The Vale Press: A History of it and List of its Famous Publications.:
SINCE, In 1891, William Morris founded the Kelmscott Press, Increased attention has been paid to the production of beautiful books. The earliest rival of the notable press established at Hammersmith was the Vale Press, conducted on a similar system or limited editions, printed with specially designed type. Then came the Essex House Press, while the Doves Press Is the latest comer In England, the American followers of the late poet-Socialist- printer being several in number. Of these the most important is the press now under consideration.
The Vale Press, like the Kelmscott, ends its career with a volume giving a historical and bibliographical account of Its undertakings. The last of the Kelmscott books contained a “note” by Morris on his “aims” in founding his press, together with a short description of the press, and an annotated list of books printed thereat, both by S. C. Cockerell. The last of the Vale books is somewhat similar in nature, but it does not, unfortunately, equal the other work in interest and bibliographical value. The introduction, by Charles Ricketts, giving the history of the press, is of the highest possible importance—no other hand could have prepared it so well—but the “bibliography” of the issues of the press which follows is simply a crudely compiled bibliographical list at the most and is of no real value to the collector of the Vale books, for whose use it was apparently complied. Dates are not given, save in two instances, and there is a total lack of reference to the number of pages in each publication, style of binding, &c. The real “bibliography” of the Vale Press is yet to come. In the meantime the collector’s best aid is the catalogue of the second part of the Harold Peirce library, sold in Philadelphia by S. V. Henkels March 27 and 28, 1003, which contains descriptions of the fullest set of Vale books which has come into the open market.
The Vale Press practically began with the publication of “The Dial: An Occasional Publication,” edited by Charles Ricketts and C. H. Shannon, of which five parts were issued between 1889 and 1897. This was followed by “Daphnis and Chloe,” translated by George Thornley, 1893: by Marlowe and Chapman’s “Hero and Lean der,” 1894, and by Margaret Rust’s “Queen of the Fishes,” 1894, an adaptation of a fairy tale of Valois. Mr. Ricketts’s list, however, disregards these works, taking into account only the books issued by W. L. Hacon and himself, which he personally supervised, and beginning with “The Early Poems John Milton,” 1895, a reprint edited by Charles Sturt from the edition of 1634. Of the first Vale book three hundred and ten copies were printed in Vale type, with frontispiece, border, and initial letters designed and cut on wood by Charles Ricketts. Landor’s “Epicurus, Leontin, and Ternissa,” followed this notable reprint, and then came a reissue of Suckling’s “Poems,” edited by John Gray, in which were brought together all the authentic poetical pieces of the adventures royalist poet, not excepting the songs which form part of his plays. The Suckling volume issued as part or a plan to reprint in their original spelling all the English poets from Wyatt to Crashaw, and From Vaughan to Shelley, an original scheme which was not fully carried out. Mr. Ricketts regrets the final abandonment of this plan, but, as he remarks, it tended to introduce too many unfamiliar names to a public which, seven years ago, “seemed a little restive in the matter of innovation, a little restive in all matters of art.”
The other issues in series of English poets included, Shakespeare’s “Sonnets,” the plays, “The Passionate Pilgrim,” containing the furor appearance of two of the sonnets, and the songs in the plays; Drayton’s “Nymphidia and the Muses Elizium,” “Fifty Songs by Thomas Campion,” Henry Vaughan’s “Sacred Poems,” Marlowe’s “Tragedy of Doctor Faustus,” Henry Constable’s “Poems and Sonnets,” William Adlington’s translation of the “The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche,” the “Sonnets” of Sir Philip Sidney, “The King’s Quair” of James I. of Scotland, and Chatterton’s “Rowley Poems.” The reproductions of modern English poetry included Matthew Arnold’s “Empedocles on Etna.” Mrs. Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” Keats’s “Poems,” Rossetti’s “Blessed Damozel” and “Hand and Soul,” Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Robert Browning’s “Dramtic Romances and Lyrics,” Tennyson’s ” Poems,” Fitzgerald’s version of the “Rubalyat,” Shelley’s “Poems,” and Wordsworth’s “Poems,” (a selection.) The most ambitious of these were Mrs. Browning’s “Sonnets,” in one volume; Keats and Tennyson, in two volumes each and Shelley, in three volumes. The other publications were or a varied nature, ranging from a noble new edition of John Addington Symonds’s translation of the “Life of Benvenuto Cellini” to Mr. Ricketts “De la Typographie et de l’Harmonie de la Page Imprimée” and “A Defense of the Revival of Printing,” and from Meinhold’s “Amber Witch,” issued in uniform style with the Kelmscott edition of
*A bibliographical list of the Vale books in the Vale and King’s Founts, issues by a Hacon And Ricketts. [prefaced by a short History of the Vale press, by Charles Ricketts.] Small quarto, Pages 2. xiii., boards, Uncut. 250 copies on paper at 5s: 10 on vellum. London: Issued privately by Charles Ricketts. 1904. Sold by Charles Ricketts, London, and by John Lane New York City.
