Wednesday, June 25, 2014

152. A Summer Miscellany of Mistakes (1)

Old auction and antiquarian bookseller's catalogues not only transport us back to a world of opportunities - a century ago, it seems, every book or manuscript we now want to have, came up for sale - but also to a world of confusion. The next few weeks this blog will be devoted to antiquarian 'mistakes' under the title 'A Summer Miscellany of Mistakes'.

[Two years ago, I published four blogs about biographical errors concerning Ricketts and Shannon, see Curious Errors 1-4.]

Catalogue of the Library of Henry W. Poor, Part V (1909)
In 1908 Henry William Poor (1844-1915), an investor from New York, had to liquidate his business following major losses. His collection of books and artefacts was sold. The library came up for auction at The Anderson Auction Company (12 East 46th Street) between November 1908 and April 1909. Poor possessed an almost complete collection of Vale Press books, all on paper (no vellum copies), in the original bindings, except one that was bound in leather by the Club Bindery. He also owned some duplicates and all pre-Vale publications, such as The Dial and Oscar Wilde's The Sphinx. The one exception seems to have been the 1902 edition of Ecclesiastes of which no copy was described in the five volume catalogue.
Catalogue of the Library of Henry W. Poor, Part V (1909), p. 157
Listed among the Vale Press books were Lucien Pissarro's Eragny Press volumes, that were for sale at Hacon & Ricketts in London; all volumes prior to 1903 were printed in Ricketts's own Vale type (for the later books Pissarro designed his own Brook Type); other Eragny Press editions were catalogued under the Eragny Press heading, but there was no logical division of Eragny Press copies. Obviously, some confusion existed as to which books should be considered Vale Press publications, which is odd, considering that a copy of Ricketts's own bibliography of the Vale Press books, issued in 1904, was listed in the auction catalogue.

John Ruskin, Of Queens' Gardens (1902)
The bibliography could also have prevented the inclusion of a 'Vale Press' book that had nothing to do with Ricketts. Listed under 'Vale Press' (item 1126) was John Ruskin's popular essay Of Queens' Gardens, printed by the Ballantyne Press in 1902. The only reason why this book could be mistaken for a Vale Press book is the name of the printer, as Ricketts's books were also printed by Ballantyne & Co. However, Ricketts dealt with the London branch of the firm, while this book was printed at the Edinburgh location, as the colophon stated. 

John Ruskin, Of Queens' Gardens (1902)
The colophon included the name of the publisher as well, George Allen, Ruskin's long time publishing firm. The ornamentation of the pages is typical for an imitation of the private press books of William Morris, probably based on the false assumption that borders were not only meant to decorate the opening pages (including the title), but were intended to surround every text page.

John Ruskin, Of Queens' Gardens (1902)
Neither Morris nor Ricketts was so driven to decorate each and every page of a book, let alone to use one and the same border over and over again. Meanwhile, the border does not show Ricketts's monogram 'CR', but that of Christopher Dean.

John Ruskin, Of Queens' Gardens (1902): monogram in border design
Ian Rogerson, in his 1984 thesis The Origins and Development of Modern British Wood-Engraved Illustration was, to my knowledge, the first to point that out. Dean (whose dates are unknown) also designed a similar edition of Of Kings' Treasuries. Until 1897 he worked in Glasgow, later he designed many covers for George Bell & Sons (after their designer Gleeson White had died). He was born in Glasgow, moved to Marlow (Bucks.) in 1898, and settled in Chelsea in 1925 (according to Simon Houfe's The Dictionary of the 19th Century British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists, 1996 edition).

The mistake to ascribe this Ruskin edition to the Vale Press was repeated by the Anderson Galleries in 1924, when the fourth part of the library of John Quinn was sold. Lot 8286 described the copy that Quinn had acquired from the Henry William Poor library (with his bookplate), and now the address of the printer was added to that of Ricketts's firm: 'Edinburgh: The Vale Press, 1902'. Later, bookseller's catalogues sometimes reproduced the same mistake. Nowadays, copies of this book are no longer connected to the Vale Press or to Ricketts. Nor to Dean, for that matter, while the cross in the monogram is characteristic of Christopher Dean. 

The Library of John Quinn. Part Four (Morris-Sterne) (1924, p. 820)