Wednesday, December 30, 2015

231. Vale Press Spine Label Variations

The labels on the spine of Vale Press books usually carry the title of the book, and the name of the author. Nine of them only mention the title (Empedocles on Etna, 1896, Bibliography of the Vale Press, 1904, among others). One of them only mentions the name of the author, namely the edition of Lyrical Poems of Shelley, 1898; the label has: 'Shelley'.

Twelve books have spine labels mentioning both author and title; four of those include the Christian names (Thomas Campion for example), two have the initials for the Christian names (H. Vaughan) only. The two Blake editions have not been treated identically: The Book of Thel (1897) mentions 'W. Blake' on the spine label, while Poetical Sketches (1899) has his full name: 'William Blake'. It is not always a question of lack of room on the labels: some labels have been lettered from head to foot, others have been lettered across. 

Four spine labels mention the title and the initials of the author's name: Sonnets by E.B.B. (1898) being the first of those, while three plays by Michael Field only mention 'M.F.' underneath the full title: The World at Auction (1898), The Race of Leaves (1901) and Julia Domna (1903). The first play of Michael Field, however, mentioned the full name Michael Field on the spine label: Fair Rosamund (1897). 

'Sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning' was a bit too long for the spine label of this small book, the spine measuring 154 mm; the full name would have required a label of about 140 mm; it would have covered almost the whole spine. (By the way: the title page mentions E.B. Browning; only the colophon mentions the full name of the author.) The Michael Field trilogy is another story.

There is quite some variation, and moreover, even for the same book spine labels may differ. As not all books were bound at the same time (certainly not during the early years of the press), the printer was asked to print new ones when sales made this necessary. Note, for instance, the spine label on two copies of The Race of Leaves.

Michael Field, The Race of Leaves (1901): spine labels

On the left spine label (see the image above) the initials M.F. have been placed much closer together than on the one on the right: 5 mm instead of 11 mm. The left one is the more common of the two. More importantly, the decorations are not identical. One has an acorn motive, the other one a leaf ornament. Both - and other small decorations, such as stars - were used for the spine labels, but usually the same design was used for all copies of an edition. Not in this case. 

As the two other titles of the Roman trilogy - as they called this series of three plays - had spine labels with the M.F. at the far ends of the label with ample white in between, it may have been the label on the right that was the later one. However, The Race of Leaves was the second play of the trilogy, and therefore no standardization may have been intended. Also, there are more descrepancies. The first volume has an acorn motive on the spine label, the last one has no decoration at all.