In the Archives with Libby Benedict's The Refugees (1938)

Doing some day-to-day editing work for MAPP, I find myself trying to track down a “dummy or mock up” (a lorem ipsum or placeholder copy) of Libby Benedict’s The Refugees (1938), once owned, according to my own cryptic notes from a while ago, by Williams College in Massachusetts. Libby Benedict’s biography has just appeared at MAPP, authored by eminent Woolf scholar Diane F. Gillespie, Professor Emerita at Washington State University, home to the Leonard and Virginia Woolf Library.

Thanks to Williams College Chapin librarian Wayne Hammond, I learn that the “binder’s dummy” in question belonged to Bloomsbury scholar David H. Porter who taught at Williams.  Wayne Hammond tells me that Porter frequently leant The Refugees and other items from his collection to them for exhibition.  He also tells me the collection was dispersed on Porter’s death and sends me the link to the 2018 catalogue of the bookseller tasked with selling Porter’s collection.

30. Benedict, Libby. Binding dummy for The Refugees. London: Hogarth Press, 1938. First edition. A binder’s dummy for Libby Benedict’s The Refugees, published by the Hogarth Press in 1938. (Woolmer 427). There is no text, but the first page has a tipped on partially printed document from the binder, which with additional pencil notes give information about the size, bulk, materials ordered, etc. (The cloth shade was known as Monastral Blue, as noted it was the same shade used for Isherwood’s Lions and Shadows, also published in March, 1938.) This dummy was given to Quentin Bell who in the middle of the book has written some 60 pages of notes on European history in the eighteenth century, another portion of about 40 pages contains some sketches, and alphabets and lists of Russian words, possibly in several hands. Provenance: From the collection of Grace Higgins [sic], Vanessa Bell’s housekeeper for fifty years. [30690] $3,500  (https://www.goldwasserbooks.com/images/upload/hogarth-2018.pdf)

First, the catalogue entry for Benedict’s The Refugees gives information about dimensions and materials, the sort of details we at MAPP love. The entry tells us that a note indicates that “The cloth shade was known as Monastral Blue, […] the same shade used for Isherwood’s Lions and Shadows, also published in March, 1938.”

A colour with a story, Monastral blue, a deep greeny blue, among the best pigments ever made, was a chance discovery by Scottish dyeworkers in 1928.  In the process of making pthalimide used in the manufacture of dyes in a glass-lined iron vessel, a chemical reaction took place where it came into contact with the iron exposed due to damage.  (See George Burton’s Chemical Storylines, Heinemann, 2000).

The entry also reveals that the copy is “[f]rom the collection of Grace Higgins [sic].” Grace Higgens was Vanessa Bell’s maid, then nurse to daughter Angelica, then Bell’s cook and later housekeeper, known as the “Angel of Charleston.”  She went to work for Bell at age 16 in 1920 and thereafter worked for Clive Bell and Duncan Grant until her retirement in 1971, for a total of 51 years! Reading Frances Spalding’s Vanessa Bell biography, one has the impression that Grace was almost one of the family, at Vanessa’s graveside in Firle with Duncan, Quentin and Angelica when she died (Clive Bell was in a clinic in London after having broken his leg sight - seeing in Menton, France).  Two details from Spalding, among many: when in France, Grace learns French alongside Angelica (b. 1918) and in 1935, she works for Herbert Reed who is renting Charleston. 

I have many questions: Was the binding dummy a gift or a purchase? Did Higgens collect or was she a reader, or both? Note: there’s no text here!  How did the copy fall into the hands of Quentin Bell, the Woolfs’ nephew? How did Higgens acquire it?  There’s mention in Spalding’s Vanessa Bell of Duncan exchanging a lady’s collar with Grace for soap during the war . . . And how did it come to Porter? The notes, sketches, Russian, the Cyrillic alphabet, all sorts of annotation and ephemera represent intriguing traces of multiple ownership, many clues about the book’s journey. 

We do know that the Woolfs frequently gave books as gifts to workers and servants. These books represented currency . . . perhaps they were given in lieu of a raise, the Woolfs recognizing that Hogarth Press titles might perhaps have value in the longer term. And Woolf knew and loved Grace, among Woolf’s letters one congratulating Grace on her wedding and sending money for a gift and another to Higgens asking for her chocolate cake recipe.

 

Figure 1: Books were often given as tokens of appreciation, as this dedication to Hogarth Press secretary Peggy Belsher, found in a copy of The Waves, suggests (https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/23576/lot/185/).  Stay tuned to MAPP for the biographies of Belsher and other Hogarth Press workers!

Collecting is on my mind after having just received the latest Virginia Woolf Miscellany: 95 Spring/Summer 2019, host to Catherine Hollis’ wonderful collection of short essays (and a poem) on book collecting.  This installment also includes a tribute to the recently deceased much loved and admired Cecil Woolf, Leonard and Virginia’s nephew.  Cecil was one of the last surviving witnesses to Bloomsbury and publisher with his wife, writer Jean Moorcroft Wilson of the Bloomsbury Heritage Series.  Jean plans to continue the series.  Our own Alice Staveley is featured, alongside Catherine Hollis, Emily Kopley, Stephen Barkway, Kristin Czarnecki and many others.  You’ll also see a review of MAPP’s Claire Battershill’s book here. If you happen to have the binding dummy of Benedict’s The Refugees or any other first editions of HP books with inscriptions which you’d like to share, please do let us know!

 

Suggestions for Further Reading: 

Berger, Sidney.  The Dictionary of the Book: A Glossary for Book Collectors, Booksellers, Librarians and Other.  Rowman & Littlefield, 2016. (online entry for binder’s dummy p. 29.).

Bishop, Ted.  The Social Life of Ink. Penguin, 2017.

Light, Alison.  Mrs Woolf and the Servants. Penguin, 2007.

McKay, Stewart. The Angel of Charleston: Grace Higgens. British Library Publishing Division, 2013.

 

And a selection of Hogarth Press related Bloomsbury Heritage Series titles:

Isaac, Alan. Virginia Woolf, the Uncommon Bookbinder. No. 27. 2000.

Porter, David H. The Omega Workshops and the Hogarth Press: An Artful Fugue. No. 53. 2008.

-----. Virginia Woolf and the Hogarth Pres: ‘Riding a Great Horse. No. 37. 2004.

Miletic-Vejzovic, Laila. Leonard and Virginia Woolf Working Together. No. 16. 1997.

Woolf, Cecil. The Other Boy at the Hogarth Press: Virginia and Leonard Woolf as I Remember Them. No. 82. 2017