Wednesday, November 4, 2020

484. Speaking Ephemera (2): Prospectus for Fair Rosamund: addendum

Last week's blog - Speaking Ephemera (1) - discussed the prospectus and order form for the Vale Press edition of Fair Rosamund by Michael Field, and while I was writing it I made a note of two matters that also needed to be discussed. (1) Who wrote those comments on this copy of the prospectus and (2) what is the everyday name of the publisher?

Who wrote the notes on prospectuses in 1896?

Handwritten note on a copy of the prospectus for Michael Field's Fair Rosamund (1896)

The first manager of the publishing house and of the shop they opened was Edward Le Breton Martin (Le Breton was his mother's maiden name). Born in Evesham in October 1873, he moved to London around 1894, and lived in Kensington, at 57, Longridge Road, trying to establish a career as a writer or journalist. His stories were published in Sylvia's Home Journal (August 1894) and Pearson's Magazine (from June 1896 onwards). His tenure at The Vale Press lasted until the summer when he went to work for a newspaper. Later, he lived in Richmond, published a few books, did talks on dialects, tobacco and literature for the radio in the 1920s, and died from an accident in 1944.

The manuscript note in red ink on the prospectus for Fair Rosamund is probably not Martin's. When Charles Holmes took over the position of manager, he met 'Macgregor, the pleasant efficient office-boy'. Apart from his surname, nothing is known about him. However, because the handwriting does not resemble Holmes's, it is most likely Macgregor who wrote it.

The name of the press

The prospectus from the summer of 1896 does not mention the name 'Vale Press'. The publishing house was officially called Hacon & Ricketts. The heading says:


Prospectus for Michael Field's Fair Rosamund (1896)

That is quite a mouthful and three elements can be distinguished: the name of the publications, the name of the shop and the name of the publisher. 'The Vale Publications' - this is how the individual books were usually announced. At the Sign of the Dial: this is the address where the books could be viewed, purchased and from where they were sent to buyers. The publisher's official name was Hacon & Ricketts, after the founders of the company Llewellyn Hacon and Charles Ricketts.

The name 'Vale Press' is not mentioned at all, not even as a printer, because the books were printed under the direction of Ricketts at the Ballantyne Press.

This is why that particular note on a copy of the Fair Rosamund prospectus is so intriguing: it talks about the 'books issued from The Vale Press', indicating that 'The Vale Press' was its everyday name. But this name is not used in the prospectuses, catalogues, advertisements or colophons. 

It was a name for internal and intimate use, a name that linked it to the original address of Ricketts and Shannon in The Vale. As an address, 'The Vale' had been printed in books and prospectuses from the beginning, most conspicuously on the spine of Daphnis and Chloe (1893). The prospectus for this book mentions the address 'The Vale Chelsea SW', and the publisher 'C.H. Shannon'; on page one the announcement of the book is preceded by two - unexplained - initials 'V. P.' - their significance is not disclosed. Vale Press? Vale Publication?

This book, and the following one, were distributed by Elkin Mathews and John Lane.

Hero and Leander (1894) bears the initials VP on the spine, and, at the back of the book, a publisher's device of a rose, the initials VP and SR for Shannon and Ricketts. Again, VP goes without explanation. An early prospectus only mentions 'The Vale', the later four-page prospectus mentions: 'The Vale Publications'.

When Hacon & Ricketts went into business, so it seems, the name Vale Publications was the preferred name. The very first 'Notice' only reported the name of the shop 'at the sign of the Dial' and the lists that followed mentioned 'Messrs. Hacon and Ricketts' or variants thereof.

Prospectus for The Dial No. 2 (1892)

However, there is one very early exception that may indicate the dual meaning of VP - Vale Publication and Vale Press. This is the prospectus for the second number of The Dial in 1892. Again, the first page mentions the address 'The Vale Chelsea', but the advertisement on the last page announces four portfolios, and here we see the name 'Vale Press' for the first time. This prospectus was issued (probably) in January 1892.

Prospectus for The Dial No. 2 (1892)

In 1896, William Morris died, and the Kelmscott Press neared its closure. Perhaps, in conjunction with this event, the name Vale Press came the preferred name, not in official announcements, but in the press. In December 1896, Temple Scott published his essay 'Mr. Charles Ricketts and the Vale Press' in Bookselling. This interview with Charles Ricketts was followed by a bibliography of the 'Vale Press'. However, Ricketts did not mention the name 'Vale Press' in the published account of his interview (See a reprint of the interview in Everything for Art: Selected Writings, edited by Nicholas Frankel, 2014, pp. 333-341.)

Speaking of the publications, however, that name must always have been quoted, because early reviews in the newspapers also mention the Vale Press while the prospectuses did not. Even before the interview was published, an announcement of the first books in Bradley, His Book (November 1896) wrote about 'The Vale Press', and later reviews also mentioned the name Vale Press (for example The Athenaeum, 23 July 1898) that contained a review of: 'The Sacred Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist. (Vale Press.)'. Again, the book does not contain these words. 

Manuscript notes like the one on the Fair Rosamund prospectus may have helped to popularize the name Vale Press as a publisher comparable to the popular Kelmscott Press.

The name discrepancy persisted until the end. Ricketts's bibliography is officially called (title page and colophon): A Bibliography of the Books Issued by Hacon & Ricketts, but the labels on the spine and front cover read: Bibliography of the Vale Press, and in the text he alternately mentions Hacon & Ricketts, the Vale Press, Vale books. However, the early variant 'Vale Publications' had completely disappeared from his vocabulary.