Wednesday, March 9, 2016

241. Vale Press Vine Borders (4)

After a fire in December 1899 at Ballantyne printer's had destroyed a large part of Charles Ricketts's decorations for the complete edition of Shakespeare's plays he was about to publish (including the two finished volumes) Hamlet and Othello), the new Vale Press books would be more sparsely decorated. For the Shakespeare volumes he had to come up with novel illustrations - the edition had been sold out by subscription and they had to be delivered, so Ricketts quickly designed small and light wood engraved decorations.

Charles Ricketts,
design for the Vale Press
Shakespeare edition

Volume after volume was issued, monthly, by the Vale Press, amounting to 39 volumes in total. Some of Ricketts's decorations are corner pieces, others embrace the text on two sides, while a few enclose the text on three sides, but none of them are heavy. They are not distracting the reader from Shakespeare's text. The borders illustrate honeysuckles, acorns, or show other floral details, and they are used many times over, although in each volume only four or five or so make an appearance. 

The borders usually decorate the beginning of a new act; they are quite functional, and herald a pause in the play. Some, however, are not used as markings, and seem to be inserted  arbitrarily to lighten up a page of the plays. The two poetry volumes, Sonnets (1903) and Poems (1903), do not contain decorations. The same goes for the identically issued play by Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (1903).

In the sixth volume, on page xi of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, a border of the older type was printed, an intricate border of oak leaves, signed 'CR' in the bottom left corner. The steel engravings have not been signed; this is an exceptional decoration, as if it had been found among the debris of the fire. It might indeed have been one of the original wood engravings Ricketts had designed for the Vale Press edition.

Charles Ricketts, decoration for The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (1900)
This border was repeated in The Tragedy of Macbeth (1901), page xlv, and again in The Second Part of Henry IV (1902), to mark the beginning of Act I.

In 1901, another border was to surprise the buyers of the Vale Shakespeare edition. It was published for the first time in Love's Labour Lost (1901), page xxx. It is border for a verso page, a left-handed page. The facing page is not decorated. The border is not signed. It is a new vine border, enclosing the beginning of Act III, Scene I.

This border re-appeared in A Midsummer-Night's Dream (1901), page xxviii. Act III begins on the opposite page. It is also used to decorate the beginning of Act II on page xviii of Much Ado About Nothing (1902), and for the beginning of Act V of As You Like It (1902), page lxxvi.

In 1902, this older type of border - reminiscent of the opening pages of the earliest Vale Press volumes - was used for the last time in The First Part of King Henry IV (1902), page lxviii.

Charles Ricketts, vine border for Henry IV
Stylistically, there is quite a difference between these two full borders with the lighter ones, and one wonders if they all form one ensemble. I think that these two may have been remnants from the past, but there is no way to ascertain this.