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)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

243. Vale Press Vine Borders (6)

The last of the vine borders designed by Charles Ricketts for the Vale Press was only partially new. Published in the last book of the press, the 1904 bibliography of the Vale Press, the border consists of two parts on facing pages.

Charles Ricketts, vine border for A Bibliography of the Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts (1904)
The border on the right hand page, enclosing the beginning of the text, had been used before, in the 1902 edition of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat (1901). 

Charles Ricketts, vine border for Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat (1901)

For the left hand page a new border had to be designed, because the original one for the Rubaiyat enclosed a large wood-engraving and a title shield, measuring 170x108 mm. The wood-engraving for the bibliography, illustrating the sign-board painted by Shannon for the Vale Press shop, is much smaller: 123x71 mm. It could of course have been larger, but apparently Ricketts did not want this. The proportions were different and the sign-board would not have fitted the available space. Comparing the two wood-engravings, the length was 1,3 to 1 while the width was 1 to 1,5. In the bibliography Ricketts could have added some sort of small title shield as well but he decided not to do this.

The left hand border in the bibliography is not simply a mirror image of the re-used border, and it is designed to look as an harmonious part of one large border that stretches over two pages. It shows, that, although Ricketts had decided to close down the Vale Press, he didn't refrain from new designs and from improving older ones.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

242. Vale Press Vine Borders (5)

The series of vine borders that Charles Ricketts designed for his Vale Press books is longer than I thought it would be a few weeks ago.

Charles Ricketts, vine border for Thomas Browne,
Religio Medici, Urn Burial, Christian Morals, and Other Essays (1902)

The largest vine border was done for one of a series of folio editions of the Vale Press, comprising Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici, Urn Burial, Christian Morals, and Other Essays, edited by C.J. Holmes, and published in 1902.

It is similar in style and detail to that for the Omar Khayyam edition, but it is much larger, as the Browne volume is c. 30 x 20 cm. The border is signed 'CR' in the lower left hand corner, and encloses the first text page (after the introduction). It was not engraved by Ricketts but by Charles Edward Keates.

The border has not been used again.

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.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

240. Vale Press Vine Borders (3)

Most vine borders designed by Charles Ricketts for his Vale Press books were made for one page only, but there is one exception. The border for the edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that was published in 1901. The opening pages consisted of a combination of a title page and the first text page.

Title page with vine border designed by Charles Ricketts for Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1901)

Title page with vine border designed by Charles Ricketts for Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1901)
The review of the book by The New York Times, 12 October 1901, included a description of these opening pages: 

'The volume contains a striking frontispiece and border designed and engraved by Mr. Ricketts, which is worthy of being counted among the latter’s most successful work. The border, the same in design for both the frontispiece and opening page, is unusually fine. It shows interlaced vine leaves and bunches of grapes, so printed as to be unusually light and graceful in row, but wide and bold on the opening page. The latter also contains an unusually effective initial letter. The frontispiece shows finely designed lettering on a lower panel: the upper portion, about two-thirds of the entire page, containing a finely designed and engraved vignette, in which  the spirit of the text is appropriately shown.'

Interestingly, Ricketts designed the two pages as one whole without imposing a strict symmetry to it. The left page has a small vine border on all sides, to the left, right, top and bottom, which is quite unusual for his borders that usually echo the proportions of the margins as proposed by William Morris in his ideas about The Ideal Book. The page on the right perfectly mirrors these margins, that grow larger, clockwise from the left to the top to the right to the bottom of the page. 

The left page includes an illustration that throws the theme of vines into the face of the reader, with a title field below for the title. The page on the right shows Ricketts's monograph at bottom left: 'CR'.

The drawing shown last week showed grapes at the centre of the drawing. Ricketts managed to place them to the right and to the left, even in the small spaces, such as the borders to the left and right of the frontispiece of the Rubaiyat, in order to secure a pattern that evenly distributes lighter and darker parts. His bunches of grapes on the left page contain up to eight individual grapes, while those on the right page contain far more than that, ten to thirteen or more grapes. The leaves surrounding the grapes are smaller as well, of course. Still, on opening the book, the whole makes for a harmonious feeling.

Subtly, the colour of red appears as a numeral (II) on the right hand page, also balancing the weight of the pages. In the same way an equilibrium was reached by the introduction of a large illustrated initial 'A' on the right hand page, as a counterweight for the illustration on the left page. 

Even though colour (red/black), density (illustration/text), and proportions (small/broad) have been carefully considered, the Omar Khayyam opening pages show a relaxed and effortless unity of design.

1866 Charles Ricketts 2016

In 2016 this blog will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Ricketts's birth on 2 October 1866.
Contributions are most welcome.