Cathleen Ni Hoolihan Part 2: Origins

Books are created with purpose. This sentence is critical to this blog post, as it contains two extremely important components: creation and purpose. Most printed books are created at publishing houses, as printing presses were very expensive to own and very labor intensive to operate. Was this copy of Yeat’s work printed in the same way? Many books are published to be read, but was that the objective of this limp vellum volume? This blog post will examine the origins of this copy of Cathleen Ni Hoolihan: why it was printed, where it was printed, and by whom it was printed by.

The first real page of the book contains the title “Cathleen Ni Hoolihan, a play in one act and prose by W B Yeats,” but it also contains a publishing credit and a logo of the printing company. The publishing house which published this book was known as The Caradoc Press, and it ran from 1899-1909. It was operated by two men, H.G. and H.D. Webb, who did all of the printing, engraving, and binding themselves. This is notable as many publishing houses either had in-house illustrators or outsources their illustrations to artists, but didn’t do it themselves. During its lifetime, the press printed many kinds of books, but it seems that the Caradoc Press also printed many limited editions/collector’s editions of new English books. For example, in 1902, The Caradoc Press printed the first edition of Cathleen Ni Hoolihan. They printed 300 copies of the normal copy, printed on paper with leather board bindings, but it also printed eight copies of the same play on limp vellum. This latter printing is what produced the book I am examining; My pet book is number three of the eight vellum printings.

Because of the extremely limited printing of this edition, it is safe to assume that this book was meant as a collector’s edition. The book is a limp vellum copy, which was not the standard printing practice in 1902. In the early 1900s, paper was already the most popular way to print books, so the appearance of this vellum copy is notable. The process for making vellum is quite tedious, and requires the maker to slaughter a number of livestock animals. This means that any book printed on vellum in the age of paper books is an anomaly. Why was this book printed on vellum? It was most likely done as a way of making these collectors editions stand out from the rest. In addition, vellum also lasts much longer, so these copies would long outlive the hardcover paper editions that The Caradoc Press was also printing. This edition also comes with a slip cover, which also is evidence of this book being a collector’s copy. The purpose of a slipcover is to protect the book over long amounts of time. This is exactly what a wealthy collector would want. A collector would want to put this book on a shelf, which the slip cover enables, and be able to take it down and show it off to all of his/her friends. The combination of the limp vellum binding and the simple but stylish slip cover, in addition with the amount of these books printed, leads me to believe that this edition of Cathleen Ni Hoolihan was intended to be bought by a collector.

Inside the slipcover of my copy, I found a printed note. This note resembles a receipt, but seems to be printed on modern paper. This leads me to believe that this note was added after the printing and the original sale. However, this note resembles a receipt, much like the one that a buyer would have been expected to get when he/she purchased the book from the press. On the note, it mentions that this book is “original full vellum, uncut.” We know that the book is printed on vellum, but this note tells us that it was sold uncut. This means that when The Caradoc Press folded the vellum pages, they did not cut them apart. This is another trait that leads me to believe this book is a collector’s edition, as a collector might want to leave the book uncut for the sake of owning an untouched copy.

Printed by The Caradoc Press in 1902, my copy of Cathleen Ni Hoolihan is in the same condition it was in when it was printed (except for the cut pages). This untouched condition, in addition to the other factors of the vellum, the slip cover, and the price of the book when purchased ($166.50) gives us very good reason to declare that this book was intended as a collector’s edition, for people with the means and the education to enjoy and purchase a Yeats play.