The Artwork of Pamela Colman Smith

There's a very strange thing going on with the works of PCS. Her books, even the mass-market ones, are listed for very high prices. Limited edition volumes like Widdicombe Fair and The Golden Vanity have always drawn higher prices because they are limited. $500 to $1000 and up, depending on condition. Lately I've noticed that even the books to which she only contributed drawings and that have much larger print runs are listed in the $300 to $600 range, even for ex-library books. This is quite insane. On many of these volumes, I've got mine already. But for the person looking to get a copy it is very frustrating. So, what are they really worth? Whatever you want to pay for them. The limited edition books are worth the price if the prints are intact. The glue fails and the prints drop out but their color still holds. The other books depend. Anything Bram Stoker or Sherlock Holmes has a fanatic base that will spend the money. The books put out by the Green Sheaf Press were limited editions and draw larger prices. All the rest - search your library's sales and hope for the best. That's what I'm reduced to doing. If you want to see the listings, go to Abebooks.com and put in "Pamela Colman Smith" as a keyword. Sort from highest price down.

In 1899, PCS published a number of books, two of which were hand-colored by her. These books were The Golden Vanity and The Green Bed (one volume), Widdicombe Fair, Annancy Tales, and In Chimney Corners. The last book she did the illustrations for another author. PCS was only 21 when this burst of publishing happened.

The Golden Vanity and The Green Bed is a limited edition (500 copies) portfolio of 14 hand-colored plates illustrating two English folk songs. The text and music of each are included. The art is done in a flat patterned style that is highly colored. See the pictures here. This one is usually listed on Abebooks, one or so copies. It is not as desirable as Widdicombe Fair. Expect to pay $300 to $500 for a good copy.

Widdicombe Fair is another limited edition (500 copies) portfolio of 15 hand-colored plates illustrating an English folk song. The text and music are included. The art again is done in a flat patterned style that is highly colored. The book was issued in three colors of boards - red, green, and blue. I have seen the red and green versions, but not a blue version yet. Each of the title pictures has a unique row of flowers underneath the main picture. There are supposedly several different pictures for the back cover, though the two copies of this book I have had showed the ghost horse. See the pictures here for more details. This one always has multiple listings on Abebooks. For an edition of only 500, it seems that a goodly percentage of them are always for sale. This one goes for $400 to $1200.

Annancy Stories is a book of Jamaican folk tales by PCS and illustrated by her. This was a mass-market book that has only line drawings though the cover boards are illustrated. Currently, if you cannot get a copy of this book, Annancy Boys by Neil Gaimen will give you the flavor of the text of this book minus the (for us now) overdone accent of the speech. See the pictures and sample text here. This one occasionally shows up on Abebooks. I spent too much for mine, but then, I didn't expect to find it. $300 and up is the usual price. It really should be less.

In Chimney Corners, by Seamus MacManus, was illustrated by PCS. There are several color plates in the book along with some line drawings. The cover boards are also illustrated in color. They are here. There is also a link to one of the stories. This one has taken an incredible price-jump on Abebooks. You used to be able to get copies for $35. Now you can add a zero to that and multiply. Why? Someone posted it at a high price and everyone else followed. Silly.

In 1900, PCS did some illustrations for the souvenir booklet for William Gillette. He was a cousin of hers on her father's side and was the first stage Sherlock Holmes. Radio too. The relevant pictures from the booklet are here. This item is hard to find in good condition and commands a high price for the Sherlock Holmes angle. Expect to pay $500 to $1000 for a clean copy. Autographed is more.

1903 was the year PCS began publication of her magazine, The Green Sheaf. She had already worked with Jack Butler Yeats on his broadsheet call A Broad Sheet in 1902. There was a stellar list of contributors, both for artwork and writing. I still need the last seven issues. Stay out of my way on this! If anyone ever lists a set.

In 1905, Chim-Chim was published. This is a continuation of the Annancy Stories. I only have a Xerox copy of this. It was printed by PCS' own press, Green Sheaf Press. Here are the pictures and text. I've not seen this listed.

