Wednesday, February 22, 2023

603. A Vale Press Collector: Constance Astley (3)

Constance and Hubert Astley made long voyages to Tenerife, Egypt and America. A family house was located on Lake Como in Italy where they sometimes stayed for months; there were yacht parties, dinners and guests at Benham Valence. But when did she buy her books? How much time did she spend on collecting them? From whom did she acquire the luxury editions of private presses?

About her activities as a collector, we know nothing at all - we only know the 1928 interim result thanks to the catalogue of her collection and the state of her complete collection thanks to the sale catalogue issued after her death by Sawyer in 1941. Perhaps a comparison between the two could provide additional information?

Visitors Book The Cotswold Gallery
[Private collection]

Thanks to the guest book of a London art gallery, the Cotswold Gallery (private collection), we know that her husband Hubert D. Astley visited that gallery on 23 March 1922 (Ricketts signed the guestbook for the first time in April of that year). Was Constance Astley visiting antiquarian booksellers elsewhere in London while he devoted himself to art?

Visitors Book The Cotswold Gallery
[Private collection]

The Ashendene Press

The Ashendene Press, founded by St John Hornby (1867-1946), was still active when Astley published her catalogue in 1928. By then, thirty-six (out of a total of forty) books had already been published. Astley did not have them all. 

In fact, she owned twenty-three editions and of half of them she owned multiple copies. Of Tutte le opera di Dante Alighieri Fiorentino, for example, she owned three copies; one of six on vellum and two of 106 on paper.

The oldest edition she owned of this press was published in 1899 - she apparently did not find the previous nine editions interesting.

Of the thirty-five copies in her collection, nineteen were on vellum.

The Daniel Press

The Daniel Press founded by Charles Henry Olive Daniel (1836–1919) and members of his family issued fifty-eight books of which Constance Astley owned thirteen books in 1928, including the very rare edition of The Garland of Rachel (1881) of which thirty-six copies were printed.

The Doves Press

T.J. Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker's Doves Press issued forty books between 1900 and 1916. Astley owned forty-one books, including one ephemeral publication (Ecce Mundus). 

Astley's complete Doves Press collection totalled ninety-one copies; she often owned three copies of a book, sometimes two of which were on vellum. In her bookcase were copies of thirty-four Doves Press editions printed on vellum, with a second copy on vellum of nine of these. That brings the number of vellum copies, astoundingly, to forty-three. Many of these were bound by The Doves Bindery. One copy was bound by Edith J. Gedye (Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson [as in the 1928 catalogue the name was often misspelt Gedge]). Gedye sometimes identified herself as a 'successor to Cobden Sanderson'. As a bookbinder, she started at Sangorski & Sutcliffe, and later settled in Bristol.

Gustave Flaubert, La légende de Saint Julien l'Hospitalier
(Eragny Press, 1900). Copy bound by Sarah T. Prideaux (detail)
[Collection British Library, London]

The Eragny Press

Lucien and Esther Pissarro's Eragny Press published thirty-two books. Astley owned twenty-nine of them. The two Eragny books commissioned by French bibliophile societies were missing: the Nerval edition for the Société des Cent Bibliophiles and the Moselly book ordered by Le Livre Contemporain - obviously these were difficult to obtain in Great Britain. Also missing was the last book issued by Pissarro: Michael Field's Whym Chow (1914) of which a mere twenty-seven copies were printed. 

Many of these books were present in multiple copies. The entire collection consisted of sixty-one copies.

For example, the three-volume Flaubert series (1900-01) was present in triplicate, with one set bound by Sarah T. Prideaux. At publication, Prideaux bound two such sets whose patrons are unknown. One of these sets is in the British Library (illustrated in Marianne Tidcombe's Women Bookbinders 1880-1920, 1996, p. 108; for colour illustrations see the BL Database of Bookbindings).

Astley acquired ten books of the press that were printed on vellum - of two of these books she owned two vellum copies.

Essex House Press

The Essex House Press was founded by C.R. Ashbee in 1898. The presses were sold in 1910 when ninety books had been published. Constance Astley owned fifty-two books of this private press. 

Again, Astley collected multiple copies. Her Essex House row of books numbered sixty-three copies. Among them were eighteen books printed on vellum, but that is not exceptional in this case - twelve of these were part of editions of which the press only issued copies on vellum.

The Kelmscott Press

William Morris published fifty-three books at The Kelmscott Press, if we include the few that were finally issued after he died. Astley owned only twenty-four of them, but her collection included a copy of the Chaucer edition, the largest undertaking of the press.

Duplicates included, there were twenty-six Kelmscott Press editions, of which there were four copies printed on vellum. Astley owned both a vellum and a paper copy of the Chaucer edition and of Rossetti's Hand and Soul, a vellum copy of Morris's Of the Friendship of Amis and Amile, and a vellum copy of The Tale of King Florus and the Fair Jehane. 

The Vale Press collection of Constance Astley will be the subject of next week's blog.