Wednesday, April 30, 2014

144. Thomas Bird Mosher's Vale Press collection (2)

Thomas Bird Mosher owned at least 32 volumes of the Vale Press, which were auctioned in May 1948. A second catalogue - containing the 'final portion' of his library - was issued later that year. Three more Vale Press books were listed for this sale that took place on 11 and 12 October 1948.
Auction catalogue Parke-Bernet, 11-12 October 1948
Lot 574 described a copy of Thomas Browne's Religio Medici and Ricketts's own Catalogue of Mr. Shannon's Lithographs under the heading 'Vale Press'. The lot was sold for $9,00.
Auction catalogue Parke-Bernet, 11-12 October 1948( page 77)
Another Vale Press item, Rossetti's Hand and Soul, was mentioned with the Kelmscott Press edition (and several other books) in lot 261. The lot was not categorized as of interest as a Kelmscott Press or a Vale Press publication, but alphabetically arranged under its title, Hand and Soul. This prose piece of Rossetti was one of the more popular titles for private presses, and collected as such. This lot fetched $20,00.
Auction catalogue Parke-Bernet, 11-12 October 1948 (page 36)
This brings the number of Vale Press books collected by Mosher to 35, but as Phil Bishop - whose Mosher website I mentioned last week - informs me, Mosher owned more books than were listed in the auction catalogues, a total of 41 volumes is accounted for, of which six volumes cannot be identified.

It is difficult to say which volumes could be the unidentified ones, except for the Campion edition. Mosher imitated the woodcut border of page [v] for his edition of John Addington Symonds's Wine, Women and Song in 1899.

This might indicate that Mosher owned the earlier titles, including for example the editions of Landor, Browning, Chatterton, and Keats. Didn't he collect all the Michael Field titles? Had a copy of Ricketts's and Pissarro's De la typographie... escaped him? It seems unlikely.

Sixteen Vale Press volumes are not recorded, apart from the 39 volumes of the Shakespeare edition. For all we know now, Mosher owned almost half of the Vale Press production, this is 41 out of 96 volumes.

Concerning the Vale Press titles, a few collector's issues can be remarked upon. 

Firstly, it seems that the 39 volumes of the Shakespeare edition that appeared between 1900 and 1903 and for which a subscription was necessary, are not present. American subscribers had to deal with the New York office of John Lane.
Secondly, no copies printed on vellum are recorded in these two Mosher sales.
Thirdly, unique Ricketts bindings - such as those that were ordered by Laurence Hodson and others - are not recorded.
Mosher kept the regular copies in their original bindings, he did not give commissions for private bindings to (for example) contemporary American bookbinders.

Lastly, manuscript letters, proofs, or dedication copies are not among the Vale Press books that were sold in the Mosher sales.

However, it would be wrong to define the Mosher Vale Press collection merely as incomplete, or mediocre. The significance of the collection is to be found in its use. The collection inspired the design of his own books that helped spread the ideals of modern book design in America.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

143. Thomas Bird Mosher's Vale Press collection (1)

Thomas Bird Mosher (1852-1923) used his private collection as a source of inspiration for the lay-out and design of his own Mosher imprints that can be searched on Phil Bishop's website The Mosher Press.

Mosher used several Vale Press designs for his catalogues and poetry books. Part of his collection of Vale Press books was auctioned at the Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York on the afternoon of 11 May 1948.

Cover of Library of the late Thomas Bird Mosher (catalogue 1948)
A day earlier another part of his collection was sold, including four books of the Kelmscott Press, fetching prizes between 8,- and 52,50 dollars.

Library of the late Thomas Bird Mosher (catalogue 1948, p. 57)
The Vale Press books were offered differently. They were not described in separate lots as were the Kelmscott books, but grouped together. The two volumes of Benvenuto Cellini's Life, however, and the three volume set of Shelley's Poems were offered as individual lots. Also, there were lots with two to seven volumes, and the larger groups did not mention all the titles, but mentioned a few of them and stated 'and others'.

Library of the late Thomas Bird Mosher (catalogue 1948, p. 58)
The last lot, containing a copy of The Parables from the Gospels, also included a Ruskin book that was not issued by the Vale Press, thus telling us that the Vale Press books were not seen as equally important or valuable as the Kelmscott Press books, and more in line with regular commercial publications such as Unto this Last by Ruskin printed for George Allen by the Ballantyne Press, who also printed the Vale Press books. The lots with Vale Press books realized prizes between 6,- and 20,- dollars, the largest amount was paid for the folio volumes of the Cellini edition.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

142. Hope in 1914

In his diary for April 1914, Charles Ricketts wrote about his (and Shannon's) artistic achievements:

Shall we live to see ourselves secure and respected? 

