Wednesday, May 13, 2015

198. Vellum Copies of the Vale Press Cellini Edition (1)

Vellum copies of Vale Press books are understandably rare, as only two to ten copies of each edition were printed on vellum. Vellum copies of The Parables (1903) or the Bibliography (1904) appear on the market now and then, but the larger formats, say, Ecclesiastes (1902) or The Amber Witch (1903), are seen less often. 

The two volumes of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (1900-1901), the largest book to date printed for the Vale Press, were issued in a paper edition (300 copies) and an edition printed on vellum (10 copies). The vellum copies occasionally appear in the auction room, the most recent one being the Lawrence Hodson copy auctioned in 2013.

Vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini: volume II, page xxxv (Vale Press, 1901) [Private collection]
In 1938 a vellum copy was bound by Sybil Pye for the Dutch book collector Paul May (1868-1940). The black goatskin volumes were inlaid with natural goatskin, and gold-tooled. The set was 'stolen in 1942 during the German Occupation’, wrote Marianne Tidcombe, in her book about Women Bookbinders, 1880-1920, but the facts are slightly more complicated.

The story of the vellum copy as such can not be traced, but the fate of Paul May's library is well documented, see Ed van Rijswijk's contribution to the Community Jewish Monument

Siegfried Paul Daniel May was born in 1868; in 1897 he married Rosine Mariane Fuld who was two years his junior. May was a banker for the family business of Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co., and involved in many financial organizations, but also charities, and the KLM. An ardent bibliophile, he was co-founder of a private press, De Heuvelpers, in the 1920s, and he assembled a vast number of valuable books.

Country House De Breul
On 15 May 1940 Paul May and his wife committed suicide (by cyanide). The Lippman bank came under the supervision of the Nazis (under the German 'Verwalter', A. Flesche). May's library was located in his country home, De Breul in Zeist. Furniture and art from the house - paintings, Chinese porcelain, silver, jewellery - was sold by Frederik Muller's auction house in Amsterdam in October-December 1941, but the books were left at the country estate until February 1943.

Announcement of the second sale of paintings from the May-Fuld collection
(De Telegraaf, 30 November 1941)
The value of the library had been estimated at fl. 63.000. However, the firm of Frederik Muller, made a new calculation, and now estimated that it was worth far more: fl. 250.000. One part of the collection was packed in crates for the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, and sent to Amsterdam; later the other books were also confiscated by the Nazis (as was the house that had been occupied by the Luftwaffe); and a total of 23 large crates were needed to move the collection.

Paul May in 1936
The crates were transported to Germany, ending up - for the time being - in the High School of the NSDAP in Frankfurt am Main. After the war they were located in the Abtei Tanzenberg, a convent near Klagenfurt in Austria. The collection was returned to the heirs of Paul May, his daughter Ellen May and her husband Alexander von [later: van] Marx, who had been able to escape from Amsterdam to New York on 14 May 1940, four days after Germany attacked the Netherlands, and one day before her parents ended their lives. In 1962, when her uncle Robert died (her father's brother), she signed the death announcement as E. van Marx-May, 46 North Avenue, Westport, Conn., USA. Ellen van Marx-May (born 1897) died in 1970, her husband Alexander van Marx (born 1895) died in 1980.

The two vellum volumes of the Vale Press Cellini had been transported to Germany and Austria, and were since returned to the family, only to be auctioned in Switzerland as part of the Paul May collection. August Laube sold the collection in two parts, on 19 October 1949 and on 25 September 1956. The second sale included the Cellini edition in lot 358 (estimated price 1000 Swiss Francs). It was the only Vale Press edition on vellum in the Paul May collection, but it was not the only Vale Press book - there were 19 Vale Press lots, including the complete Shakespeare edition in 39 volumes. 

Paul May possessed more bindings by Sybil Pye: Daphnis and Chloe (1893, bound in 1928), The Poems of Sir John Suckling (1896, bound in 1926), Michael Field's The World at Auction (1898, bound in 1913), Maurice de Guerin's The Centaur The Bacchante (1899, bound in 1925), and Poems from Wordsworth (1902, bound in 1923). 

All in all, May possessed sixteen bindings by Sybil Pye (for twelve editions), only a few less than Major Abbey who is said to be Pye's main customer, and who ordered nineteen bindings (for fifteen editions). May had bindings that were dated 1913 and 1916, but it is highly probable that he purchased all these bindings between 1923 and 1938. There were bindings for editions of The Vale Press (five), The Eragny Press (three), The Kelmscott Press (one), one for a German Insel-Verlag edition, and two for Dutch private press editions. 

The current location of the Vale Press Cellini printed on vellum from May's collection is not known to me.