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 has 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 creme 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)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

247. "You Are Looking Very Beautiful To-Day"

On 17 November 1886, Judy's Annual for 1887, edited by Charles Henry Ross (1835-1897), was published 'at the Office of "Judy", 99 Shoe Lane, Fleet Street, E.C.' (See about a number of Judy publications, the Yesterday's Papers blog, January 2010).


Judy's Annual for 1887 (1886)
Several articles and stories were illustrated by the authors themselves. The editor, Ross, was among them. His magazine was a cheap alternative for Punch. Other contributions were illustrated by cartoon artists such as W.G. Baxter, who died at 32 in 1888, or illustrators such as Maurice Greiffenhagen (mentioned in the Contents as Grieffenhagen) (1862-1931).

The issue contains one drawing by Charles Shannon. His name is only mentioned in the table of Contents (page [15]).


Table of Contents in Judy's Annual for 1887 (1886)
Shannon illustrated a story by Philip Richards, 'A Phantom Fan'. The story is rather silly, and not worth re-telling in detail. Suffice to say, that a 'gallant man', named Bertie Brown, is officially engaged to Lily Grant, but can't stand his friend's stories about his love-sickness, and when he visits another young lady, Gladys Dawlish, he presents her with a fan. She handles it so expertly that Bertie finds himself enamoured with her.

He said - 'and meant it': "You are looking very beautiful to-day."

This is the moment that Shannon has illustrated.


C.H. Shannon, illustration in Judy's Annual for 1887 (1886, page [42])
'Up went the mystic fan again, and, in a moment, both heads were behind it.'

Then Bertie Brown marries a third young woman, 'Hilda K.', his barrister friend Wigster pays off the two ladies whose engagements were broken off by Bertie, and Wigster ends up marrying one of them.

The magazine was cheaply produced, as we can see on the page that bears the illustration: some words are incomplete ('ortnight' for 'fortnight'), some lines are warped, and raised space occurs in three places on page 42 alone.


Page 42 in Judy's Annual for 1887 (1886)


Shannon's illustration does not show his later subtle rendering of the female figure, it is a hasty and sketchy drawing, produced to earn a penny. At the time, Ricketts and Shannon did a lot of hackwork, most of them drawings for magazines, but also for some books. Shannon was born on 26 April 1863; when he delivered this drawing he was 23.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

246. A Ricketts Detail: Darkness and Light

In a wood engraving from Daphnis and Chloe (page 51) - see last week's blog - some details show how Charles Ricketts adorned some corners with daily scenes that create an intimate atmosphere. 

Charles Ricketts, wood engraving for Daphnis and Chloe (page 51)
Another detail is a closet that hangs near the fireplace, on the wall, somewhat out of reach and rather high. On top of that we see a small object with a wisp of smoke.


Charles Ricketts, wood engraving for Daphnis and Chloe (page 51, detail)
One might think it is probably an incense burner, but judging by the form it is more likely that Ricketts drew a small oil lamp. It is dark outside - we can see that, because the door is open and the snow descends from the dark sky. A light in the room would not be superfluous, even if the cooking fire gives more light than the small lamp. The room doesn't seem to be too dark, though. Only at the back, near the stables, a dark patched area is visible. We don't see any shadows either. What time is it?

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1866 Charles Ricketts 2016

In 2016 this blog will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Ricketts's birth on 2 October 1866.
Contributions are most welcome.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

245. A Ricketts Detail: Playing Children

The wood engravings that Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon made for their edition of Daphnis and Chloe (1893) are full of playful details. Some of these are not related to the story at all, some of them have a function in creating an atmosphere.

An example is shown below, with playing children in a house in Mitylene.


Charles Ricketts, wood engraving for Daphnis and Chloe (page 51)
The wood engraving (158x125 mm) opens the Third Book of the story. Playing children are in the foreground at the feet of the elder family members, who are seated around a fire with a kettle. In the background part of the stable can be seen. A door on the left gives way to the snowy landscape. An emblematic roundel is in the upper left corner.

The scene depicts the doings of a family when winter has come and 'a great Snow' had fallen and 'blinded all the paths', and 'all was thus taken up with their domestick affairs'.

