Wednesday, October 26, 2016

274. Christ Seen From Behind

Last Saturday, we visited the Fra Bartolomeo (or Bartolommeo, 1472-1517) exhibition at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Dozens of drawings illustrate his working method for religious paintings: pencil and ink studies of arms, draperies, bended foots of patrons, saints and other figures. The Rotterdam museum has the largest Fra Bartolomeo collection in the world, which mainly consists of hundreds of drawings that were gathered into two albums by the Florentine collector Niccolò Gabburri (1676-1742).

A large altar piece dominates the exhibition rooms. The upper part of this 'Madonna della Misericiordia' (1515) from the collection of the Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi, Lucca has an image of Christ with his arms outstretched representing the crucifiction.

Fra Bartolomeo, 'Madonna della Misericordia' (1515)
Two small sketches illustrated the working process for this part of the painting. Several sketches of the head of Christ and his naked torso with the outstretched arms show that Fra Bartolomeo studied every detail and considered several options, before he started on the painting.

Elsewhere in the museum, in a dark cellar like long room, a selection of drawings from other Renaissance artists such as Albrecht Dürer are on display from the museum's print room. Included is yet another sketch by Fra Bartolomeo: 'Studies for the upper half of the body and right arm of the crucified Christ seen from behind', executed in black chalk, heightened with yellow on ochre prepared paper (inventory number I 563 N39).

Fra Bartolomeo, study for Christ (Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam)
Earlier I tried to find such images of Christ seen on the back, because Ricketts included an image of the crucified Christ seen from behind as the last image in Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx (1894) - see blog 92 'With the back to the viewer'

Charles Ricketts, illustration from The Sphinx (detail)
This is a very rare example of Christ with the back to the viewer. Fra Bartolomeo never depicted Christ in this position, but needed to study the musculature from all angles. The museum's description of this image states:

A wooden crucifix that belonged to the preacher Savonarola was probably the inspiration for the type of crucified Christ that Fra Bartolommeo developed in his early years. Given the precision with which the tension in the muscles and tendons is depicted, this early drawing must have been made from a live model. Fra Bartolommeo has drawn the right arm a second time, focussing on light and shade.

There seems to be no relation to the paintings and other studies. Can Ricketts have known an image of this drawing?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

273. A Dedication Copy of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray

In 1932, Elkin Mathews Ltd., London, published catalogue Forty-Two, Books of the "Nineties". Included were six books by the Victorian author Eugene Lee-Hamilton (1845-1907).
Eugene Lee-Hamilton as an invalid (1889)

For twenty years, Lee-Hamilton led the life of an invalid, after he suddenly lost the use of his legs in 1873. He was nursed by his mother, but from time to time his half-sister Violet Paget (the writer Vernon Lee) also looked after him. Gradually, some improvements in his situation were noted, but a complete recovery occurred only after his mother had died.

He alluded to this recovery in a letter to Oscar Wilde included in the catalogue that was published by Elkin Mathews in 1932. A copy of Sonnets of the Wingless Hours (1894) was inscribed "To the author of Salomé, a little tribute of admiration. Florence. May '94'. This was before his complete recovery in 1896.

This copy came from the collection of A.J.A. Symons, an ardent collector of the 'nineties'. Inserted in it was a letter from Lee-Hamilton to Oscar Wilde, in which he gave some details of 'his miraculous recovery and thanking Wilde for a gift of The Sphinx upon which he makes detailed observations’. No letters from Oscar Wilde to Lee-Hamilton seem to have survived.

The copy of The Sphinx is now offered for sale. Sotheby's is selling The Library of an English Bibliophile and in Part VI of these sales (scheduled for 20 October) lot no. 185 describes the copy that Oscar Wilde had sent to him. The dedication reads:

Eugene Lee-Hamilton | from his | friend the author. | in memory of | one delightful | afternoon and | many delightful | sonnets. | June | 94

Sotheby's estimates that this copy will fetch £20.000-£30.000.

