Wednesday, May 20, 2015

199: Vellum Copies of the Vale Press Cellini Edition (2)

Ten copies on vellum exist of the Vale Press edition of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (1900-1901), but most of them are impossible to locate. They were not often exhibited, and their provenances are not easy to trace. In 1953 the British Council exhibited a vellum copy in an exhibition, Private Presses and Their Background. Occasionally, copies are offered for sale. This brings us to a complicating factor, namely that sets are sometimes divided over separate collections. In 1993, for example, Christie's in London sold a copy of the vellum Cellini in its original vellum binding, with ties, bearing the bookplate of William Crampton (1843-1910). However, this was volume I only. There must be a lonely vellum volume II somewhere.

Vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini: volume II, colophon (Vale Press, 1901) [Private collection]

In 2014 the collection of Laurence W. Hodson was sold by Bloomsbury Auctions. This contained a special set of the vellum Cellini, in bindings designed by Ricketts for Hodson, and probably after his instructions. The covers show 'twenty-nine rows of alternating LH monogram and bird and spray of leaves tool interspersed with small dots', as the catalogue description has it. The bird and spray of leaves tool was based on the family crest. 

The Hodson copies had been on show in 1902 at the Wolverhampton exhibition, just one year after the publication of volume II. In May 1903, an interesting set was offered for sale by Sotheby's. This was part of 'The Remaining Portion of the Library of H. Sidney, Esq.' The volumes were not bound in vellum, but the leaves were folded, and enclosed in two boxes. Ricketts had finalised his publication programme for the Vale Press that month, in June the firm officially closed, and around that time several vellum sets in loose quires came on the market. Perhaps these were unsold copies, or leftover stock. Of most Vale Press books such sets of vellum leaves can be found, some complete, others incomplete, lacking a few leaves or wood-engravings.

Prior to 1902 Ricketts did not offer a uniform binding for vellum copies - paper copies were always bound in some way, but for the vellum covers he could supply a binding in leather after his design, or the customer could bring the leaves to his own binder. The Cellini set of leaves in a box may have been the original way these vellum copies were delivered to the subscribers if they had not asked for a Ricketts binding. On the other hand, the Crampton copy (volume I only) suggests that unsold copies may have been issued in a uniform vellum binding with ties before the closure of the press.

Ricketts himself owned an incomplete, or rather, unfinished set of the Vale Press Cellini. It may have been compiled from proof pages, or from discarded leaves. The volumes are now in the private collection left by Sir Paul Getty at Wormsley Library. Robert Harding of Maggs Bros. kindly informed me that this copy does not have the wood-engraved floral border or the opening initial (volume I, page 3). A plain green morocco binding holds the book, but this has been signed with the firm's monogram, "HR" for Hacon & Ricketts. This binding, remarkably, is unfinished. Harding writes: 'Sir Paul Getty believed it was Ricketts' own copy from the initials "CSR" on the titles (now very faded). It was subsequently owned by Sir Robert Leighton and Francis Kettaneh.' The collection of Francis Kettaneh (1897-1976) was sold in Paris by Claude Gurin, Hôtel Drouot, 20 May 1980. The Wormsley copy should be seen as the eleventh copy of the edition, an extra copy.

Vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (Vale Press, 1900-1901), bound by Zaehnsdorf [Private collection]
Recently a private collector approached me, and asked about a copy in a binding that was not designed by Ricketts, but looks contemporary all the same. The binding is signed by the firm of Zaehnsdorf.

Vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (Vale Press, 1900-1901), bound by Zaehnsdorf [Private collection]

This copy may have been acquired from Hacon & Ricketts in loose gatherings, or it may have been bought at the 1903 sale. It is also possible that the original vellum binding had been found too simple, and that a new binding was ordered from Zaehnsdorf. Whatever the case, this copy has a provenance history attached to it that brings us back to the time of publication, around 1900-1901.

Inscription in a vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (Vale Press, 1900-1901) [Private collection]
There is an inscription in volume I, written by Helen Ladd Corbett, daughter of William S. Ladd, a wealthy mayor from Portland, Oregon, and founder of a bank. Helen - described as a woman with a 'potent vanity' and a 'love of luxury' - was married to Henry Jagger Corbett (born 1857). He suddenly died in 1895. Around 1899 she was involved with the Portland based poet and lawyer Clarles Erskine Scott Wood (1852-1944) who frequently had extramarital love affairs. He wrote a series of sonnets about their love affair, and though it lasted some time, the poet soon found other women to love. In 1914 Helen Ladd Corbett experienced financial troubles, forcing her to ask him for a loan, and then she reminded him of the 'lavish gifts' she had bestowed on him in the past, between 1899 and 1914.

So, although the inscription is not dated, we may assume that the book was given as a present between 1901 and 1914, probably early on in the affair.

Vellum copy of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (Vale Press, 1900-1901), bound by Zaehnsdorf [Private collection]
This search for vellum copies has brought to light - so far - four exceptional copies: one that was bound by Sybil Pye for Paul May, whose collection was taken by the Nazis, returned to the family, and sold in Switzerland; a second copy that seems to have been compiled from unfinished proofs, now in Wormsley Library; a third copy in an exceptional Ricketts binding from the collection of Laurence Hodson; and a fourth copy in a Zaehnsdorf binding, now part of a private collection, and telling a romantic story from Portland.

Where are the other copies? We may assume that that there are more copies in special bindings, but there may be original vellum bindings designed by Ricketts as well. Where have they gone? I would love to hear about them.

[Note, 28 November 2015:
The Helen Ladd Corbett copy was sold at auction by Doyle New York on 23 November 2015 (Rare Books, Autographs & Photographs) for US$ 6,250.]