Pet Book Project Part 1: Cathleen Ni Hoolihan Vellum

For this project, my pet book is a copy of W.B. Yeats’ Cathleen Ni Hoolihan, a play about an old Irish folk legend of that name, originally published in 1902. This edition is a limp vellum volume, which is contained within a simple but elegant green slip cover. The spine of the cover is inscribed with the title and authors name, as well as the publisher, The Caradoc Press, and the publishing year, 1902. This means that this is a first edition of the book. The Caradoc press ran from 1899 to 1909, but there is no information about their techniques or special processes they may have used during the printing process, so it is unknown if they made any major contributions to the printing world outside of expectations.

When opening the slip cover, one is presented with book plate, which mentions that the book was donated by James Augustine Healy. When turning our attention to the book itself, we see a cover with only the play’s name on the top center. Opening the book, we find three flyleaves, which are condensed into one binding group, and then a title page, containing the name of the play, a printer’s mark, and a publisher’s credit. Then, a quote from the play, followed by a dedication from the author. After these two pages, the play begins. The play is divided into two 8 leave bindings, and spans 16 leaves (32 pages) of the books length.

After the play there is a colophon, and some additional publishing information. The book concludes with another three flyleaves, and then an unadorned back cover.

The entire book is printed on vellum, which is an expensive printing material made from animal skins. Vellum was used for many manuscripts before the ready availability of paper, and is still used occasionally in publishing today. This book was published as a special vellum addition, even in a time when vellum was not the standard for publishing. While this book is a vellum edition, it is not like many of the older vellum volumes, as it is a limp vellum binding; this means there are no wooden boards for the covers, just thick pieces of vellum. The slip cover, however, is not fashioned from the same material, but is actually made from fabric stretched over wooden boards.

As I mentioned above, vellum was a rarely used printing medium at this point in time, so why did the publishers print this copy using it? They did this because this book is a collector’s edition. Only eight copies of Cathleen Ni Hoolihan were published as limp vellum copies. These books were not made to be owned by just anyone, as only the true collectors would care enough about the limited printing to pay more for the vellum.

 

We can see this is true because on the bill of sale, it shows the book was sold for over $150, which in 1902 was a very large amount. Also on the bill of sale is a description of the book, noting that it is “original full vellum,” and “uncut, with ties.” The first part is verified but our other information on the book, but the “uncut” was more important than I had expected. The book in its current state is cut, so one can read through the pages. This means that sometime during Healy’s ownership of the book or afterwards, someone cut the pages apart to catch a glimpse of the text inside.

I expect that whoever opened the book was disappointed when they found a lack of any major adornment or illustrations, just simple text on the page. This gives us insight into another purpose of this book, as it would not appeal to someone who wanted to be visually entertained: this book was for fans of the writing and collectors of Yeats’ work.

In total, the book is in very good condition. The vellum is still as white as the day is was made, and the binding was stiff. It seems its condition fits with what we would expect from a book purchased by a collector. With all of this evidence, I think it is very reasonable to assume that these editions were made to be sold to collectors of books.