DE MORGAN (WILLIAM) Series of eight autograph letters signed, to H. C. Marillier, Managing Director of Morris & Co and owner of Kelmscott House, 1907-1914
Lot 50
DE MORGAN (WILLIAM) Series of eight autograph letters signed, to H. C. Marillier, Managing Director of Morris & Co and owner of Kelmscott House, 1907-1914
Sold for £1,750 (US$ 2,976) inc. premium
Lot Details
Series of eight autograph letters signed, to H. C. Marillier, Managing Director of Morris & Co and owner of Kelmscott House, thanking Marillier for his book about "the firm" [A Brief Sketch of the Morris Movement, 1911] ("...I don't think it could have been better done...") although objecting that "you give me too much credit for my share in the tile work"; discussing Marillier's commissions as a collector (offering to "go down to the factory shortly and choose a lot" although afterwards regretting that that "lot is not so good" and offering to "take tea-set off your hands at trade price, for my ain self – Afraid I exceeded my instructions about the one or two lustres, but I thought you were open to take a small allowance – and that the consignment wanted enriching"); giving instructions as to the correct formulation of fixing cement ("...ground firebrick or stoneware...worked up with neutral solution of Soda Silicate, and no other..."); commenting on the work of his former foreman Ewbank ("...I suppose the firing, which is the critical point is done in the kiln Ewbank has put up, worked by Iles..."); and telling Marillier that Isidore Spielmann, of the Board of Trade, is looking for examples of Morris & Co's work for the forthcoming international exhibition in Paris [postponed because of the First World War]; the letters also contain references to his wife Evelyn's paintings, a portrait of himself, his novel Joseph Vance ("...It seems quite like someone else's book now to me, and I can hardly believe I wrote it!...") and its successor ("...a novel as long as Vanity Fair"...), life in Florence, etc., 24 pages, 8vo, Florence and Chelsea, 18 June 1907 to 4 March 1914


  • 'NOW THE TILES AND POTS HAVE VANISHED LIKE A DREAM' – William De Morgan reflects on his life as a potter, in a fine group of letters written to the scientist and art historian H.C. Marillier, owner of Kelmscott House and Managing Director of Morris & Co. Although De Morgan by the late twentieth century is most esteemed – and avidly collected – as a potter, at the beginning of the century many thought that it was as a novelist that his reputation would endure, even though it was only when in his sixties that he ventured into print with what was to be a surprise bestseller, Joseph Vance. It came out in July 1906, just at the time ill-health was forcing De Morgan to abandon potting, the Fulham Pottery being wound up in 1907.

    In a letter of 7 March 1911, written from Florence, he offers Marillier a retrospective of his career as a potter: "Morris made three designs for my execution – the trellis tulip – the poppy – and another 6 of which I forget the name... Also two or three for lustre – There was of course the big panel you have in your doorway – But I don't believe those old Cinderella and Bluebeard tiles could be produced again except the moment of the world when they were made could come back – So of all work where the thread is lost – with the added need often (as in this case) of the bringing back a giant from extinction, if extinct, or from the job he's on now, if any. It is so strange to sit here in Florence and look out at the Duomo and St Lorenzo, and then go back to 'Washing Chintz on the Wandle'! Now the tiles and pots have vanished like a dream – and a very insolvent dream! And I have turned turtle and am afloat on a sea of Literature" (Washing Chintz in the Wandle depicts work at Morris's Merton Abbey factory). In the last letter, written on 14 March 1914, he makes it clear that he has still not fully reconciled himself to this new persona: "I wonder whether a centenarian 25 years hence will squander his book-royalties on the erection of new kilns, with superannuated dodderers to pack and fire them? If I were permanently in England, I should do that very selfsame thing – I can't tell you how I miss never having a kiln to open next day".
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  1. Luke Batterham
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
    Work +44 20 7393 3828
    FaxFax: +44 20 7393 3879
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