Wednesday, July 31, 2019

418. Eight Copies of John Keats's Poems Printed on Vellum

When the Vale Press announced a two-volume edition of John Keats' poems of which eight copies would be printed on vellum, the enthusiasm was so great that this luxury edition was completely subscribed before publication in December 1898. H.C. Marillier called this edition the 'cream of the whole series' of Vale Press up to that date.

Photo of a binding designed by Charles Ricketts,
The Poems of John Keats,
said to be commissioned by Walter Noble
[British Museum]
The vellum was supplied by Henry Band and Co of Brentford and was called 'Roman Vellum' since the firm had produced this vellum sheets for William Morris (who preferred to have Italian vellum that was unavailable because the Pope needed it for his many encyclicals. So goes the story.) 

The eight copies on vellum were not delivered in a publisher's binding - whereas the ordinary paper copies were all bound in white buckram. Vellum editions were published by the Vale Press from December 1897 onwards, and Ricketts announced that he would specially design bindings for these books for a price that could range from three to twelve guineas. Initially these leather bindings were executed by Riviere and Son, but later he transferred the binding work to Zaehnsdorf. If a special binding was not commissioned, the vellum copies were issued as folded gatherings in a protective paper wrapper. At auctions held before the publishing house was dissolved, such non-bound sets were sometimes described. 

Vellum copy of The Poems of John Keats
(Vale Press, 1899)
[Wellesley College, photo: Ruth Rogers]
Copies on vellum were owned by the wealthier Vale Press collectors, such as H. Sidney (sold 1903), and Laurence W. Hodson (sold 2013), and of course by Ricketts and Shannon themselves (Shannon's copy was sold in 1937).

Some of them were bound after a design by Ricketts, such as the Shannon and Hodson copies, the latter one in red morocco. One copy was thus bound for William Noble, like the Hodson copy the design incorporated his initials. Others were bound by the London firms of Riviere and Son, Ramage or Sangorski and Sutcliffe.

By now, I have been able to locate five of the eight vellum copies, two of them in English collections, and three of them in East-Coast libraries in the USA. The numbering is random (the copies are not numbered in the colophon).


The University of Liverpool Library, Special Collections, Class No: SPEC Noble A.16.41-42. Gold-tooled in red morocco by Zaehnsdorf, 1899. Bound for William Noble, bearing his initials in the design.

University of Manchester Library, John Rylands collection, Manchester: R31745: From the library of D. Lloyd Roberts M.D. F.R.C.P. Ravenswood Broughton Park Manchester. Late nineteenth-century full red goatskin; gilt-rolled floral and foliate border, enclosing gilt-tooled corner-pieces; goatskin doublures; gilt-tooled at foot of front doublure: Bound by Ramage London; five raised bands to spine; gilt-tooled decoration within compartments; title gilt-lettered in second compartment; top edge gilt.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Cambridge, MA: GEN Keats *EC8 K2262 B898p3. Bound by Rivière & son in green morocco, gilt; vellum doublures; top edges gilt, with designer's autograph note in each volume. Binding designed for H.W. Bell. Glyn Philpot, in morocco cases.

Special Collections, English Poets, Margaret Clapp Library, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.: Call: Vellum binding, gold lettering, by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, London. In green cloth slipcase. Purchased from George Herbert Palmer Fund.

Smith College, Special Collections, Northampton, MA: Rare Book Room Stacks, 825 K22p 1898. Full dark green morocco by Riviere & Son (front cover of volume 1 detached; other hinges cracked; largely faded to brown. Gift of Henry L. Seaver, 1954.

Vellum copy of The Poems of John Keats
(Vale Press, 1899)
Bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe
[Wellesley College, photo: Ruth Rogers]
The three other copies have interesting provenances:

Charles Shannon's copy. Morocco binding, auctioned at Sotheby's on 1-2 November 1937. Acquired by Sawyer.

Edward Smith Willard's copy, in a vellum binding, containing his autograph signature or bookplate. Auctioned by Sotheby's, 17 July 1907. Acquired by Edwards.


These three copies are probably in private collections.