Wednesday, October 3, 2012

62. Extra illustrated

The catalogue for sale 2289 of the New York based Swann Auction Galleries describes a complete set of the Vale Shakespeare, which will be auctioned on 11 October. The headline in the catalogue promises a unique copy:

Copy Number One, The very uncommon extra illustrated edition.

This set comprises the 37 volumes of the Vale Press edition of Shakespeare, which was issued in 1900-1903, in 'full turquoise morocco' bindings, displaying 'hand tooled wavy gilt surrounding a red inlaid flower design in gilt-ruled borders'. The illustration shows how lavishly the bindings have been decorated. It is not mentioned that for this set the original buckram bindings, with a blind-stamped design by Charles Ricketts, who designed the series from cover to cover, have been discarded.

The Vale Shakespeare edition (1900-1903) as offered by Swann Auction Galleries, 2012
The set has been extra illustrated with original watercolour frontispieces, with Grolier plates, Boydell plates and handcoloured Pillé plates, according to the catalogue, and also with 'original drawings of Shakespearian characters in watercolour'.

Title page of Shakespeare, The life of Timon of Athens (Vale Press, 1900), an extra illustrated copy
None of these additional drawings or prints are by Ricketts, however, the description, by stating that this is the 'uncommon extra illustrated edition', suggests that it was his own intention to add these to the volumes, and this extra illustrated copy is a special Vale Press edition. The book contains an extra limitation page, announcing:

The Vale Press edition of the works of Shakespeare is limited to 300 copies. This is copy number one.

This page is not set in the Avon type, which was used exclusively for the edition, nor in one of the other two types that were designed by Ricketts for the Vale Press. The limitation page is certainly not an initiative of the Vale Press, but probably the work of a collector or dealer. John Lane, who distributed copies in the United States, never advertised such an edition. Whoever was responsible followed the fashion of the times, first by having the complete set rebound in leather, secondly by adding all these plates, and thirdly by adding these bogus limitation pages. There is no number one, we can only say that there was a collector who wanted to be a Number One Collector.

Inserted limitation page in Shakespeare, The life of Timon of Athens (Vale Press, 1900)
The idea was to create a luxurious, personal and unique copy, and if this meant that the unity of the book's design was distorted, who cared? The collector clearly did not share Ricketts's ideals and opinions on book design. He inserted the limitation page where Ricketts had intended two opposing pages to form a whole.
Original opening pages in Shakespeare, The life of Timon of Athens (Vale Press, 1900)
This is not a Vale Press book along Ricketts's lines anymore, but has become a Victorianized edition, and, as such, it is a memento of a certain collector's tradition, though not a representative of the private press revolution that involved the Vale Press in setting an example for commercial presses. Here we see the collector as a traditionalist, destroying the aspirations of a more modern movement in book design.