Dedication by Oscar Wilde to Eugene Lee-Hamilton (1894)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

272. A Parable Painted by Charles Ricketts

In 1945, a painting by Charles Ricketts was sold at Sotheby's Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York. It was acquired by The Newark Museum (New Jersey). This week the museum is selling the painting to benefit the acquisitions fund. The painting is called 'The Prodigal Son', and measures 44.5 x 57.2 cm. Christie's auction of 12-13 October, lists the painting under lot number 23, and expects to sell it for an estimated US$ 3,000-5,000. 

Charles Ricketts, 'The Prodigal Son'
Ricketts had used several subjects from the Parables for his paintings, and this is one of them. He also executed two wood-engravings on this subject for his Vale Press publication of The Parables from the Gospels (1903). Sketches, proofs and prints of these are now on view at the commemorative exhibition in Museum Meermanno in The Hague, celebrating Ricketts's birth in 1866, 150 years ago. 

More information about the Meermanno exhibition can be found on the museum's website.

Ricketts's birth was registered at Geneva, where his parents were staying at the time. Of course, his birth was also registered in the British Consular's administration: Ricketts was British by birth. 

However, Christie's, in their catalogue of Sale 12198 ('Living with Art'), calls him a 'Swiss' artist. I am not confident that Ricketts would have liked that. From the recent publication, Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother, we may gather that Ricketts was born in Geneva, moved to Great Britain, France, and Italy, before finally returning to London where he would live for the rest of his life. His mother was Italian, with a drop of Spanish blood, and had lived in France before she met Ricketts's father in Naples.

The book about the European background of Ricketts's mother was presented in Museum Meermanno a week ago. (Price, including postage: €40).

Presentation Museum Meermanno, 1 October 2016
Front row: Corine Verney (author), Huug Schipper (designer) and Paul Delaney (author)

Photo: Aafke Boerma/Museum Meermanno
Christie's also sells a second Ricketts painting from the holdings of The Newark Museum. This is 'The Horses of Achilles', estimated to sell for US$5,000-7,000.

The museum states that these deaccessions are a logical step, as the museum, since its establishment in 1909, 'has always focused on painting and sculpture by American artists, especially because at the time we were founded it was difficult for modern American artists to exhibit or be acquired by many American museums'. 

However, a selection of European works of art were given to the museum by several patrons. These donations resulted, as the museum says, 'in a random assemblage of non-American painting and sculpture of varying quality and having no relationship to the focus of the American art collection'. 

Thirty years ago, it was decided to sell these European paintings and sculptures.

'All proceeds from deaccessioning become part of an endowment dedicated to acquisitions'.

So, the Ricketts paintings had to go.

[Note, 14 October 2016:
Prices realized are: US$1,000 (The Prodigal Son) and $3,000 (The Horses of Achilles).]

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

271: Published: Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother

Charles Ricketts's mother died in Genoa in 1880. She was buried in the English cemetery. A year later, this cemetery was closed to make room for the city's expansion, and its contents was transferred to the English corner of the Cimetario Monumentale di Staglieno, the same place as where the monument to Constance Wilde, wife of Oscar Wilde, was to be placed after she died in 1898.

Constance Wilde's grave in Genoa
Constance Wilde's grave is marked. The exact burial place of Ricketts's mother is not recorded. However, last week a little monument to the memory of Mrs Ricketts has been published as a book. Written by J.G.P. Delaney and Corine Verney, Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother has been designed by Huug Schipper|Studio Tint in The Hague, printed by Van Deventer in 's Gravenzande, and bound by Van Waarden in Zaandam. The edition is limited to 100 copies. Publisher: At the Paulton, The Hague.

Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother (2016)

Ricketts's mother was not French as was previously thought, nor was she a child from the Soucy family, although at a certain point she used that name. It turns out that she was not called Hélène, but Cornelia, and in full: Cornelia Pia Adeodata Marsuzi de Aguirre. Born in Rome in 1844, she had an adventurous life, which has been described in the new book. 

The book also contains some illustrations, including a photo of Charles Ricketts as a child (about six years old) that has never been published before.

The price of the book is €30 (€40 including postage), and copies can be ordered via paulton[at] [Replace [at] with the @ sign].

Payment can be made through Paypal.

It is a colourful book of 48 pages, including an epilogue by Corine Verney who is a descendent of the daughter from an earlier marriage of Cornelia's.

Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother (2016)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

270. Small Exhibition Charles Ricketts 1866-2016

On the 1st of October, a small themed exhibition will be opened in Museum Meermanno to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Charles Ricketts's birth on 2 October 1866, 150 years ago.

The exhibition explores Ricketts as a narrator/illustrator, who takes a story, and moves it in another direction by means of his imagery. On show are his wood-engravings, sketches and proofs for The Parables from the Gospels (1903) and (reproductions of) his drawings for Oscar Wilde's prose poems, and the prose poems he remembered Wilde told him, recorded in his Oscar Wilde, Recollections and Beyond the Threshold.

Last Monday, Ellen van Schie of the Museum Meermanno and I, arranged the objects in four of the museum's cases on the second floor.

Ellen van Schie, Museum Meermanno, arranging objects

A view of the small exhibition room in Museum Meermanno
The arrangement of original pencil sketches, proofs, and wood-engravings for The Parables from the Gospels invites the viewer to have a close look at Ricketts's treatment of the texts, the visual details, the movements, and the introduction of worldly details in biblical stories.

Sketches, proofs and wood-engravings for The Parables
The show opens on 1 October, 15.00 hours in Museum Meermanno in The Hague.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

269. Invitation and Announcement

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

268. The 2nd of October

The date of 2 October is drawing near:

Birthday of King Richard III, of England (1452), Isabella of Naples, Duchess of Milan (1470), Saint Charles Borromeo, Italian cardinal (1538), Jacob Louys, Flemish engraver (1595), Andreas Gryphius, German lyric poet and dramatist (1616), François-Timoléon de Choisy, French writer (1644), Guillaume Poitevin, composer (1646), Frantisek Ignac Antonin Tuma, composer (1704), Leopold Widhalm, Austrian luthier (1722), Franz Schneider, composer (1737), Samuel Story, Dutch admiral (1752), Jacob van Strij, Dutch cartoonist/graphic artist, and Josef Jawurek, composer (1756), William Carr Beresford, 1st Viscount Beresford (1768), Philip Cipriani Hambley Potter, pianist/composer (1792), Anton Emil Titl, composer (1809), Gunnar Wennerberg, composer (1817), George Washington Getty, Bvt Major General (1819), Alexander Peter "Old Straight" Stewart, Lt Gen (1821), Jan Kappeyne van de Coppello, Dutch Internal minister (1822), Edmund Jackson Davis, Brigadier General (1827), Charles Floquet, French statesman (1828), Edward Burnett Tylor, English anthropologist, and Julius von Sachs, botanist/naturalist (1832), Rev. William Corby, American Catholic priest (1833), Louis A. Ranvier, French anatomist/historian (1835), Hans Thoma, German painter (1839), Paul von Hindenburg (1847), Ferdinand Foch, military commander (1851), William Ramsay, chemist (1852), Marthinus T. Steyn, President of Orange-Free state (1857), and Charles Ricketts (1866), and, among others: Wallace Stevens, poet (1879), Dick Ket, painter (1902), Graham Greene, writer (1904), Vivian Ridler, printer (1913), Jan Morris, travel writer (1926), Annie Leibovitz, photographer (1949)...

Soon you may find out what this image has to do with Charles Ricketts:

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

267. A Drawing for Judith

At the end of this month, Christie's auction includes a drawing by Charles Ricketts, a costume design for Judith.

Charles Ricketts, costume design for 'Judith'
The drawing was for the design of the costume of two (of the) slaves in Arnold Bennett's Judith, which was staged in 1919. Other designs for this production are now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. A similar sketch on a post card was offered for sale by Leicester Galleries.

Charles Ricketts, costume design for 'Judith'

The drawing at Christie's is described as: pencil, watercolour, gouache and silver paint, signed with initials 'CR' (lower right), 38x26,5 cm. 

