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George Plank papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 28

Scope and Contents

The George Plank Papers contain letters to Plank from his literary and artistic friends such as H.D. and Gordon Craig, as well as an extensive correspondence with his sister, Amy (Mrs. Charles Hartwell Cocke, Jr.) and Sylvia Townsend Warner. In addition, there are a few drawings, printed illustrations, bookplates, and magazine covers, as well as a small personal collection of art, photographs, and writings of his friends. The papers span the dates 1907-65.

The papers are divided into three series: Correspondence, Art Work, and Personal Papers. Boxes 1-7 contain Series I, which consists of letters from and to George Plank. Folders 124-26 in Box 7 contain letters to Sir Trevor Bigham, Lady Bigham, and Hilda Trevelyan about George Plank.

Most of Plank's early extant correspondence concerns The Butterfly Quarterly. George Moore enclosed "Souvenir sur Mallarmé" for the magazine in his June 19, 1909 letter, while W. B. Yeats had "nothing I can send you" (Box 7, folder 122). In June 1908, Gordon Craig sent technical advice on doing woodcuts, "It's wrong to make grey tones as I do, all should be live." He also wrote about the theatre; about acting in Shakespeare's plays in London, Paris, Berlin, and Moscow; and about starting a drama school in Florence. He enclosed a chapbook, The History of Little TomTucker, on May 8, 1911 and some examples of paper on January 10, 1914.

In over one hundred letters to his sister Amy Plank Cocke (Box 1, folders 13-18), Plank describes his work and the London social scene during the First World War, where he met Lady Scott, Robbie Ross, Arthur Rubinstein, Jelly d'Arànyi, and Ellen Terry. He also describes the snobbish behavior of Mrs. Calverly's servants in a December 21, 1916 letter, his trips to see Ethel Sands in France, and his 1921 visit to Italy with Trevor Bigham where he met the Berensons.

Plank corresponded with a number of prominent literary figures including Richard Aldington, John Cournos, H.D., Bryher, Marianne Moore, Vita Sackville-West, Anne Parrish, and Patrick White. Richard Aldington in a February 1915 letter asked Plank about starting a magazine "run by you & me & my wife & Cournos," but the plan failed due to lack of funds. John Cournos, in fact, often asked to borrow money from Plank. H.D. wrote some two hundred letters to Plank from 1915 until her death in 1961. They are filled with personal reminiscences of Aldington, his affairs, and their subsequent divorce in 1938; stories about Bryher, her adoption of H.D.'s daughter, and her second husband, Kenneth Macpherson during their movie-making days; and references to Anna Freud, D. H. Lawrence, the Paul Robesons, the Sitwells, W. B. Yeats, William Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound. Norman Holmes Pearson was a mutual friend, and a copy of his memorial poem on H.D.'s death can be found with his correspondence (Box 5, folder 71). Bryher's correspondence is mostly concerned with her trips to India, Germany, and the United States and Plank's visits to Lugano during the 1950-60s. Another literary friend, Marianne Moore, asks Plank in a June 25, 1935 letter to draw "something for The Pangolin." Plank's tailpiece for the poem can be found in Box 8, folder 134. T. S. Eliot wrote in 1935 to ask for Plank's help in arranging Marianne Moore's poems.

Plank and Vita Sackville-West were friends, though, as he wrote to his sister on January 6, 1921, she is "an uncivilized creature--she has the wanderlust, always craving change, wants to go off with gypsies or a circus." Plank kept Vita informed about her mother (Lady Sackville), exchanged gardening tips, as he did with many of his correspondents, and supplied four woodcuts for her book, The Land. Plank's first pulls of these woodcuts are found in Box 8, folder 140. In 1927, Vita offered Plank property for a house, but he had already accepted Sir Austen Chamberlain's land for Marvells.