Charles Ricketts, 'Italia Redenta', lithograph, 1917, [detail]

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

141. Charles Shannon as seen in 1893

Leo Simons, writing about the Fourth Arts and Crafts Exhibition for the Dutch newspaper Opregte Haarlemse Courant (4 December 1893), not only described William Morris as a speaker, and Charles Ricketts as a 'nervous and refined personality', he also gave a portrait of Charles Shannon, whom he considered a greater and more sensitive artist than Ricketts.

Paying a visit to the home of these young men, one meets the complaisant, handy Shannon, the quiet worker of the two, and one could mistake him for the younger, lesser artist, for the moon to the Sun Ricketts. However, the mildly ironic yet boyish expression of his pale eyes, and his delicate lips, betray a distinct personality, and his lithographs, even more than his wood engravings, are the work of an artistic talent that shows more sensitivity, and a deeper feeling for pure art, than the intellectual Ricketts.

Charles Shannon, 'White Nights', lithograph, 1893
Simons gave favourable descriptions of two lithographs by Shannon: 'White Nights' and 'Romantic Landscape' (both published in the third issue of The Dial, October 1893) of which he liked the use of soft line, light and shadow.

Simons recorded that Ricketts and Shannon were surprised by the attention given to their work in the Netherlands:

more copies of The Dial have been sold in our country than in America. In England, their privately published works are remarkably slow to sell. Not more than a hundred collectors buy these books for the love of art; another hundred or hundred and fifty that are not sold abroad, are bought by speculators. Now, being sold out, Daphnis and Chloe, is priced at forty guilders [c. 3 guineas] (original price: 26 guilders [2 guineas]), and the first two issues of The Dial that they had difficulty selling at 4½ guilders [7s.6d.] are now traded for twelve to eighteen guilders.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

140. A Dutch Portrait of Ricketts and Shannon in 1893

Leo Simons, in his three articles about the Fourth Arts and Crafts Exhibition in London (see last week's blognot only wrote about William Morris, whom he heard speak on 2 November 1893. Simons devoted an entire column to the work of Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon in the Dutch newspaper Opregte Haarlemsche Courant of 4 December 1893. This essay is among the earliest newspaper pieces about them.

Simons describes them as the 'recluses of the Vale' in Chelsea, and as 'prominent modernists', whose magazine The Dial was a noteworthy and irregularly issued publication. He reported that the third issue had just appeared. 

The Studio (October 1893) had recently written about the Arts and Crafts Exhibition that the new issue of The Dial 'was issued just too late to be shown here'. 

In The Netherlands art critic and artist Jan Veth would mention this issue in a review of 17 December 1893. These were the earliest reviews of the magazine, including England.

Charles Shannon, 'The Vale in Snow', lithograph (1889)
Simons concluded that Ricketts and Shannon's efforts were different from Morris's in that they did not print their own periodical, and their chief merit was to be found in the illustrations: Ricketts's wood engravings and pen drawings; Shannon's lithographs and wood engravings. He observed a half century of different influences between Morris and the other two artists, Ricketts and Shannon.

He went on to describe Ricketts's appearance, suggesting that he knew them personally:

Ricketts, especially, is a nervous and refined personality; a pale pointed face framed with a reddish beard, light eyes, energetic features, and lively gestures while he discusses art; with a resolute, often passionate declaration of approval or condemnation of an artist and his work. He appears to be more the agitated Frenchman than the modest English gentleman; and when Lucien Pissarro, the dark black bearded, earnest French artist (his eyes expressing a childlike melancholy) is sitting opposite him, he as easily trades English for French. Even a first impression of this artist is one of extraordinariness, a fine and tender personality, more an ecstatic intellectual life than a physical one, and the more attractive because of a total absence of affectation.

Simons goes on to describe their surroundings: a quiet oasis near a busy road, a house painted in light green, a long and narrow pale yellow room; the walls covered with paintings and lithographs by Shannon and an occasional example of Indian or Medieval art; on a table near the fireplace were cups with flowers that Shannon had sown and gathered from their garden; the whole without a trace of wealth, or fashion, or picturesqueness, and all the more comfortably individual.