On 27 September, it is expected to fetch GBP 1,000 to 1,500. The drawing is offered in the sale of Brian Sewell's collection. Sewell (1931-2015) worked at Christie's as a specialist of old master paintings and drawings. Later he became an art dealer, and a critic with a hostile view of conceptual art and the Turner Prize. He is known for having argued that 'the public doesn't know good from bad' in artistic matters.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

266. Romeo & Juliette at Auction

Online auctions have taken their place in the antiquarian book market for some years now, and one of the more successful auction places is Catawiki. The site, founded by a Dutch comic book collector and a developer, started in a small town in the Netherlands in 2008 as an online compendium of collector's catalogues.

In 2011, the first Catawiki online auctions were hosted, and the site has now grown to quite another level. Comic books, or books, are still the subject of weekly auctions, but the real money comes from other sources, such as the 'Esquel meteorite', the 'Jaw of a T-rex', a 'Macallan Anniversary Malt (over 50 years old)', an oil painting by Aristarkh Lentulov, and a 1960 Porsche 356.

Every now and then a book designed by Charles Ricketts pops up. In this week's auction a solitary volume of the Vale Shakespeare is offered for sale.

Photo of opening pages of The Tragedy of Romeo & Juliette
as published on the Catawiki site
The seller is a 'pro', according to the meagre information supplied by Catawiki, but that is not a guarantee for excellent photos or complete descriptions. The terminology in this book's description cannot be considered to be that of a professional antiquarian bookseller. Anyhow, Catawiki originally contained a lot of offers by private collectors; these days second hand booksellers seem to form the majority of the suppliers.

What surprised me, was that within a day after the launch of this week's auctions, two bidders had placed their bids, running quickly from €1 to €50, where it has remained for some time now. 

Catawiki, lot 6, auction 3 September 2016

Usually, a few hours or even minutes before the auction stops, the figures start to move again, and more bidders try their luck. We will see what happens this week.

Currently, on Abebooks, a copy is for sale for $150.

Note, 4 September 2016
On 2 September 14 bids quickly followed each other, bringing the price up from €50 to €143.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

265. A Wilde Book from the Woodring Collection

The Carl Woodring collection is at the Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston, TX, and contains his excellent collection of Ricketts and Shannon material. A photo of his copy of Oscar Wilde's Poems (1891) was published online.

Oscar Wilde, Poems (1891) [Rice University]
The 'What's in Woodson'  blog that  highlights new and interesting collections, records, memorabilia, and rare books located at the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library,  wrote about the collection.

The lower right corner of the front cover has been bumped, and the spine at the top seems to have been damaged as well. Good copies of this binding have survived, but they are quite rare. The colour is vulnerable to light, the corners are fragile, the gold may darken or disappear.

This is No. 91 of 200 copies.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

264. A Commemorative Exhibition of Charles Ricketts

As I announced in May (blog 250), we will publish a small book about Ricketts's mother written by J.G.P. Delaney and Corine Verney: Charles Ricketts's Mysterious Mother. The date of publication for this moving and surprising story is 1 October 2016. That day, we will celebrate Ricketts's birthday, 150 years ago, on 2 October 1866.

There is more.

The same day, the Museum of the Book (Museum Meermanno) in The Hague will be the venue for the opening of a small exhibition about Charles Ricketts as an illustrator of the Parables and of the poems in prose of Oscar Wilde.

Charles Ricketts, 'The Good Samaritan' (wood engraving) in a vellum copy of the Vale Press edition
of The Parables from Our Lord (1903)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

263. Dust-Jackets on Ricketts's books (6): The Pageant

In November 1895 a first issue of the new magazine The Pageant was published. Apart from a limited edition (large paper format, 150 copies), there was an ordinary edition. The books were not issued in a dust-wrapper (as far as we know). 

However, a year later, the ordinary copies of the second issue for 1897 were provided with a remarkable dust-jacket. It has been the subject for an earlier blog: 77. A Paper Wrapper for A Pageant.

Gleeson White,
design for
The Pageantfor 1897

In his new book on dust-jackets, Mark R. Godburn doesn't mention this dust-jacket, and he doesn't mention other dust-jackets printed in colour before 1900. G. Thomas Tanselle, in his Book-Jackets, Their History, Forms and Use (2011) had selected this dust-jacket for a comment on the name of the designer. He argued that it was uncommon to mention the name of the designer of the jacket in the book, and that up till then, there had been no reason to mention names of designers, as the jackets did not bear traces of the work of a designer: ‘Nineteenth-century jackets are not normally associated with specific designers (understandably, given their generally sparse layout), but sometimes the designer can be identified: for example, The Pageant of 1897 (published by Henry & Co. of London) notes on the leaf following the title-leaf, “The outer wrapper is designed by Gleeson White.”' (p. 57).