I managed by a stroke of great fortune to acquire two original watercolor "music paintings" and one pen & ink sketch by PCS. They are here. You don't have to look at those B&W reproductions of the paintings anymore and wonder what they really look like. They are from 1907 to 1909.

The Craftsman magazine, by Gustave Stickley, ran an article on PCS and her work in the March 1907 and the October 1912 issue. Since there is the Arts and Crafts and Stickley connection, single issues command high prices. You can get a CD collection of the entire print run from 1901 to 1916 from Historicalworks.com for a reasonable price. I did. Very nicely done. Or, you can get a single year's issues.

Bram Stoker wrote his last novel, Lair of the White Worm, in 1911. The first London edition from Rider & Son has six color plates by PCS. No other edition of the book has these illustrations as far as I know. The plates are here. They are in a completely different style from her previous work. The modeling is much looser and the pictures approach, but don't actually reach, abstraction. This one usually goes in the $600 range because of the Bram Stoker angle. As it was his last novel (he died the next year) and the only one with these prints, it is a rare thing to find it for less than that amount.

The Russian Ballet, by Ellen Terry was published in 1913. There is some debate whether Terry wrote the text. Some say Christopher St John and PCS wrote it. That is an argument for others. There are two versions of this, a smaller (6-1/4" x 8") version published by The Bobbs-Merrill Company, New York and Indianapolis, in 1913. There is also a larger format (8-3/4" x 11-1/4") version published by Sidgwick & Jackson, Ltd., London, also in 1913. I have no dustjacket with the American version and don't know if it came with one. The British version has a dustjacket, badly decayed. The cover boards of each version are different, though the drawings inside are the same. The most tantalizing thing is that in the British version I found a drop-out postcard soliciting for a hand-colored deluxe version of the book. I have never come across one and wonder if it even was printed. Anyways, the pictures from the book are here. This one is all over the map on pricing. You can get a good, clean copy of either the US or British version for $25 to $50. Or, you could pay lots more for the same thing. I've never seen the hand-colored version listed.

The Book of Friendly Giants, by Eunice Fuller, was published in 1914. PCS did several B&W plates and line drawings for this book. You can see them here and read a sample text. This is another one of those books you used to be able to get for $35. Now, again, add a zero and multiply. Unlike In Chimney Corners, this one is highly illustrated and probably worth more. But not the current asking price.

Many of the following books deal with PCS and her life and art. Details about them can be found in the bibliography. If you can't have the originals or if you want to learn more, these books are the way to go.

In 1975, the Delaware Art Museum hosted an exhibition of the works of PCS. Melinda Parsons wrote the souvenir booklet for this. It is one of the best resources for information and illustrations there is. You can sometimes find copies listed on Abebooks for a reasonable price. If you do, get it. Until Melinda publishes her biography of PCS, this is the book to have!

American Imagination and Symbolist Painting, by Charles C Eldredge, is another museum exhibit catalog. There are several nice B&W reproduction by PCS in it along with some good text. The book is excellent for an overview of the American Symbolists who were doing different things than their more famous European cousins. Well worth having to put the artwork of PCS into context.

The Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume III, by Stuart Kaplan has a 40+ page article on PCS. This is the best we have right now. It is copiously illustrated (in B&W alas) and has reams of good information on her life and work. I may be cantankerous about the view that she was a disappointed failure at the end of her life, but this volume will tell you lots of things. There are some errors in it because new research is still ongoing. This is a big volume with lots of good information on Tarot also.

Melinda Parsons also contributed an article to History of Photography, Winter, 1996. "Pamela Colman Smith and Alfred Stieglitz Modernism at 291" is a bit more up to date than the above listing and has nice B&W photos of the works. Alas, they are B&W. This too can be found for a reasonable price. The other articles on Stieglitz are interesting too.

There are several other books out there I'm not listing until I get my hands on them. Sorry.

Here is a tribute to PCS by Mari Hoshizaki based on her reworking of one of the Tarot cards.

 

 

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