Wednesday, June 9, 2021

515. Thomas Stainton, a Vale Press Collector (2)

Thomas Stainton's collection consisted of two sections. The oldest section comprised manuscripts and printed books in remarkable bindings. The second part contained publications from the 1890s: some Oscar Wilde books and an incomplete set of The Yellow Book, but mostly private press editions. 

Barham House, Kent
(the library was located on the ground floor,
behind the two windows on the right)

Subsequent additions by the family that inherited the collection (and relocated the library to Barham House near Canterbury) are rather miscellaneous: a Cuala Press edition of Yeats's poetry; a monograph about the architect E.L. Lutyens (who remodelled Barham House); British Flowery Plants by Perrin and Boulger (1914), A History of English Furniture (1904-1908), and some facsimiles of manuscripts that fit well with the old nucleus of the collection. There was also a notable section of works by Joseph Conrad, including a dedication copy with an autograph letter from the author who lived near the Stainton family (and was buried in Canterbury in 1924).

Private presses

Evidently, in later life, Thomas Stainton became interested in the ideas of William Morris and, at the end of the nineteenth century, began collecting publications of the private presses. Only one work from the Doves Press was listed (Tacitus, 1900), the same goes for the Essex House Press (Bunyan, 1899). 

However, the Eragny Press was represented with fifteen books (lots 100-107), and the Kelmscott Press with seven books (lots 147-153).

Kelmscott Press lots 147-152
(Catalogue of a Library of Printed Books, Manuscripts and Fine Bindings.
The Property of Mrs. Evelyn Stainton, Barham House, Canterbury

London: Sotheby & Co., 26-27 February 1951)

Stainton must have taken this new branch of his collection seriously, as evidenced by the presence of a copy of the most famous private press edition from the 1890s, a paper copy of Chaucer's Works. (In 1951, this copy was purchased by Maggs for £105.) Stainton's ownership and the 1951 auction are not mentioned in The Kelmscott Chaucer. A Census by William S. Peterson and Sylvia Holton Peterson (2011). The copy may have changed hands a few times since. 

Apparently, Stainton did not mark these new books with an inscription, and he did not have a bookplate made. In the manuscripts and printed books from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century, he wrote his name and the date of purchase, but the new books remained without any trace of the owner.

Vale Press

By far the largest part of his private press collection was formed by 95 volumes issued by the Vale Press. This was a nearly complete collection with only two omissions and a few duplicates. It took up lots 247 through 276 in the 1951 auction catalogue. 

Among the pre-Vale publications are copies of Daphnis and Chloe, Hero and Leander and The Sphinx. Thomas Stainton must have taken a subscription to all the works of the Vale Press; the only two volumes missing are E.B. Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese (1897) and A Catalogue of Mr. Shannon's Lithographs (1902). 

Vale Press, lots 259-276
(Catalogue of a Library of Printed Books, Manuscripts and Fine Bindings.
The Property of Mrs. Evelyn Stainton, Barham House, Canterbury

London: Sotheby & Co., 26-27 February 1951)

Two duplicate copies of three books were present: Maurice de GuĂ©rin's The Centaur. The Bacchante (1899), Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1901) and Thomas Browne's Religio Medici (1902). 

Among the star items in his Vale Press collection are two books printed on vellum (and bound to a special design by Ricketts) and another five books that, while simply printed on paper, have a goat- or pigskin leather binding to a unique design by Ricketts. It is no comparison to the extremely rich legacy of his contemporary Laurence Hodson, but it is a considerable collection on its own.

Vale Press, lot 254-256
(Catalogue of a Library of Printed Books, Manuscripts and Fine Bindings.
The Property of Mrs. Evelyn Stainton, Barham House, Canterbury

London: Sotheby & Co., 26-27 February 1951)

The early Vale Press editions were printed exclusively on paper and not bound in leather. From October 1897, copies were also printed on vellum and from a year later copies could be bound in leather to a design by Ricketts.

Thomas Stainton commissioned special bindings for some of the early editions: The Poems of Sir John Suckling (1896) was bound in (probably creme) pigskin and decorated with a blind-stamped design. A similar binding was commissioned for Vaughan's Sacred Poems (1897). These bindings are extremely rare, in most cases only one copy has survived, in some cases three copies exist.

For other editions, the collector commissioned bindings in goatskin leather to a design by Ricketts: the two volumes of Tennyson's In Memoriam and Lyric Poems (1900), for example, have been bound in green morocco, the Poems of John Keats (two volumes, 1898) were bound in red morocco tooled to a design by Ricketts - (a similar set was the subject of blog 356: Vale Press Keats Edition in a Deluxe Binding) - and a copy of Shelley's Lyrical Poems (1898) was bound in red morocco to a design by Ricketts, executed by Zaehnsdorf. 

Stainton owned a vellum copy of William Blake's Poetical Sketches (1899), bound in a vellum binding with gilt spine; Ricketts, by now, had decided to have the vellum copies bound to a standard design with front and back covers left blank. Stainton also owned a vellum copy of The Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney (1897), bound in (quoting the catalogue) 'red morocco tooled to a design by C. Ricketts, a series of line panels, one within the other, leaves at corners and on back, g.e., bound by Riviere under the supervision of C. Ricketts and signed "H R" [Hacon and Ricketts]'. 

Michael Field, Fair Rosamund (1897)
[British Library, Davis274]

The two books printed on vellum did not fetch the highest prices: £28 (Sidney, in a special binding) and £10 (Blake, in a standard binding), indicating that the buyers were mainly interested in bookbindings. The highest bid, £36, was for the two volumes of Keats (printed on paper, but in special bindings), immediately followed by the one-volume edition of Michael Field's Fair Rosamund (1897) that was sold for £32. This was the true highlight of Staintons's Vale Press collection. It was acquired by the book- and printseller Heinrich Eisemann (1890-1972). The next owner was Max Reich, whose collection was sold in 1960. Henry Davis owned this book until 1968, when he donated his collection of bookbindings to the British Library.

Mirjam Foot described the binding in her book The Henry Davis Gift. A Collection of Bookbindings (1983) as: 'Red goatskin tooled in gold to a design of concentric panels with small solid tools, leaf tools, crowns, and R tools. The spine has five gold-tooled bands and six compartments tooled in gold; title lettered on spine. Bound by Riviere & Son (stamp).'

Michael Field, Fair Rosamund (1897) [detail]
[British Library, Davis274]

Obviously, the 'R's refer to the name of the heroine, Rosamund, and the crowns to her position as mistress of King Henry II. Some tools are not mentioned by Foot. These are the small solid heart shape and an open heart shape (love). In the four corners the two shapes are connected by double lines to form an arrow of love (Amor). The central panel contains eight stylised roses (Rosamund). Ricketts's original design drawing for this copy is in the V&A collection.

Thomas Stainton's collection had a secret existence for more than half a century, and even after that, the provenance of the books was often unclear and his nephew's widow was indicated as the (last) owner. There is no known correspondence between Ricketts and Stainton, or between the publisher or shop of Hacon & Ricketts and the collector. Why he was particularly interested in the Vale Press we may never know.