The other reason to discuss this particular dust-jacket was the terminology used in the book and in advertisements: 'The term for what we now call a “jacket” was not yet settled by the 1890s. An advertisement for a boxed series in Publishers’ Weekly, 43 (28 January 1893), 207 [...] was said to be available in “cloth slip wrappers, each book in a cloth box.” “Outer wrapper,” rather than “slip wrapper,” was used in The Pageant of 1897’ [...].’ (p. 76, note 99).

Godburn and Tanselle do not single out the dust-jacket for its remarkable coloured design. Most illustrated dust-jacket before this one, had an illustration from the book printed in black on the front, and sometimes the paper wrapper itself was of a coloured paper.

In this case of The Pageant, the design had been printed in red, white and green on brown paper, after a design by Gleeson White. A note to the Foreword attested to this. The wrapper had been printed by Edmund Evans, as the foreword itself noticed. Evans (1826-1905) was the foremost colour printer of the latter half of the nineteenth century, working with Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott.

By 1896/1897, when the jacket for The Pageant was being produced, he had retired, leaving the company to his sons, and moved to the Isle of Wight, but he continued to work together with some artists, making wood-engravings for their work. There is no mark of the engraver on the dust-jacket of The Pageant.

Gleeson White,
design for
The Pageant for 1897
(front cover)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

262. Dust-Jackets on Ricketts's books (5): Poems Dramatic and Lyrical, Second series

In last week's blog a copy of Lord de Tabley's Poems Dramatic and Lyrical (1893) and its dust-jacket were shown. De Tabley's book was such a success (reprinted twice) that a second series of poems was published with the same title, Poems Dramatic and Lyrical. Second Series (February 1895). The book was advertised as being 'Uniform in binding with the first series'.

For this copy another dust-jacket was used than for copies of the first series. (By the way, whether there were any dust-jackets for the second and third editions of the first series has not been determined.) The dust-jacket was a plain semi transparent paper wrapper.

Dust-jacket for Lord De Tabley's Poems Dramatic and Lyrical. Second Series (1895)
Parts of the dust-jacket were cut out to show the title and author's name. This was regular practice in bookshops. The binding was (largely) protected, and the green cloth was not affected by light, and still the buyers could easily recognize the book.

Examples of torn and cut jackets can be found in Mark R. Godburn's recent book Nineteenth-Century Dust-Jackets (2016) (see pp. 118-121). In some cases jackets were torn in the bindery to assist packing of multi volume sets of books, in other cases it was done by sales assistants.

Dust-jacket for Lord De Tabley's Poems Dramatic and Lyrical. Second Series (1895) [detail]

The jacket for the second series of poems by De Tabley is an example of the second type, that was cut in the shop. A copy is now in a private collection. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

261. Dust-Jackets on Ricketts's books (4): Poems Dramatic and Lyrical

The dust-jackets on books designed by Charles Ricketts come in different styles: plain wrappers, wrappers with spine titles, and printed wrappers repeating Ricketts's binding design.

In March 1893 Elkin Mathews and John Lane co-published a book with Macmillan and Company in New York: Poems Dramatic and Lyrical By John Leicester Warren, Lord de Tabley. The book was issued in a dust-jacket with the spine printed in blue.

John Leicester Warren Lord de Tabley, Poems Dramatic and Lyrical (1893):
copy with dust-jacket (showing difference between binding and jacket design)
The jacket was printed in blue, and the paper originally was blue as well, but has darkened to brownish grey.

Ricketts's design has not been repeated on the spine, instead the title, author's name, price and names of the English publishers appear on the spine in a typeface that was not used for the text of the book.


The author's name in misspelled Lord de Tablay (read: Tabley).

The Bodleian Library (Oxford) holds a copy that has part of the spine of the jacket pasted in.

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.