The New Printing
The Vale Press of
MESSRS. HACON & RICKETTS
especially has carried on his typographical traditions. Marred as its efforts are by needless affectation and excess, it necessarily demands a word of honourable mention.
Inspired by Morris though it obviously is, the Vale Press is in no sense merely imitative, and holds, perhaps, the chief place among the semi-private printing firms which are at present in existence. It was in the spring of 1896 that the first of the books printed in Mr. Ricketts’s type appeared, The Early Poems of John Milton, with a frontispiece, border, and initial letters. In this, as in following publications, the decorations and woodcuts were designed and engraved throughout by Mr. Ricketts, in addition to the type. A harmony of effect is thus obtained which stamps the volumes with distinction. . . .
Mr. Ricketts, on the other hand, has abandoned the old tradition, and has conceived his forms as cut in metal, just as a wood-engraver or a designer of stained-glass, in making his drawing, conceives it as in the material for which it is intended. His type, perhaps, resembles rather that of Spira than that of Jenson. There is a hardness about it which contrasts unfavourably with the superior delicacy developed by Morris from his study of handwriting. Nor are the minor features always in good taste. The interrogation mark, the contraction for “and,” the paragraph-signs, in particular, possess an eccentricity of form which at every turn annoys the reader. In his constant striving after modernity Mr. Ricketts, indeed, occasionally outsteps the bounds of art. Even in his disposition the printed page there are not infrequent lapses into affectations of this nature. The Vale edition of The Passionate Pilgrim , to select one instance among many, opens with a leaf printed entirely in capitals, after the manner of the Kelmscott books; the single word “young,” however, figures among its brethren in lower-case letters, owing to considerations of spacing, which might easily have been avoided. The eye, looking at the page, is at once arrested by this incongruity, and unnecessary emphasis imparted to an unimportant word. In the opening page of The Poems of Blake, a similar blemish is to be found of a more glaring character, the first line running thus: “THE DAUGHTERS OF THE SERAPHIM led ROUND THEIR SUNNY FLOCKS.” It is not altogether obvious why the word “led” should not have been printed in higher-case letters with the others.
These details, insignificant when taken singly, but, massed together, of considerable importance, prevent Mr. Ricketts’s efforts from taking the place in artistic typography which would otherwise be due to them. It is in his borders and decorations that he really reveals his true claim to be considered the first among Morris’s successors. There is nothing new in the best of the Kelmscott borders; like the types, they are modelled on old patterns, and in themselves are purely conventional in treatment. Mr. Ricketts has opened up a fresh path in this direction, and gives his originality the fullest play. “His borders exhibit an extraordinary skill in tho adaptation of foliage and flower; instead of forcing living growths into dully conventional forms, to fit certain spaces, the delicate curves of stalk and petal are kept as sensitively as the most naturalistic treatment might keep them, yet all in a harmonious decorative style.” Such is the opinion of a critic of the Vale productions. . . .
“The New Printing” Rev. of The Vale Press, The Academy, 1869-1902, 25 April 1896, p. 127. Yellow Nineties 2.0, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://www.1890s.ca/dial-review-the-academy-aug-1898/