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Lifetime Archive of an Arts and Craftsman and Author

Percy Wells - May Morris; Ambrose Heal; Ernest Betjemann; Herbert Batsford; Marjorie Quennell
Archive of letters, photographs, drawings, published books and articles of Percy A Wells (1867-1956), a cabinet maker and disciple of William Mor… Read more
Published in 1900 by Mostly Unpublished.
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Lifetime Archive of an Arts and Craftsman and Author by Percy Wells - May Morris; Ambrose Heal; Ernest Betjemann; Herbert Batsford; Marjorie Quennell

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Archive of letters, photographs, drawings, published books and articles of Percy A Wells (1867-1956), a cabinet maker and disciple of William Morris, who lectured, taught and wrote extensively during the later phase of the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain.

Wells, whose typescript autobiography is included in the archive followed an apprenticeship in London’s City Road with early practice as a cabinet maker before working alongside William Lethaby at the Central School and subsequently leading the cabinet department at the Shoreditch Technical Institution in London. His two most significant works, both published by Batsford, were Modern Cabinet Work (1909) which brought him to a wider audience and Furniture for Small Houses (1924) but as revealed by this archive, his work went much wider.

PERCY WELLS' SKETCHBOOK c1900-1920

Small quarto, c200 pages, bound in quarter roan over textured black boards; back strip largely missing; binding remains intact. Inscribed in ink to first blank ‘Percy A Wells’ with pencil addition ‘31 Hindmans Rd East Dulwich SE’.

Starting with the endpapers Wells has used almost every page for drawings, some vignette sized, many full page. There are variations on William Morris such as ‘Border Designs - Corners from W. Morris Books’, a series of heraldic shields credited to Morris and a full page attempt at what seems to be a graphic tribute to Morris with the names of ‘Dante Rossetti Madox Brown Burne Jones’ contained within a column in the right margin and the slogan ‘ARTS. CRAFTS. POETRY. BEAUTY. BROTHERHOOD’ at the foot of the page.

Much of the sketchbook is dedicated to drawings for furniture and other design such as tiles, architectural details, often connected to Wells’ emergent book projects, thus ‘Fences and Gates. Screens Chapt ?’ There are several early pages of stylised art nouveau influenced flower drawings, including irises, and many other attempts to incorporate the natural world into design as Wells examined and noted the ‘Geometry of leaf’. There are a couple of pages of experiments with lettering including a possible commission for ‘The Ruskin Gallery’ and ‘The Passmore Edwards Gallery’, copies from tapestries, medieval manuscripts and much more.

LETTERS (25 items)

Writing on Kelmscott Manor paper, June 1922, May Morris thanks Wells for his letter and ‘the cheque. Will you please tell the students how very much I appreciate their help’ - probably with her fund raising in efforts for the Memorial Hall at Kelmscott, signed in full. In a 1910 letter the furniture designer Ambrose Heal writes asking for ‘your criticism on a piece of modern furniture design’.

There are several letters thanking Wells for presentation copies of Modern Cabinet Work Furniture and Fitments (1909) including one from Maple and Co, his bosses at Shoreditch Technical Institute, Ambrose Heal, the sculptor Harry Hems, furniture designer Ernest Betjemann (John Betjeman’s father) and the book’s publisher, Herbert Batsford.

Marjorie Quennell writes about a museum consultantship and an ALS from the artist and designer Selwyn Image proposes a talk on ‘the start and development of the Arts and Crafts Society and Movement’ (1922). Additional correspondence regarding the presentation of several awards to Wells including the Royal Society of Arts’ Silver Medal in 1909.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Around 40 silver gelatin photographs of furniture, many used as illustrations in Wells’ books and labelled as such to verso. Contained within an envelope labelled in a later hand: ‘Furniture designed by Percy Wells. (Including Shoreditch)...’

Small sheaf of personal photographs including images of Wells in old age gardening in Dulwich. Two photographs of a house exterior project in New Barnet, with Wells’ handwritten explanations overleaf of ‘treatment of Wall with trellis and boxes’ and additional larger furniture photographs.

PORTFOLIO containing typescript, ribbon copy, of ‘Fifty Years in the Furniture Trade’ by Percy Wells, 1934, a short autobiography which describes Wells’ poor background, his apprenticeship in the City Road as a cabinet maker; mentored by Stephen Webb and W R Lethaby and then teaching work at Central School and Shoreditch Technical Institute.

Exhibition ephemera including the Exhibition of British Industrial Art, 1933; sheaf of Wells' drawings of church details at Long Melford, Kersey and Lavenham; rubbings of lettering pieces by ‘P Wells’ from the 1930s each carefully annotated with time spent on the commission; 2 folders of articles, annotated by Wells; reviews of his books; certificates for various awards and group photos; press reports of his lectures etc, etc.

PUBLISHED WORKS

Modern Cabinet Works, Percy A Wells & John Hooper, 1909 - promotional pamphlet, [pp]8 with order form

Percy A Wells, Furniture, Furniture for Small Houses, inscribed to the author’s brother ‘S.H.W. (Sidney H Wells) from the Author June 1920.’

[Percy A Wells] Practical Education and School Crafts, 1924’, Wells has marked his contribution at page 112

[Percy a Wells] Boys’ Clubs in War-Time, article by PAW

[Percy A Wells] An Introduction to Handicrafts in Clubs, 1933, National Association of Boys’ Clubs, ‘P A Wells’ to upper cover - this anonymous work was written by Wells. Covers chipped and detached

Additionally numerous journal articles in portfolio.

PRESENTATION COPIES

Ambrose Heal, The Old Farm in Tottenham Court Road, offprint, blue paper wrappers detached. Inscribed to title page ‘P.A. Wells. with A Hs compliments’ - possibly secretarial.

J B Russell, The Story of an Old English Hostelry, 1924, Fourth Edition, inscribed to Wells by Gordon Russell, upper cover detached


Full details

Publisher Mostly Unpublished
Date published 1900
Product code 7250


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