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‘Clarion’ series of Omar Khayyam postcards, illustrated by Frank Chesworth

August 25, 2014

Thanks to Bob Forrest for this note about another unusual aspect of Rubaiyat publishing.  Bob is also in need of further informationon this subject..  If you can help to answer any of his questions, set out below, please post a comment and/or contact Bob via his website

Though it does not say so on the cards themselves, the (undated) “Clarion” series of Omar Khayyam postcards, with artwork by Frank Chesworth, were first published by the socialist newspaper The Clarion “just in time for Christmas” in 1904. The wording of the advert for them at that time isn’t very clear, but it seems that the series consisted of six different designs, each of the six designs being sold in packs containing six copies of the same design. At any rate, only six different designs are known to me via various sources (see illustrations), and I would be grateful if readers would let me know if they know of any others, as these six cards are numbered 21 to 26 inclusive, which is puzzling to say the least!

Contact SheetThe Clarion did also issue a Songs of Shakespeare series, again by Chesworth, at the same time as the Omar cards, one of these being No.12, and a few years earlier they had published a series of socialist postcards, several by Walter Crane, though I have never seen any of these. So the numbers on the Omar cards may simply represent their place in the broader series of cards, on various subjects, published by the newspaper in the course of time. Again, if any reader can help with this, please let me know.

The Omar cards were advertised again at Christmas 1905, this time in conjunction with an Omar calendar, also by Chesworth. I have never seen this, and was unaware of it before I saw the advert in The Clarion. Does any reader have a copy, or at least, has any reader ever seen one ?

Finally, many of these cards were used as ordinary postcards, from 1904 onwards, and appear to have been in use for some years. The two cards I have (Nos. 22 & 24) bear a Leeds postmark of 1909, for example. One contact of mine has an example bearing a Leeds postmark of 1911, and another contact has a couple of examples bearing a Glasgow postmark of 1904. I’d be grateful if readers could let me know the postmark, places and dates on any of their cards, as it would be interesting to build up a picture of the extent of their usage.

Clarion Omar no.22The cards are not the best illustrations of The Rubaiyat on the market, it is true. This is a shame as Frank Chesworth was a talented book illustrator in black and white, though he seems never to have illustrated The Rubaiyat in book form. His illustrations for Robert Blatchford’s book for children, The Dolly Ballads (the 1907 edition, rather than the less adorned edition of 1911), for example, are wonderful.

Little seems to be known about Chesworth the man, though I do know that he died in Camberwell, London, in 1906, and so he didn’t live to see The Dolly Ballads actually published. Sadly, he was aged only 38 when he died. In due course, I intend to feature a write-up of him, his book illustration, and his Omarian associations with Robert Blatchford (the founder-editor of The Clarion) on my website, as it all makes for an interesting story. Meanwhile, I am still gathering information, so if anyone reading this knows anything about Chesworth’s life – or indeed, is curious to know in advance what I’ve managed to unearth already – please do get in touch.



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