Wednesday, January 15, 2020

442. Sybil Pye's Use of Vale Press Type for Bookbindings

In a 2012 blog post I wrote about the lettering on Sybil Pye's bookbindings. Collector Paul Mallett pointed out to me that I haven't written a sequel; so here's to it. 

Lettering on Sybil Pye binding (Daphnis and Chloe, 1893)
William Andrews Clark Library]
Blog 66. A Sybil Pye Binding (October 31, 2012) suggested that the lettering on Pye's binding could not have been Vale Type, although Marianne Tidcombe asserted this in her outstanding Women Bookbinders 1880-1920 (1996, page 148): 'The letters she used were Vale Capitals designed by Ricketts'. Why not? In the first place because the Vale letters didn't exist anymore. All lead type was melted down after the closure of the Vale Press in 1904, and Pye first tried her hand at bookbinding in 1906. Secondly, because those letters were not suitable for use on a bookbinding. The process requires special tools that can withstand the heat required for applying the text on a leather spine. For his own bindings, Ricketts had the titles set in Vale type at Ballantyne's, and then printed them on paper  labels. For his linen, parchment and leather bookbindings, plates were made based on photographs of the printed titles, and these were used as stamps for spine titling.

In her book, Tidcombe, didn't quote a source for her assertion, but Mallett reminded me of a catalogue that includes a statement by Sybil Pye herself about the binding for Apuleius's De Cupidinis et Psyches amoribus fabula anilis (1901): English Bindings 1490-1940 in the Library of J.R. Abbey, edited by G.D. Hobson (London 1940, page 176): 

The three tools used in this binding were cut to my design by Knights & Cottrell. But the letters for the title, also cut by them, were taken from capitals designed by Charles Ricketts for the Vale Press. A number of fine tools, which the artist created for bindings of his own design, were given to me by him, and I have used them on many books. A few that did not go with my style, I have passed on to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where the whole set will eventually be found.

Knights & Cottrell made the tools and based them on photographs after printed Vale Press characters. That explains two points. First of all that the characters are slightly different from the real Vale Press characters and secondly why the titles on Pye's bindings are not always in alignment, as a separate tool was made for each letter, and she had to stamp them one by one on the spines. See, for example, her binding for the Vale Press edition of Thomas Browne's Religio Medici.

Sybil Pye, binding for Vale Press edition of Thomas Browne,
Religio Medici (1902, binding: 1940)
Tidcombe also pointed out that Pye didn't use Arabic numerals, but preferred to 'form dates with roman numerals'. She had no choice, because Ricketts hadn't designed any numbers for the Vale Type. 

Conclusion: Pye didn't use Vale Type for her bindings, but used specially cut tools of which the design was based on the Vale Type.