Heritage Press – Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (unstated, 1950)

December 28, 2010 Comments Off on Heritage Press – Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (unstated, 1950)

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (unstated, 1950)*
Sandglass Number 11N
Artwork: Illustrations by Rockwell Kent
Introduced by Walt Whitman, and is a complete, unabridged Deathbed edition of his work.
Exclusive to the Heritage Press, with a limited 1000 copy print run bound in Moroccan leather and signed by Rockwell Kent.  This entry is on the standard edition. The Limited Editions Club did two other editions of Leaves of Grass I will cover below.

Click the images for a larger view.

Front Binding – A very nice shade of green for the boards and a distinctive gold inlay that both conveys the title and author initials in one fell swoop. I imagine that the leather version must look quite lovely. The book was designed by Rockwell Kent and William A. Kittredge. I’ll let Django6924 share additional insights with you:

The Sandglass in my copy (which is very interesting as it opens with a sombre section describing the anxieties of the times what with the threat of Communism and the fresh memories of WW II), mentions that the co-designer of the book, William A. Kittredge, had already “met his reward in heaven,” which makes me believe the book may have been produced some time before the 1950 date. (A quick Google search revealed Mr. Kittredge passed away in 1945.)

The book was designed by Kent himself in collaboration with typographer Kittredge of The Lakeside Press. It is set in Bodoni and the grass-green linen binding, the cloth originally made for window shades, was chosen by Kent who also designed the monogram on the front board–the initials “WW” drawn to resemble blades of grass. A great book.

Wikipedia mentions 1936 as a year for an edition of Leaves of Grass on Kent’s page, so perhaps we can point to that as a pub date? It is conceivable, as the Heritage Press began that year.

Speaking of Mr. Kent, I’m a little surprised to see his input so limited to the George Macy Company. Beyond this lovely edition, he also supplied his talent to Samuel Butler’s Erewhon for the LEC in 1934, but that’s where the contributions cease. Perhaps Kent’s shift in political ideals and becoming president of a Communist organization for the International Workers Order in the 1940’s had something to do with it. Macy was very much an American patriot, and I imagine Kent’s decision to be so radical ended up severing their ties for good. Django6924 had this to add about this topic:

I expect, as mentioned in Jerry’s blog, that Macy and Kent weren’t on the best of terms. In his pre-LEC/Heritage Press days, Macy had partnered in a small publishing company that produced newer writings, often of a mildly erotic nature, but also mysteries, adventures such as the inimitable Cursed Be the Treasure, and books about the early movie stars such as Valentino and Fairbanks.

One of the mildly erotic works was American Esoterica, a collection of short works which had probably been written for periodical publication but rejected because of concerns over charges of pruriency. This book was illustrated by Kent. Kent did Leaves of Grass for the Heritage press in the mid 30s and Erewhon for the LEC in 1934, then nothing after that. Was it his involvement with the Stalinist Soviet Union and Communism that caused the riff? Macy definitely was a patriot, but one should keep in mind that the LEC subscribers were, on the whole, much more conservative than Macy himself, and may have voiced a dislike of having their books illustrated by Kent. Macy frequently complimented Kent’s work in the Monthly Letters–his work on Moby Dick and especially on Candide–so Macy didn’t let his political views color his critical appreciation. Or was it just that Kent was probably the highest paid commercial artist in America, and may have been outside Macy’s budget?

Leaves of Grass is a curiously popular book in the Macy library. Not only is there this fine edition, but there’s TWO unique Limited Editions Club versions, issued in 1929 (the second book the Club ever put out!) and 1942. The ’29 “First Edition” printing featured Frederic Warde’s typographic touch and an introduction by Carolyn Wells, while the later ’42 has the photographs of Edward Weston and Mark Van Doren’s words providing a preface. I do not know if the 1942 edition is the First Edition or Deathbed edition of Whitman’s work, but I’ll update this when I find out. Whitman’s Song of the Open Road would also become a LEC in the Shiff years, in 1990 to be precise, with Aaron Siskind giving it some photogravure magic. Not too bad for someone known for one major work! Whitman deserves the attention!

Spine – Declaring Kent’s involvement and that the book is complete and unabridged made my heart flutter upon spotting it. It’s great that the Heritage Press went with the Deathbed edition, as there are many lovely poems Whitman composed well after the first printing of his opus. I love how they reused the classy inlay on the spine multiple times, too.

Title Page – The lone colored illustration Kent did in this book is reserved for here, likely representing “Song of Myself”, Whitman’s most famous poem. The inlay from the front is again used here, but with four years buried within the dirt. I’m not quite sure what they picked those particular years beyond being important ones in American history (Django points out that yes, that was the intent: “The four dates buried in the earth on the title page are 1492 (Columbus landed), 1607 (the founding of Jamestown), 1776 (of course), and 1861, the outbreak of the War Between the States.”

I think Kent was a fine choice to be the illustrator, as you’ll see below.

Page 104

Page 230

Personal Notes – The poetry of Walt Whitman hit me like a brick when I first discovered him, and he quickly became my favorite poet. Ever since I became enraptured with these books, I wanted Leaves of Grass. It took me 6 years to find this, my lone acquisition one time I went to a library book sale in Oakhurst in September 2010 (where I got my first massive haul before, as they’ve been my biggest supplier!). And my delight at it being unabridged and with Rockwell Kent of all people doing the art…I was ecstatic. I collect Whitman books no matter the press, but FINALLY grabbing a Heritage Press edition made my day and then some.

Whitman has a beautiful way of stating things with his poems, some of which have floored me with their straightforward grace. I recommend him if you want some thoughtful, inspiring, different poetry.

* = The book has no year stated on its copyright page, but Django was able to help me narrow down the likely publication year of this printing to 1950. Here’s what he had to say about it:

Mine also has an inked stamp–possibly put in by the original owner–with a date of May 2, 1950. This coincides nicely with the information in Bussacco’s Checklist that it was the next-to-last book in Series N which ran from June 1949–May 1950. The Checklist is less helpful when it comes to determining if this edition is a reprint of the FIRST Heritage Press Leaves of Grass which was the 2nd book in Series A, which ran from June 1937–May 1938.

Judging by the Wikipedia page for Kent, I think we can confirm that Leaves of Grass in Series A to be the same as this one, but as the first printing.  Thanks so much for all the info, Django!

Updated 7/13/2012 JF


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