And therefore no man drove out his flocks to pasture, or did so much as come to the door, but, about the Cocks crowing, made their fires nosehigh; and some spun flax, some Tarpaulin for the Sea; others with all their sophistry made gins, and nets, and traps for birds. At that time their care was employed about the Oxen and Cows that were foddered with chaffe in the stalls; about the Goats and about the sheep and those which fed on green leaves in the sheepcoats and the folds; or else about fatting their hogs in the styes with Acorns and other mast.
(page 52-53)


Some features of the wood engraving refer to this passage, but what makes Ricketts's and Shannon's illustrations for Daphnis and Chloe so compelling is the wealth of small 'unnecessary' details that bear no direct relation to the text, but do add to the feel of the story.


Charles Ricketts, wood engraving for Daphnis and Chloe (detail)
The two young children in the foreground are playing with some chickens. These have followed the mother hen that has come very near the fire and the cookery place where some crumbs may come their way.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

244. Binding variants of the first Vale Press book: Early Poems by John Milton

In April 1896 the Vale Press published its first edition, Milton's Early Poems

Milton, Early Poems
(Vale Press, 1896):
binding variants
The book was bound in white buckram by the Ballantyne Press where Ricketts had them printed on an Albion hand press. 

The first copies had a green buckram spine label, stamped across, in gold: 'MIL- | TON | EARLY | POEMS'. Other (probably later) copies had the same text stamped directly onto the spine.

Copies of the first binding variant can be found in the British Library, Huntington Library, McGill University Library, Brigham Young University Library, the Bodleian Library, and in other collections, both private and public.

The second variant - with the title printed in gold on the spine - may be consulted in the Cambridge University Library, the National Library of the Netherlands, the University Library of Amsterdam (as well as in other collections).

There are also copies without a spine title, but these copies probably lost their spine label along the way. It becomes easily detached, as is the case with the McGill University Library copy for which the label was preserved.

There are more differences between copies of the first and second binding state.

Those with a spine label have endpapers at the front and at the back that are different from the paper used for the book (which was 'Unbleached Arnold' paper). The endpapers bear the watermark of a heavier type of paper: '
Unbleached Arnold (Ruskin)'. This paper had been selected for the deluxe copies of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx and for an insert (' Two pages of the Vale type') in the fourth number of The Dial (1896). It would also serve for the second Vale Press book, Walter Savage Landor's Epicurus, Leontian and Ternissa, not only for the endpapers, but for the whole book.

Milton copies with the title in gold on the spine do not show the Ruskin paper watermark; here both the book block and the endpapers are of the thinner '
Unbleached Arnold' paper.

Label and Ruskin paper go together in all copies, as do spine title and the thinner paper. And there is more. The way the bindings were executed are shockingly different; the bindings with the label have an amateurish finishing of the inner sides of the covers, both at the front and at the back. Ricketts can not have been content with those copies.

Inner side front cover (second state)

The second binding state is as it should be: the endpapers have been pasted on to the inner side of the board, leaving bear, on all sides, a strip of white buckram. This must have been impossible with the heavier paper. Apparently, the 'Unbleached Arnold (Ruskin)' endpapers did not have the format expected by the binder. To conceal the gap that would have issued from this, a stripe of white buckram has been adhered on top of the turn-ins at the front and at the back of the binding. The paper has been pasted on top of that stripe of buckram. While the endpapers reach up to 5 to 10 mm from the top or bottom on the inside of the covers, it does not come more close to the sides than 15 mm. The format of the Ruskin paper was not compatible to the format of the binding. 


Inner side front cover (first state)
Obviously, it had been a mistake to use this heavier paper for the Milton book. The error was corrected, the book was bound in buckram as the earlier copies, but here the title was stamped in gold on the spine.

It is not easy to say when this second binding originated. The Milton book did not sell well at the beginning, it is reported that only 20 copies found a buyer. After the fire in 1899, it was advertised by the Vale Press that some copies were available in 'the original binding'. That was when the National Library of the Netherlands acquired their copy, being the second variant. From this we must conclude that the earlier variant was replaced by the second one soon after publication.


Inner side back cover (second and first state)


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

243. Vale Press Vine Borders (6)

The last of the vine borders designed by Charles Ricketts for the Vale Press was only partially new. Published in the last book of the press, the 1904 bibliography of the Vale Press, the border consists of two parts on facing pages.


