Wednesday, March 30, 2016

244. Binding variants of the first Vale Press book: Early Poems by John Milton

In April 1896 the Vale Press published its first edition, Milton's Early Poems

Milton, Early Poems
(Vale Press, 1896):
binding variants
The book was bound in white buckram by the Ballantyne Press where Ricketts had them printed on an Albion hand press. 

The first copies had a green buckram spine label, stamped across, in gold: 'MIL- | TON | EARLY | POEMS'. Other (probably later) copies had the same text stamped directly onto the spine.

Copies of the first binding variant can be found in the British Library, Huntington Library, McGill University Library, Brigham Young University Library, the Bodleian Library, and in other collections, both private and public.

The second variant - with the title printed in gold on the spine - may be consulted in the Cambridge University Library, the National Library of the Netherlands, the University Library of Amsterdam (as well as in other collections).

There are also copies without a spine title, but these copies probably lost their spine label along the way. It becomes easily detached, as is the case with the McGill University Library copy for which the label was preserved.

There are more differences between copies of the first and second binding state.

Those with a spine label have endpapers at the front and at the back that are different from the paper used for the book (which was 'Unbleached Arnold' paper). The endpapers bear the watermark of a heavier type of paper: '
Unbleached Arnold (Ruskin)'. This paper had been selected for the deluxe copies of Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx and for an insert (' Two pages of the Vale type') in the fourth number of The Dial (1896). It would also serve for the second Vale Press book, Walter Savage Landor's Epicurus, Leontian and Ternissa, not only for the endpapers, but for the whole book.

Milton copies with the title in gold on the spine do not show the Ruskin paper watermark; here both the book block and the endpapers are of the thinner '
Unbleached Arnold' paper.

Label and Ruskin paper go together in all copies, as do spine title and the thinner paper. And there is more. The way the bindings were executed are shockingly different; the bindings with the label have an amateurish finishing of the inner sides of the covers, both at the front and at the back. Ricketts can not have been content with those copies.

Inner side front cover (second state)

The second binding state is as it should be: the endpapers have been pasted on to the inner side of the board, leaving bear, on all sides, a strip of white buckram. This must have been impossible with the heavier paper. Apparently, the 'Unbleached Arnold (Ruskin)' endpapers did not have the format expected by the binder. To conceal the gap that would have issued from this, a stripe of white buckram has been adhered on top of the turn-ins at the front and at the back of the binding. The paper has been pasted on top of that stripe of buckram. While the endpapers reach up to 5 to 10 mm from the top or bottom on the inside of the covers, it does not come more close to the sides than 15 mm. The format of the Ruskin paper was not compatible to the format of the binding. 

Inner side front cover (first state)
Obviously, it had been a mistake to use this heavier paper for the Milton book. The error was corrected, the book was bound in buckram as the earlier copies, but here the title was stamped in gold on the spine.

It is not easy to say when this second binding originated. The Milton book did not sell well at the beginning, it is reported that only 20 copies found a buyer. After the fire in 1899, it was advertised by the Vale Press that some copies were available in 'the original binding'. That was when the National Library of the Netherlands acquired their copy, being the second variant. From this we must conclude that the earlier variant was replaced by the second one soon after publication.

Inner side back cover (second and first state)