Heritage Press – Beowulf (1939?)

January 15, 2011 § 5 Comments

Beowulf (1939?)*
Sandglass Number 5K
Artwork: Drawings by Lynd Ward
Translated and introduced by William Ellery Leonard
Originally a Hertiage Press exclusive, later reprinted by the Limited Editions Club in 1952 (Book #225, 21st series V.

Click the images to see larger views.

Front Binding – Designed by John S. Fass, these boards were covered by a binder’s linen that was left intentionally rough, dyed several shades of brown.  The bold blue foil box that surrounds Beowulf‘s title was stamped into the linen, with the gold pressed into that.  The spine repeats the idea, albeit smaller.

Django2694 has this to say about the LEC edition, among some other comments:

I don’t have my Heritage edition at home–it’s packed in storage and I don’t remember whether it had a Sandglass. I can say that the Ward-illustrated Beowulf was an original Heritage Press publication, done in response, perhaps, to Rockwell Kent’s wonderful Beowulf for the Lakeside Press–which was the first to use Leonard’s translation. Kent’s work is justly famous, so I expect Macy felt he needed to go one better by having Ward do his illustrations in color. This original edition was in 1939, but from everything I have read or seen, that edition was exactly like yours–same binding, illustrations, production details–which was probably a later reissue.

The Monthly Letter for the later LEC mentions Kent’s work:

“”There are pundits who go so far as to say the Lynd Ward’s illustrations for Beowulf are as good as those truly remarkable lithographs which Rockwell Kent made for Beowulf in the year 1928.”

The designer of the LEC Beowulf was Eugene Ettenberg. It is a largish book–bigger than the Heritage Press edition–8.5″ x 12″–and it is set in 14 point Janson while the chapter heads are set in “an utterly new typeface imported from Amsterdam called Libra.” The quarter binding on the spine is blue linen and there is a design of a spear by Ward stamped in gold. The boards are covered in a handmade paper from Sweden featuring a wavy pattern of browns, beiges and blues. The Monthly Letter says Ward “revised” the original illustrations, drawing directly on the lithographic plates. In addition to the size increase, they are also much more delicate in color than the saturated blues and golds of the Heritage edition (but with none of the muddiness you see in the reproductions for the Easton press edition, as was pointed out by EP collector Lucas Trask in an informative side-by-side comparison:


In addition to these “revisions” Ward also adapted one of the illustrations for a two-page black & white spread for the title treatment, and numerous little designs–battleaxes, meadcups, etc–reproduced in brown and sprinkled throughout the text. I would not say that the LEC is inferior**–just subdued whereas the Heritage original is exuberant.

Title Page – Lynd Ward’s stunning artwork quickly lets readers know they are in for a treat.  The Heritage Press acquired the rights to reprint Professor William Ellery Leonard’s introduction and translation, which was at the time deemed “the most interesting” by Americans according to the Sandglass.  Leonard also has a preface before each section of the poem.  The text is Garamond, picked for its harmony with Ward’s work.  The paper was, as par the course, specially made for this book by the Collins Paper Company, who supplied a “soft yet tough rag paper” for Leonard’s words and Ward’s ink.

While on the subject of Ward, the Sandglass mentions three other books Ward had done for the Press by its publication – Les Miserables, Gargantua & Pantagruel, and The Innocent Voyage.  Curious that last one, as its publication date was 1944, five years after this book’s copyright page claims to have been printed.  I’m inclined to believe that I do not own a first printing of this book, or it was held for five years plus before its actual release, which is possible.  Ward’s first LEC book was not listed, oddly enough, which was The Cloister and the Hearth in 1932, but perhaps that’s omitted due to its position as an early LEC predating the Heritage Press and was not printed by them.  If you have any further info on this, I’d appreciate it.

Page 5 – Grendel is grotesquely rendered here – a poignant and powerful illustration.  In total, Ward did 16 full-page illustrations like this one, printed with a lithographic process in blue and brown inks.

Page 8 – Beowulf gets a glorious introduction, properly playing up his heroic nature.  Ward was a genius.

Page 1 – An example of Leonard’s introductions to each section, which Ward also contributed smaller black-and-white pieces for.

Personal Notes – I paid too much for this book. :p  Before I had a clue about the Heritage Press and its price scales, I dropped $30 for this at my friend’s old Page One Used Books (the same that I’ve swapped Brownings with), but considering how rarely I see it in other shops (i.e. once, last time I was in Berkeley), I suppose it’s all right that I forked out a fairly hefty sum…although it is lacking a slipcase.  It did introduce me to Lynd Ward, one of my favorite illustrators in the George Macy Company’s long list of artists.

My copy came with a second pamphlet that I’d be disinclined to believe came from the Heritage Press, looking at the original Beowulf manuscript and analyzing it some.  One of the neater bonuses I’ve gotten out of any book I have.


* = Due to the Sandglass listing books published after 1939, I’m not certain that I can rely on that as a publication date.  As I do not have any other year to work from, I’m arbitrarily using it as a placeholder until I know for certain what year this book was published.

** = Before Django supplied with me with info on the LEC, I commented that I had heard the LEC edition was inferior to the original Heritage edition.  I’ve dropped those comments (since he was nice enough to provide info on the LEC!), but that’s what he’s referring to here.


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§ 5 Responses to Heritage Press – Beowulf (1939?)

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  • David drummond says:

    I have the same book I was wondering how much the market value is for this book. Please if any information email me.

    • Wildcat-Lvl says:

      Hi David,

      I’m not an appraiser, so I can’t fully answer your question. I can tell you I’ve only seen it twice in stores, and I overpaid on my copy. XD I believe that it would probably fall between $10-20 as a seller’s price if it was complete (slipcase and Sandglass), but I don’t know how much a buyer would pay you for it. I would suggest visiting local book shops or checking out ABEBooks, Alibris or eBay to get a better sense of its value.

      • George says:

        The folks over at [****] have the 1952 reprint at $313.00 though, so would that mean that the 1939 print is more expensive? Or is that me being naive?

      • Wildcat-Lvl says:

        Hi George,

        That sounds ludicrous to me. If it’s a LEC copy, then at least it’s more understandable. Lynd Ward did not sign that edition, so that price is still a bit outrageous. A quick glance at ABE shows me some sellers selling the book at a more reasonable $50 – $250 range (which the high end of that model seems a bit high, too). I’d pass if I were you unless it is absolutely pristine, has a slipcase and monthly letter, and the original owner actually managed to get Ward’s signature through other means. It’s not really worth that kind of money without those caveats.

        If it’s a Heritage Press edition, then yes, that’s absolutely insane and you should not buy it UNLESS Ward signed it through other means, but I suspect that it’s still overpriced. I have a Ward LEC that I bought for $45, just to say. Hope that helps!

        ~ JF

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