Charles Ricketts, vine border for A Bibliography of the Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts (1904)
The border on the right hand page, enclosing the beginning of the text, had been used before, in the 1902 edition of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat (1901). 


Charles Ricketts, vine border for Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat (1901)


For the left hand page a new border had to be designed, because the original one for the Rubaiyat enclosed a large wood-engraving and a title shield, measuring 170x108 mm. The wood-engraving for the bibliography, illustrating the sign-board painted by Shannon for the Vale Press shop, is much smaller: 123x71 mm. It could of course have been larger, but apparently Ricketts did not want this. The proportions were different and the sign-board would not have fitted the available space. Comparing the two wood-engravings, the length was 1,3 to 1 while the width was 1 to 1,5. In the bibliography Ricketts could have added some sort of small title shield as well but he decided not to do this.

The left hand border in the bibliography is not simply a mirror image of the re-used border, and it is designed to look as an harmonious part of one large border that stretches over two pages. It shows, that, although Ricketts had decided to close down the Vale Press, he didn't refrain from new designs and from improving older ones.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

242. Vale Press Vine Borders (5)

The series of vine borders that Charles Ricketts designed for his Vale Press books is longer than I thought it would be a few weeks ago.


Charles Ricketts, vine border for Thomas Browne,
Religio Medici, Urn Burial, Christian Morals, and Other Essays (1902)

The largest vine border was done for one of a series of folio editions of the Vale Press, comprising Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici, Urn Burial, Christian Morals, and Other Essays, edited by C.J. Holmes, and published in 1902.

It is similar in style and detail to that for the Omar Khayyam edition, but it is much larger, as the Browne volume is c. 30 x 20 cm. The border is signed 'CR' in the lower left hand corner, and encloses the first text page (after the introduction). It was not engraved by Ricketts but by Charles Edward Keates.


The border has not been used again.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

241. Vale Press Vine Borders (4)

After a fire in December 1899 at Ballantyne printer's had destroyed a large part of Charles Ricketts's decorations for the complete edition of Shakespeare's plays he was about to publish (including the two finished volumes) Hamlet and Othello), the new Vale Press books would be more sparsely decorated. For the Shakespeare volumes he had to come up with novel illustrations - the edition had been sold out by subscription and they had to be delivered, so Ricketts quickly designed small and light wood engraved decorations.


Charles Ricketts,
design for the Vale Press
Shakespeare edition
[detail]

Volume after volume was issued, monthly, by the Vale Press, amounting to 39 volumes in total. Some of Ricketts's decorations are corner pieces, others embrace the text on two sides, while a few enclose the text on three sides, but none of them are heavy. They are not distracting the reader from Shakespeare's text. The borders illustrate honeysuckles, acorns, or show other floral details, and they are used many times over, although in each volume only four or five or so make an appearance. 

The borders usually decorate the beginning of a new act; they are quite functional, and herald a pause in the play. Some, however, are not used as markings, and seem to be inserted  arbitrarily to lighten up a page of the plays. The two poetry volumes, Sonnets (1903) and Poems (1903), do not contain decorations. The same goes for the identically issued play by Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (1903).


In the sixth volume, on page xi of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, a border of the older type was printed, an intricate border of oak leaves, signed 'CR' in the bottom left corner. The steel engravings have not been signed; this is an exceptional decoration, as if it had been found among the debris of the fire. It might indeed have been one of the original wood engravings Ricketts had designed for the Vale Press edition.



Charles Ricketts, decoration for The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (1900)
This border was repeated in The Tragedy of Macbeth (1901), page xlv, and again in The Second Part of Henry IV (1902), to mark the beginning of Act I.

In 1901, another border was to surprise the buyers of the Vale Shakespeare edition. It was published for the first time in Love's Labour Lost (1901), page xxx. It is border for a verso page, a left-handed page. The facing page is not decorated. The border is not signed. It is a new vine border, enclosing the beginning of Act III, Scene I.


This border re-appeared in A Midsummer-Night's Dream (1901), page xxviii. Act III begins on the opposite page. It is also used to decorate the beginning of Act II on page xviii of Much Ado About Nothing (1902), and for the beginning of Act V of As You Like It (1902), page lxxvi.


