Wednesday, April 29, 2015

196. An Almost Silent Spine

The cover of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray displays a rather austere design. On the front a triangle of ornaments supports the title of the book, or rather, no, not even that: only the name of the book's hero, Dorian Gray, is mentioned. That is all. Charles Ricketts, the designer of the book's cover and opening pages, has discarded the author's and publisher's names, and only used a pattern of daisy ornaments. Blankness, silence, mystery.
Title on the dust wrapper of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891 and 1895)
The ordinary edition of the first printing and the second edition both show this design. The spine design is not as silent as the front cover. It mentions the name of the author and the title. 

Title on the spine of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891 and 1895)

The title is printed in gold on the spine, at the lower end, underneath a column of blank vellum. Even today, this kind of design is rare.

Copies in poor condition can sometimes be found at a price that is no comparison to the normal price of this book. Usually, the spine has disappeared, or the book has been rebacked, or the book has been rebound, and sometimes the original covers have been bound in. What to do if one has a copy like that?

I would say: nothing at all. Any  repair will be for the worse. The book will look fresher perhaps, clean, and proper, but the original design will not come back, and the book as a whole will suffer from the alienation of the book's original design and its subtlety, beauty, and, for that matter, value. If one wants to possess a perfect copy, the only remedy is to buy a perfect copy, and not to cheaply buy a battered copy in order to repair it.