Although Plank destroyed his twenty-year correspondence with Lady Sackville, many of his other letters mention her. The 400 letters from and to Sylvia Townsend Warner, for example, are filled with reminiscences. According to his October 4, 1964 letter, Lady Sackville was "the only mother I ever knew." She liked to sit up half the night talking, then about three o'clock she would say, according to Plank's September 27, 1957 letter, "Now we shall go to the kitchen and see what those wasteful servants have thrown away." Plank was equally candid in other letters about friends like Louis and Jean Untermeyer, whose poetry he disliked; the threesome Clare Atwood, Edy Craig, and Chris St. John, who looked and talked like Dr. Johnson; George Moore, who wrote all day and ripped up his manuscripts at night; Katie Lewis, who boasted, according to his June 29, 1959 letter, that she had been "kissed by the most distinguished men of her time, beginning with Burne-Jones and Oscar Wilde"; and the Benson family who adored quacks and mediums. Plank also wrote to Warner in great detail about his early upbringing and his health. According to a December 3, 1958 letter, Plank was the sixth person in England to be given the drug mercazole in 1943 for hyperthyroidism. He almost died from pneumonia in 1955 and suffered from chronic dysentery. Plank's letters, such as one written on January 20, 1960, also describe the social customs of places he visited like Cornwall, where "in the old days...a live cat was fastened inside the chimney and smoked to death as a sacrifice to the Ancient Gods." On September 27, 1960 he wrote to Warner about the Turkey Mill in Kent "where the most beautiful paper has been made continuously since 1630." Plank collected paper, which he cut into collages similar to the flower designs of Mrs. Delany. He redecorated an alcove for Ethel Sands using this new medium, but her house was destroyed in the war. Plank had few enemies, but concerning Harold Nicolson he wrote on December 25, 1957, "I detest him and all his works." Warner reminisced about her childhood and wrote about the American writer, Anne Parrish, who introduced her to Plank. She also complained about Valentine Ackland's demanding family.

After moving to England, James Whitall introduced Plank to his cousins, Logan Pearsall Smith and Alys Russell, who was Bertrand Russell's first wife. In her February 4, 1950 letter to Plank, Russell wrote, "Bertie is coming to me after 39 years! Pray for thy love-sick friend (for I still love him very much)." Smith's February 24, 1941 letter praises Plank's unpublished drawings for Shakespeare's sonnets, which are housed in Box 10, folder 172, "they make the meaning of those often obscure poems very beautifully lucid." In January 1937, Smith bought Plank an annuity because "you know how much we all love you" (Box 5, folder 81), and three years later Bryher also gave him money.

The author, Patrick White, initially wrote to Plank about his assignments in the RAF, but after World War II he moved to Australia and wrote about the countryside and about his latest plays. On the verso of White's first letter of October 17, 1938, Plank drew a design for a bookplate which is filed in Box 8, folder 129. Plank drew other annotations, such as one on a February 26, 1918 letter from Penzance to his sister showing the "Merry Maidens" stone circle. Many of Plank's correspondents were artists who illustrated their letters to Plank with drawings, among them Enid Bagnold (Box 1, folder 4), Sir Philip Burne-Jones (Box 1, folder 11), and Gordon Craig (Box 3, folders 34-35).

The rest of the correspondence consists mainly of social invitations, including one from Sir Edwin Lutyens, "to meet their Highnesses Princess Helena Victoria and Princess Marie Louise" (Box 4, folder 64). Religious topics were discussed by Mary Benson, the mother of Plank's friend Fred Benson; and Albert Rutherston, whose studio apartment Plank rented in Chelsea, advised him about designing costumes for a Palace play.

Series II, Art Work , is housed in Box 8 and in Box 10 with Oversize. There are a few unpublished pen and ink drawings (Box 8, folder 134; Box 10, folder 172), but the bulk of the material consists of engravings. Many of Plank's engravings were exhibited and are mounted on board.

His earliest wood engravings were done for The Butterfly Quarterly, Christmas cards, and bookplates. There are over seventy bookplate designs in the collection, including Bryher's, H.D.'s, and Robert Herring's; three Christmas cards; and a complete run of The Butterfly Quarterly (Box 10, folders 179-85), in addition to Plank's first pulls of the illustrations. Many of Plank's Vogue covers are for the English editions, and there is one framed original watercolor for the November 15, 1911 cover in Box 11. Some designs were used twice. His program cover for a "Great American Matinée," for example, which he designed for Lady Randolph Churchill in 1916 (Box 8, folder 133), was later used as the October 1917 cover of Vanity Fair (Box 10, folder 165).