In 1902, this older type of border - reminiscent of the opening pages of the earliest Vale Press volumes - was used for the last time in The First Part of King Henry IV (1902), page lxviii.



Charles Ricketts, vine border for Henry IV
Stylistically, there is quite a difference between these two full borders with the lighter ones, and one wonders if they all form one ensemble. I think that these two may have been remnants from the past, but there is no way to ascertain this.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

240. Vale Press Vine Borders (3)

Most vine borders designed by Charles Ricketts for his Vale Press books were made for one page only, but there is one exception. The border for the edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that was published in 1901. The opening pages consisted of a combination of a title page and the first text page.

Title page with vine border designed by Charles Ricketts for Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1901)

Title page with vine border designed by Charles Ricketts for Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1901)
The review of the book by The New York Times, 12 October 1901, included a description of these opening pages: 

'The volume contains a striking frontispiece and border designed and engraved by Mr. Ricketts, which is worthy of being counted among the latter’s most successful work. The border, the same in design for both the frontispiece and opening page, is unusually fine. It shows interlaced vine leaves and bunches of grapes, so printed as to be unusually light and graceful in row, but wide and bold on the opening page. The latter also contains an unusually effective initial letter. The frontispiece shows finely designed lettering on a lower panel: the upper portion, about two-thirds of the entire page, containing a finely designed and engraved vignette, in which  the spirit of the text is appropriately shown.'

Interestingly, Ricketts designed the two pages as one whole without imposing a strict symmetry to it. The left page has a small vine border on all sides, to the left, right, top and bottom, which is quite unusual for his borders that usually echo the proportions of the margins as proposed by William Morris in his ideas about The Ideal Book. The page on the right perfectly mirrors these margins, that grow larger, clockwise from the left to the top to the right to the bottom of the page. 

The left page includes an illustration that throws the theme of vines into the face of the reader, with a title field below for the title. The page on the right shows Ricketts's monograph at bottom left: 'CR'.

The drawing shown last week showed grapes at the centre of the drawing. Ricketts managed to place them to the right and to the left, even in the small spaces, such as the borders to the left and right of the frontispiece of the Rubaiyat, in order to secure a pattern that evenly distributes lighter and darker parts. His bunches of grapes on the left page contain up to eight individual grapes, while those on the right page contain far more than that, ten to thirteen or more grapes. The leaves surrounding the grapes are smaller as well, of course. Still, on opening the book, the whole makes for a harmonious feeling.

Subtly, the colour of red appears as a numeral (II) on the right hand page, also balancing the weight of the pages. In the same way an equilibrium was reached by the introduction of a large illustrated initial 'A' on the right hand page, as a counterweight for the illustration on the left page. 

Even though colour (red/black), density (illustration/text), and proportions (small/broad) have been carefully considered, the Omar Khayyam opening pages show a relaxed and effortless unity of design.
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1866 Charles Ricketts 2016

In 2016 this blog will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Ricketts's birth on 2 October 1866.
Contributions are most welcome.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

239. Vale Press Vine Borders (2)

Last week, vine borders designed by William Morris and Charles Ricketts were shown. In a vellum copy of the Vale Press edition of Michael Field's play Julia Domna, antiquarian book dealer Ed Nudelman found a drawing for a vine border.

The sketches - there are three small drawings - cannot be ascribed to Ricketts, for several reasons.

Anonymous design for a vine border
The designs are unsigned, and the assumption that Ricketts is connected to these sketches, is solely based on the fact that these drawings have been found in a Vale Press book. The copy of that book comes from the collection of Laurence Hodson, and Hodson commissioned special bindings, and other art works from many artists during the 1890s. However, the auction catalogue of his collection does not mention these sketches in the description of this copy.

The handwritten notes include instructions for the block maker or printer, indicating which part of the border should be connected to another part of the drawing. The three drawings cannot form a border, some parts are lacking, and it is unclear which parts should be fitted together to form a complete border that can enclose an illustration or a page of text on four sides.


Ricketts never made separate drawings for the four sides of a border, there was only one complete drawing for each border. An example is published in Self-Portrait (1939). This design was made for the two volumes of Tennyson's poems that appeared in December 1900.

Charles Ricketts, design for the Vale Press edition of
Alfred Lord Tennyson's poems (two volumes, 1900)

This example, and another one, are part of the Gordon Bottomley collection in Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery in Carlisle.

