the mother's hand and another at the bottom of the drawing, and a little dirt under the glass'. It was framed.

Backside of the frame for Charles Shannon, 'Mother and Son' (undated drawing)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

250. An Announcement to Celebrate Blog 250

On 20 July 2011, almost five years ago, I started this blog, and now and then I have been fortunate enough to publish a blog by scholars of Ricketts's work. Blog No 11, for example, was written by J.G. Paul Delaney whose 1990 biography of Ricketts is the most important source for the study of his life and work. His blog carried the title 'The Mysterious Hélène'.

The Hélène in question was Ricketts's mother, of whom no photograph seems to have survived.

Paul Delaney wrote:

Everything that I wrote in my biography about Ricketts’s mother was wrong. [...] The only true information in her English marriage certificate was that her father was of noble origin, though he was not the marquis de Sousy.

Five years later, the mystery of her identity has not been resolved. It is time the story was told, and Paul has agreed to write it. The title will be: Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother. It is scheduled to appear on 2 October 2016. That day, 150 years ago, the mysterious mother gave birth to Charles Ricketts.

The book will be designed for us by Huug Schipper|Studio Tint, who recently designed my new book Artists & Others. The Imaginative French Book in the 21st Century (Vantilt Publishers, Nijmegen). 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

249. Sonnets from the Portuguese: A Third Copy in White Pigskin

In an earlier blog about the Hodson sales, we established that there were at least two copies of the Vale Press edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese that were specially but identically bound in pigskin. 

Both copies were printed on paper and bound in white pigskin after a design by Ricketts. To quote blog 121: 'There is a geometric panel on the covers, with small flowers and roundels tooled in blind and gilt'. One copy, however, bears the initials HR of the publishers Hacon and Ricketts on the inside of the lower cover. The other copy did not.

A third copy is on the market now. Nudelman Rare Books offers it for sale, most recently in Catalogue Thirty-Six (issued just now).

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnetts from the Portuguese (1897)
The third copy is unsigned. It had been offered for sale earlier in 2011 by Thomas G. Boss, as Nudelman notes in his description. This binding underlines, once again, that these bindings in white pigskin are designed exclusively for paper copies of Vale Press books. Vellum copies have been bound in leather in several colours (red and green for example). Ricketts used some sort of colour system to differentiate between deluxe and ordinary copies of his books, even if luxury bindings were commissioned for them. We have to remember that the paper copies of this book were issued in a blue paper binding. All other bindings for these paper copies were private initiatives. Now we know, that at least three collectors at the time asked Ricketts to design a binding for such an ordinary copy (there were eight copies on vellum). For vellum copies Ricketts designed a one-off binding; but paper copies had to do with one design for multiple copies. 

Still, a wonderful design, although the spine of the third copy is somewhat browned. The front cover is as white as that of the Hodson copy. The second copy seems to have been bound in a more cream-coloured pigskin.

Personally, I find these identical copies - with their small differences - far more interesting and revealing than the unique designs for vellum copies. They tell an untold story about the marketing strategy of Vale Press books.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

248. The King and He

Today, in the Netherlands, it is King's Day. Charles Ricketts was not a particular friend of kings and queens. He saw Victoria as someone who had 'a narrow, but real, sense of dignity in life', while Edward VII was described as an enemy of art and intellect.

On 21 February 1916, Ricketts wrote in his diary:

With the Boer war, possibly the Oscar Wilde case, and probably with the advent of King Edward, whose hostility to all intellectual things and all superiorities is known and admitted, England has slipped back, perhaps for fifty years or so. The state of Art is, what it is; I will not say it could not be worse, because the powers for evil are limitless. You can always kill; to create is a separate and more complex act. A fool with a hatchet can destroy a masterpiece, and a generation may live and strive and not produce one.

After the World War, modernism appeared from the ruins, luckily.

Edward VII (National Portrait Gallery)