Plank's Personal Papers are housed as Series III in Box 9 and contain information about and photographs of his friends as well as a few of their drawings and manuscripts. Gordon Craig engraved a bookplate for Plank (Box 9, folder 145), sent ads for The Mask, and enclosed a wood engraving by Thesleff of "A Piazza in Florence" (Box 9, folder 150), which Plank used in the summer 1908 issue of The Butterfly. Drafts of poetry by H.D. and Lady Wellesley can be found (Box 9, folders 157 and 162), as well as a speech given by James Whitall on Logan Pearsall Smith at Haverford College (Box 9, folder 163). Smith's printed notes on Cornishiana were annotated by Plank with his "Memories of Sotteville-sur-Mer" (Box 9, folder 159).

Among the photographs is a film clip taken in 1927 showing H.D., Bryher, and Kenneth Macpherson (Box 9, folder 153) and pictures of Patrick White, Gordon Craig, and Craig's family. There is a series of views of Marvells, but no portraits of Plank.

A folder of newspaper clippings contains obituaries, programs of memorial services, and various printed announcements for lectures by friends like Vita Sackville-West (Box 9, folder 151). From 1917-20, Plank acted with Ellen Terry in "An Early English Nativity"; he designed costumes for Lady Lyttelton's "The Chelsea Matinée" and scenery for "The Daisy." Programs for all three plays are preserved in Box 9, folder 156.


  • 1907-1965 (inclusive)


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile Papers in Box 12 may only be consulted with permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies for reference use have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The George Plank Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were donated to The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library from 1962-75 by Norman Holmes Pearson. From 1963-70, Sylvia Townsend Warner also donated, through the good offices of Norman Holmes Pearson, her letters from Plank, as well as a few letters he wrote to her friend, Valentine Ackland.


5.75 Linear Feet (11 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence with artistic and literary friends, Plank art work, art work of others, writings of friends, and a small quantity of personal papers. Prominent correspondents include H. D., Sylvia Townsend Warner, and Patrick White.


George Wolfe Plank, the American illustrator and designer of magazine covers, was born on March 25, 1883, in a village five miles from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His mother died when he was four and he was raised by his maternal grandparents in Bendersville, Pennsylvania. A self-taught artist, he worked in factories and department stores before moving to Philadelphia where he edited and printed The Butterfly Quarterly with Margaret H. Scott, Alice Smith, and Amy Smith from 1907-09. In 1911, he was hired by Vogue and continued to supply illustrations and cover designs for the magazine until 1936.

In 1914, Plank moved to England with his Philadelphia friends, James and Mildred Whitall. Plank's gift for friendship enabled him to move easily in all ranks of London society and his artistic talents were in great demand. He drew illustrations for his friends' books, including E. F. Benson's TheFreaks of Mayfair in 1916, Lady Wellesley's Genesis in 1926, and H.D.'s Hedgehog in 1936. He also supplemented his Vogue income by designing costumes, sets, and programs for Edy Craig's productions; painting posters for the Red Cross during the First World War; designing chintz cloth and interior decorations for Lady Sackville; and designing stationery and bookplates for H.D., Lady Carter, and Pauline Pappenheim. He even completed two royal commissions, including a map of South America in 1918, showing the Queen's Needlework Guilds and, in 1921, the King's bedroom for a dollhouse designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Queen Mary.

In 1927, Lutyens designed and built a house for Plank in Sussex, where he resided for the rest of his life. During World War II, Plank joined the Home Guard and nearly died of hyperthyroidism. He was naturalized as an Englishman in 1945 and spent the rest of his days gardening at his house, Marvells. George Plank died in his sleep on May 4, 1965 in a nearby nursing home.

Guide to the George Plank Papers
by Karen V. Peltier
March 1988
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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