An important difference between the drawings by Ricketts and the anonymous sketches is the pattern of horizontal and vertical lines that seem to indicate that these sketches are made by a pupil and not by an esteemed artist. The pattern is not meant for reproduction purposes, and in fact, the drawings are too small for that. Drawings for reproduction in books are usually larger than the intended format after reproduction. The lines must have been drawn by a pupil who carefully tried to copy an example. It explains the handwritten note underneath: '1st attempt'. He needed more than one go.


The grid could also mean that this was a design that was to be reproduced in another medium, in which case it would be enlarged, for example for a tapestry, a curtain, or a painting. However, in that case, it would have been unlikely for an artist to draw such small sketches.


Anonymous design for a vine border (detail)
Looking closely at one of the drawings (see above), we observe a few other distinctive qualities that make it the work of a student. 

Firstly, the lines that form the stems of the vine are somewhat clumsily drawn, especially the awkward and stiff curves to the left of the design that lack the reassured fluency of the professional draughtsman.

And there is another remarkable feature of the design. If we look again at Ricketts's borders (see last week's blog), and those of Morris too, for that matter, we see that they carefully position the grapes of the vine to the left or to the right side of the border, in order to obtain a variety in colour and density. Here, however, the student has positioned the grapes at the centre of the drawing. The result is surely less lively than an artist would want it to be.

Next week, more about Ricketts's vine borders.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

238. Vale Press Vine Borders (1)

A vine border was a popular decoration in private press books around 1900. William Morris designed a border of grapes and leaves of the vine for several books, including his edition of Chaucer.

William Morris, border for The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1896)
The antiquarian book dealer Ed Nudelman (check out the website of Nudelman Rare Books) recently found a drawing for a vine border in a vellum copy of the Vale Press edition of Michael Field's play Julia Domna, and as this copy came from the famous Hodson collection, he was tempted to think that the design was by Ricketts himself. Meanwhile, he has changed his mind, and I agree with him. The sketches - there are three small drawings on three small slips of tracing paper - cannot be ascribed to Ricketts, for several reasons, which I will discuss in next week's blog. 

Ricketts designed quite a few vine borders for the Vale Press. There is a small one in Rossetti's Hand and Soul (1899), there are three medium sizes borders for Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1901), The First Part of King Henry IV (part of the Vale Shakespeare edition, this volume appeared in 1902), and finally in A Bibliography of Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts (1904). There was one large format vine border, used to decorate Thomas Browne's Religio Medici, Urn Burial, Christian Morals, and Other Essays (1902).

Some of these borders are delicately designed, intricate, crowded and lively borders. Others are more sparse in detail, less artificial, and almost naturalistic, like the little design for Hand and Soul that measures 130 x 95 mm.


Charles Ricketts, vine border for D.G. Rossetti, Hand and Soul (1899)
The text on this page (page 3) refers to art of painting in Florence. Ricketts remarked in his bibliography that the block for this border 'was burnt at the printers'.'

Ricketts's border was repeated on page 37. The text on that page begins as follows: 'In the spring of 1847, I was at Florence.' This is intended to be an Italian vine border.

Small as it is, it shows some hallmarks of Ricketts's border drawings. The space between the curling stems, forming knots, has been filled in with black, subtly changing the density of the drawing. The balance of black and white is carefully considered, the grapes show their weight, some of them slightly tilted to one side, all pointing downwards, as they do in reality. The pattern is simple, alternating leaves (with their surface made white and their black nerves) and bunches of grapes (all similar but different, individually drawn).

The other designs, such as the paragraph marks and the initials, have not been adapted to the grape motive.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

237. Chas. H. Shannon: Visiting Card

In the 1890s, Charles Shannon used a visiting card like any other Victorian in London. He lived in the house in The Vale between 1888 and October 1894, before Ricketts and Shannon moved to 31 Beaufort Street. After the move, he continued to use his visiting card with The Vale address, but crossed it out, and wrote the new address next to it.


Visiting card of Charles H. Shannon (ca. 1894-1898)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

236. Yours Ever: Letterheads (2)

From May 1923 to his death in October 1931, Charles Ricketts lived at Townshend House, Albert Road, Regents Park. His correspondence cards and letters carried a letterhead that mentioned the address, but no name.

