Wednesday, November 2, 2022

587. A Vale Press Collector: James Dunn (3)

James Dunn's collection was assembled with apparent care, and in each book he noted why it was of interest.  

Notes by John Dunn

Borough Librarian James Hindle remarked that Dunn’s own notes in the books are of real bibliopolical value’ (Northern Daily Telegraph, 16 December 1943). For some books, these notes are important, Cynthia Johnston also noted: 
'It is from these hand-written notes that we are able to glean why Dunn considered each book worthy of purchase. In essence, each one of James Dunn’s books had to earn its place in his collection. In his rounded handwriting, Dunn records the merits and interest of each volume at the time of purchase. Sometimes these notes are lengthy and record some of Dunn’s own research on the book in question including some of his own bibliophilic adventures.' (Cynthia Johnston, 'The James Dunn Collection. Erasmus, A Ryght Frutefull Epystle', DM&AG blog, 1 June 2020.)

James Dunn, note in James of Scotland, The Kingis Quair
(Vale Press, 1903)

However, the notes in the Vale Press books are largely very brief excerpts from bibliographic reviews and rarely reveal personal motives. In his copy of the Vale Press edition of James of Scotland The Kingis Quair, Dunn wrote a quotation from Temple Scott from 1895 (I have not been able to trace the source of this quotation, which is not from the interview with Ricketts that was published a year later).

The Vale Press of Hacon and
Ricketts promises to produce
volumes which should be 
worth the attention of book-
lovers and the collector.
The types with which they
are printed have been
specially designed by 
Mr. Ricketts and are in
their way as beautiful
as those of William Morris

Handwritten note by James Dunn
(and separate catalogue description) in
W.S. Landor, Epicurus, Leontion and Ternissa
(Vale Press, 1896)

His handwritten note in a copy of Landor's Epicurus, Leontion and Ternissa (1896) reads:

Vale Press item
Title page in
black type, with
red ornamental 

In the Vale Press Vaughan edition, his annotation seems somewhat educational in nature (note also the underlining), pointing out details to the potential reader:

Note the ornamental
title page and
frontispiece, and
initial letters

In a single book (Meinhold's Mary Schweidler, 1903) he pasted a strip of paper with the description from an antiquarian catalogue. The price might be indicative of the year of purchase, but £4 4 0 is rather expensive for the entire first half of the twentieth century. I did not find a corresponding reference.

Handwritten note by James Dunn
in John Gray, Spiritual Poems
(Vale Press, 1896)

Only in his copy of John Gray's Spiritual Poems, Dunn made clear his personal appreciation for the illustration:

Note the choicely
engraved frontispiece,
and decorative title
page after Charles

James Dunn as a Vale Press collector

Apart from Dunn's appreciation for the title illustration of Spiritual Poems, we learn little about his preferences. We can say, however, that Dunn did not assemble a complete collection of the Vale Press publications and that his selection is not truly representative of the Vale Press. For example, the only modern texts are missing, and these include the plays of Michael Field as well as the programmatic texts of Ricketts and Pissarro.

Dunn also limited himself to the ordinary copies of the editions. He did not own copies printed on vellum. Nor did he acquire copies in a unique leather binding specially designed by Ricketts. His collection did not include signed copies or dedication copies. Although he collected prints, he did not own any proofs of Ricketts's wood-engravings. He apparently did not correspond with Ricketts.

Nor did he own any pre-Vale editions, such as Hero and Leander; issues of The Dial magazine are also missing, and so are the commercial books designed by Ricketts for, say, Osgood & McIlvaine or The Bodley Head (Thomas Hardy's Tess or Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx to mention only two).

What we don't know, for instance, is why Dunn purchased eleven editions of the Vale Press. Why not more, why not less? How do these books compare with the rest of his collection, with old and rare books and rococo prints? What is striking about this collection is that his own interests were followed in such a way that an eclectic collection emerged, without coherence, but expressing a personal passion for texts, illustrations and books.

What made him exceptional as a collector is that he assembled the collection quietly, studied each book carefully and already donated his collection to the local library during his lifetime, in several tranches, making him a role model for other collectors.

(Thanks are due to Mary Painter, librarian at Blackburn Central Library, for providing the scans of Vale Press books from the library's collection.)