Wednesday, October 31, 2012

66. A Sybil Pye binding

Sybil Pye (1879-1958) took up bookbinding in 1906 and she bound quite a few Vale Press books, using some of the tools that Charles Ricketts, whom she had first met that year, had given to her. Her story is told by Marianne Tidcombe in her excellent book on Women bookbinders 1880-1920 (1996), in which Appendix III reproduces impressions of the 31 tools (leaves, wheat and ornaments) that Ricketts had designed for specially commissioned Vale Press bindings.

A recent list of Sophie Schneideman Rare Books (London), 145 years of fine bindings, includes an early example of Pye's work. This was one of two bindings she made for the Vale Press edition of Thomas Sturge Moore's poem Danaë that was published in 1903. Tidcombe mentions the binding in white pigskin, blind- and gold-tooled, as being done for 'Miss Cooper' (Emma Cooper, one of the women who wrote under the name Michael Field) and another one for 'Miss Withers'. Both were presumably executed around 1906, a few years after the closure of the Vale Press. Sybil Pye did not design publisher's bindings, all her bookbindings are unique pieces.

Sybil Pye, binding for Thomas Sturge Moore, Danaë (1903): front cover [image kindly provided by Sophie Schneideman]
The binding is described in Sophie Schneideman's catalogue: 'full pigskin tooled with Ricketts-style tools in blind with gilt circles, hearts and dots on covers and turn-ins, with leaf pattern and gilt ruling and lettering on the spine, her monogram is in blind on the lower turn-in'. The spine, alas, is 'rather rubbed' and the book has 'some browning throughout', which is not unusual. It is not clear whether this is the Cooper or the Withers copy.

Sybil Pye, binding for Thomas Sturge Moore, Danaë (1903): back cover [image kindly provided by Sophie Schneideman]
There is some confusion over the type Sybil Pye used for the titling on the spine of her bookbindings. Tidcombe (page 148) asserts: 'The letters she used were Vale Capitals designed by Ricketts', but how was that possible? Pye met Ricketts in 1906, two years after the Vale Press was closed down and Ricketts had the type melted down and the punches thrown into the Thames. Tidcombe does not quote a source for her assumption. This needs further investigation. In the meantime, I do not suppose that Pye had access to Vale type capitals for her books.