Omitting the name, allowed both Ricketts and Shannon to use the same stationary. Although Ricketts designed books, bindings, invoices, announcements, and other office papers, for The Vale Press, he did not apply his art to his private writing paper.

Letterhead, correspondence card
Ricketts's letters are signed with his signature C Ricketts. Ricketts did not place a dot after his initial C.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

235. Sincerely Yours: Letterheads (1)

Between May 1902 and May 1923 Ricketts and Shannon lived in Lansdowne House, Lansdowne Road, Holland Park in London. 


Lansdowne House, London
Ricketts's correspondence cards and letters had a printed letterhead that consisted of the address. His name was not included.

Letterhead on correspondence card

Ricketts usually signed his letters and cards with the signature: C Ricketts.


Charles Ricketts, signature on correspondence card




Wednesday, January 20, 2016

234. Copeland & Day Bookplate

The Boston firm of Herbert Copeland and Fred Holland Day was one the commercial American publishing firms that tried to follow in the footsteps of the Arts and Crafts movement and the English private presses. They strove to set a new standard in 'imaginative publishing' (as their bibliographer, Joe W. Kraus puts it).

During the six years of its existence (1893-1899), Copeland & Day published some innovatively designed books, such as Stephen Crane's book of poetry The Black Riders and Other Lines (1895) with a cover design by Frederic C. Gordon, and Robert Louis Stevenson's An Elegy and Other Poems Mainly Personal (1895) with a title page designed by Will Bradley. Some of their books were joint publications with the London firm The Bodley Head. An example is Oscar Wilde's poem The Sphinx of which 50 copies were for sale in America; only the large paper edition mentions the name of Copeland & Day. Ricketts had designed The Sphinx, at the request of Elkin Mathews and John Lane, but he also did some design work for the Boston publisher.


Charles Ricketts, 'Copeland & Day' (1894/1895)
Ricketts did not design a book for the American firm, but, at the request of Fred Holland Day he designed a bookplate for the firm. He was asked to do this towards the end of 1894. 

In his bibliography Messrs. Copeland & Day (1979), Kraus includes an illustration of the bookplate; the caption reads: 'Copeland & Day Bookplate, design by Charles Ricketts. Printed in deep yellow green (Centroid 118) on yellowish white paper (Centroid 92). 13.2x8.7 cm.' The bookplate is not mentioned in the bibliography, nor in the introduction.

What was the use of this bookplate? It was not meant for the private libraries of Copeland and Day, nor for books sold by the firm, but apparently in use as 'office copies' that were kept on the shelves of the firm. At least one book bearing this bookplate has been identified: it is a copy of Oscar Wilde's Salome (1894) that was sold at auction in 2009.

The bookplate was printed in green, Kraus recorded. However, a few copies have been printed in black. These may have been proof copies. One such copy can be found in the Carl Woodring Collection, Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texas. Another copy was recently sold at auction.


Charles Ricketts, 'Copeland & Day' (1894/1895)

Both copies, printed in green and in black, are quite rare, and more difficult to find than a copy of The Sphinx. The design is very much in style with The Sphinx drawings and lettering. The 'O' and 'A's in the bookplate have the same sort of curved lines. 



Charles Ricketts, initial letters for The Sphinx (1894)
In The Sphinx these letters are used as initials, printed in green from wood engraved blocks. In the bookplate they have been drawn and photomechanically reproduced. The Art Nouveau style of these letters exaggerates the horizontal curve in the 'A' to the extent that is has become diagonal. In the 'O' such a line is quite unusual.

Even the landscapes in Ricketts's drawings for The Sphinx display similarities, especially in the curved lines and rock formations, see for example the lower left corner of the third drawing in The Sphinx


Charles Ricketts, illustration (detail) for The Sphinx (1894)
The drawing for the Copeland & Day bookplate resembles those of The Sphinx, but it was not intended to illustrate Wilde's poem; there is not one line in the poem that refers to the figure of a woman, bending down to pick a flower that seems to be the source of a stream that flows from the rock. 

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1866 Charles Ricketts 2016

In 2016 this blog will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Ricketts's birth on 2 October 1866.
Contributions are most welcome.