“Sidonia the Sorceress,” to the plays of the two ladies who write over the name of “Michael Field,” “Fair Rosamond,” “The World at Auction,” “The Race of Leaves,” and “Julia Domna.”
The demise of the Vale Press was announced two years ago, to coincide with the completion of the Vale Shakespeare, the most highly prized of its publications. Mr. Ricketts’s reason in making this announcement was due to the fact that the number of books which were suitable for reproduction had dwindled with time. Another fact which influenced him in this decision was that his original blocks and most or the electrotypes of the borders, initials, and other decorations used in the earlier books had been burned at the printers’, a considerable mass of original wood engraving being thus lost. The initials alone which have been used in the Vale books represent sent in engraving the labor of a year, exclusive of their design. The engravings of such borders as the “Briony” border, with its elaborate tendrils, which decorates the Chatterton volumes, or the border to the “Sonnets” of Sidney, each represent the labor of three weeks or a month—these Mr. Ricketts was unprepared to replace; the loss of his little stock seemed almost irreparable. So came the end of the Vale Press. The three separate founts designed by Messrs. Hacon and Ricketts—the Vale, Avon, and King’s Founts—are no more, their designers deeming it undesirable that they should pass into other hands and become stale by unthinking use. The punches and matrices are for the most part in the Thames, and, with the contemplation of the last page of this bibliography, the type became came type metal again. The Vale books, like the beautiful volumes produced by William Morris, are things of the past.
The present volume contains the three founts brought together for the first and last time. It is a well-printed, well-made book, pleasant to the critical eye, and, like the other Vale books, will remain with greater permanency than most of the printed pages of the productions of the often too commercial followers of the Master of Hammersmith. The frontispiece was engraved by Mr. Ricketts after the signboard painted by C. H. Shannon for the old Vale premises; the printing was done at the Ballantyne Press, under the supervision of Mr. Ricketts. The preface by Mr. Ricketts is the most valuable contribution to the study of fine modern printing which has recently appeared, and should be read with “The Kelmscott Style” of Theodore L. De Vinne, (in his volume on “Title Pages,” privately printed for the Grolier Club in 1901.)
Of the 250 copies which have been printed of the book only 75 are intended for sale in this country, a fact which will doubtless appeal to American bibliophiles, who were the first to collect the Vale books. As we noted above, the most extensive gathering of these books which has yet been offered at auction was made by Mr. Harold Peirce of Philadelphia, who possessed a complete set with two exceptions, Rossetti’s “Hand and Soul” being absent, and the Shakespeare set being necessarily incomplete at the time of his public sale, including thirty- three volumes instead of thirty-eight. Discarding the volumes disregarded by Mr. Ricketts in his bibliographical list, and adding the “Hand and Soul” volume (which may be estimated at about $3.50) and the remaining five volumes of the Shakespeare series, the value of a complete set of the Vale books, estimated by the Peirce prices, would be $1,054.50. R. F. R.
“The Vale Press.: A History of It and List of its Famous Publications.” Rev. of The Dial, The New York Times, 13 August 1904, p. BR556. Yellow Nineties 2.0, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://www.1890s.ca/dial-review-the-new-york-times-aug-1904/