Heritage Press: The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde (1937)

December 27, 2010 Comments Off on Heritage Press: The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde (1937)

The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde (1937)
Sandglass Number V:17
Artwork: Stone lithographs by Zhenya Gay
Introduced by Burton Rascoe
Heritage Press Reprint of LEC #87/8th Series V. 5 in 1937

Click the picture to see larger images.

Front Binding – This is bound with leather product, as the Sandglass calls it – put together by combing off-cuts of skins into a hopper alongside plastic materials.  It’s called leatherlen, and is said to outlast standard leather.  The gray is intentional, meant to simulate a granite block.  It was stamped twice with two different dies, one sunk in to create the wall, and another embossed upon the cover for the bars.  Quite distinctive.  Designed by John S. Fass, who also designed the LEC edition of this book, as well as the LEC’s of Herman Melville’s Typee and Apulieus’ The Golden Ass.  He created his own press, the Hammer Creek Press, in 1950, and went on designing his own limited editions.  As usual, thanks to Django2694 for the info!

Zhenya Gay only worked on two Limited Editions Club titles, but she most certainly left a lasting impression with this and Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, done in 1930 as her first commission.  Following this Gay would cease her involvement with the George Macy Company, but she kept up illustrating for many more books, focusing on children’s titles and becoming keenly fascinated with animals, quite the switch from illustrating two of the darkest and more adult-oriented books in the Macy canon.

As for Oscar Wilde, I get into his publishing history in my Salome post.  I will state here that this was the first work of Wilde’s done by the LEC or Heritage Press, and what a book it is.

Title Page – Gay was an ideal choice for this book’s illustrations.  Her haunting style fits the dark poetry Wilde crafted while in Reading Gaol perfectly.  The type was designed by John S. Fass, and the Heritage edition duplicates the LEC pages via photography of the original proofs.  The type itself is Egmont, imported from Holland and created by S. H. de Roos.  Burton Rascoe provides the introduction.  Lastly, the paper was supplied by the International Paper Company, and is supposed to last for two centuries at minimum.  This was a book meant to last, it seems.

Page 1 – Among my favorite illustrations in any Heritage/LEC book.  Incredible.

Page 27

Personal Notes – This I picked up at my hometown’s library in Mariposa, I believe. The cover caught my eye, and the amazing art committed me to a purchase.  I still consider it one of the better books by the press, after acquiring so many others following it.

Unlike Salome, which did little for me, I did enjoy this work a lot.  It’s by no means a happy piece, but it does provide a fascinating glimpse into a man watching another’s final days before his death, and is an exquisitely designed book.


Updated 9/17/2011


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