Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Girl & The Faun, A Bookbinder, And Citizen Hearst's Last Word

by Stephen J. Gertz

Front cover.

It is written, though the story may be apocryphal, that on his deathbed on August 14, 1951 - just eleven days before I was born - legendary newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst uttered one final, cryptic word:


What he meant has baffled scholars ever since. But, because his death ushered in my birth, I took it upon myself to divine the mystery and am pleased to report that the puzzle is solved. 

There is, alas, no deep psychological meaning to reveal, only that c. 1916 Hearst commissioned famed New York bookbinder, Henry Stikeman, to bind a copy of Eden Phillpotts' The Girl and the Faun, published in that year in London by Cecil Palmer and Wayward. I will resist commentary on a publisher named "Wayward." 

Upper doublure.

One of the great and most prominent American bookbinders, "Henry Stikeman’s career virtually paralleled the heyday of art bookbinding in America beginning toward the end of the 19th century, into the beginning of the 20th. A Stikeman binding from the 1880s through, say, 1918/1919, represents the best work of the firm...During its prime, Stikeman & Co. was capable of turning out a stunningly large volume of high quality work. They did the large majority of the special publisher 'sets' of the period (for Scribners, Harcourt, Riverside Press, etc.), likely looking upon that type of work as their bread-and-butter...What’s apparent in this American (specifically, New York) work... is that the binders were a small group, sharing ideas, working together, and intent on creating an American Style. Stikeman and Macdonald both worked at Matthews, Stikeman eventually taking the firm over, MacDonald leaving before then and starting his own firm around 1880" (Jeff Stikeman). 

While publishers' sets may have been the bindery's bread and butter it was their custom, one-off work for wealthy collectors like Hearst that won the firm critical acclaim. Stikeman went whole hog for Hearst on this binding, and it's one of the most magnificent works by Stikeman I've yet had in my hands.

Stamped-signature to lower doublure.

It was bound by Stikeman & Co. in contemporary full brown crushed morocco with multiple gilt-rolled borders and French fillets enclosing a broad gilt decorated frame. Doublures of dark and light brown morocco elegantly gilt rolled and tooled and with an elaborate gilt centerpiece and gilt decorative devices with green and crimson inlays highlight the work. Moiré burnt orange silk endleaves, gilt decorated compartments, gilt rolled edges, and top edge gilt finish the binding. 

Illustrated By Sir Frank Brangwyn.

What's the story with The Girl and the Faun? It's a timeless plot: faun meets girl, faun loses girl, faun gets screwed:  One fine Spring day in ancient Greece, the faun Coix falls in love with the most beautiful girl in the world, Iole, a shepherd’s daughter. Alas, she throws him over for a human. Heartbroken yet determined to win her back, Coix beseeches the god Pan to transform him into a human so he can love Iole as she desires to be loved. But when his wish is granted, Coix awakens without his memory - and without Iole. The timeless moral: Be careful what you wish for; fugetaboutit.

Illustrator Sir Frank William Brangwyn (1867–1956) was an Anglo-Welsh artist, painter, water colorist, virtuoso engraver and illustrator, and progressive designer. He contributed four color plates to the book and designed it, with decorative text borders and title page.

"If I ain't then God help me."
This is how a shepherd's daughter typically spoke in ancient Greece.

"I will help you and do your bidding for ever. I love you..."
This is how I typically speak on a first date.

Laid into this copy are two signed autograph letters by Phillpotts.

The first, written by Phillpotts to the editor of The Gipsy on April 30, 1915, declares "a new work of mine...'The Girl & the Faun' is a quaint thing, of which I'll say nothing save that I should much like you to see it."

The second, dated July 25, 1915, discusses the illustrator: 

"My dear Savage, I am sorry to report that Brangwyn doesn't like the thought of 'The Girl & the Faun' being published serially before our book publication after war. I have only just heard this & as it would be a serious thing of he chucked it, I will ask you to let me have it again. I feel this a great deal, for publication in your distinguished paper would have been a joy; but I was committed to F. Brangwyn a long time ago & it will be rather a serious thing if I don't go through with him. Of course he has no claim & if you think it worth while raising the question I will; but I expect you've got plenty of good stuff & can let me have 'The Girl & the Faun without difficulty. Sincerely yours, Eden Phillpotts."

You doubt the Hearst provenance? Laid into the book is a bloviating letter from auctioneer Hammer Galleries dated March 1941 attesting to the book's ownership by Hearst.

What is omitted is the solid that in 1916 Hearst recited from this seductively bound copy of The Girl and the Faun while riding his sled, Murray, while wooing nymph, Susan Alexander, er, Marion Davies, she holding tight: "If I ain't then God help me."

And so Hearst's last, thankful word.

Title page.

[STIKEMAN & Co., binder]. PHILLPOTTS, Eden. The Girl and the Faun. Illustrated by Frank Brangwyn. London: Cecil Palmer & Wayward, 1916.

First edition. Quarto (9 7/8 x 7 3/8 in; 251 x 188 mm). viii, 78, [1, blank], [2. adv.] pp., partially unopened. Four color plates. Decorative titlepage and borders. Two autograph letters, signed, bound at front. Letter of provenance laid in. Bound by Stikeman & Co.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

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