Heritage Press: Oedipus the King by Sophocles (1956)

Oedipus the King by Sophocles (1956)
Sandglass Number XVIII: 20
Artwork: Wood Engravings by Demetrios Galanis
Translated by Francis Storr, and Introduced by Thornton Wilder
Heritage Press Reprint of LEC # 256/24th Series V. 1 in 1955

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Front Binding – I ADORE the cover of this book.  It’s so classy and bold – the black and silver and browns go so well together.  I knew I had to have this the moment I saw it.  Anyway, there’s an incredible story that goes along with the creation of this book, one that may be more appropriate to allow the Director of the Heritage Press, which could have been George (he passed away in 1956, while the LEC edition came out the year before) or Helen, explain it to you through the Sandglass below.  I’ll sum it up here: Oedipus the King was originally announced for the Limited Editions Club in April, 1940.  This was going to join their “Booklover’s Tour of the World” plan that they had going at the time, with the book to be printed and illustrated in Greece to truly showcase its cultural style.  The following month, Nazi Germany began their invasion of France, which led to Paris being taken in June.  In the chaos that ensued, the Club lost contact with their printer, Kiron Theodoropoulos and their illustrator, Demetrios Galanis.  The Club had seen Galanis’ work in print form before the war kicked off, so they knew the work had been completed, but alas, it would be quite some time before the LEC were able to recontact their Greek collaborators.  Luckily, both men were alive following the war’s aftermath, but the book was in dire straits.  Over the war’s duration, vandals broke into Theodoropoulos’ press, the Pyrsos Press, and had destroyed the pages of type prepared for the book.  The engravings were still intact, but their condition was no longer satisfactory.  The Club wanted to see for themselves, and the American Embassy in Athens had become involved, sending an interested party to the Press to retrieve and ship the engravings to the Club.  This occurred in 1953.  Once in their hands, the engravings were deemed printable.  The Club then decided that their lofty aborted plan of “The Booklover’s Tour of the World” was no longer limiting the book to be printed in Greece, so they turned to Jan van Krimpen in the Netherlands to design the book based on Galanis’ initial plans to have the Greek on one side and the English on the other.  I’ll dive into van Krimpen’s story in a bit – let’s focus on the binding now.  The boards are covered in black buckram, the text stamped in with silver leaf which were drawn by van Krimpen for this cover, and Galanis’ engraving was stamped in with white leaf and terra-cotta leaf.


Title Page – Galanis’ concept of having the Greek text on the left with the English on the right turned out to be a wise choice, especially with the expert craft of van Krimpen designing it.  Jan van Krimpen was the “designer”, as the Sandglass puts it, of the Dutch printer Johannes Enschede en Zonen, which was established in 1703.  van Krimpen joined in 1925, and had turned the company’s fortunes around during his tenure, developing several new fonts among other accomplishments.  At the time of this book’s creation, Enschede was one of the few presses still creating text types using steel punches that were hand-cut, a tradition going back to the eighteenth century.  van Krimpen designed two that he would later use for this book – the Greek Antigone, and the English Romulus.  The paper was specially made under his supervision, and the book was printed at Enschede as well.  It was bound by J. Brandt & Zoon in Amsterdam.  Galanis adored his engraving’s printings, according to the Sandglass.  The Club utilized the translation of Francis Storr, who according to the Sandglass, taught Professor Gilbert Murray “‘the granduer of the Oedipus'”. Thornton Wilder, one of the few authors that wrote an Introduction AND had separate works of theirs done by the Club (The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Our Town), provided an Introduction to the Club way back in 1939, which was first printed in the LEC version.  The Greek text was edited by Richard Jebb.

Pages 104 – 105 – Galanis’ wood cuts are quite effective and add to the book’s historic feel, I think.  Most of his pieces are small, but he did do a two page spread for the endpapers with three other larger illustrations.


Personal Notes – Purchased complete at Moe’s in Berkeley, CA for $10, I adore this book and find its history fascinating.  It, according to the Sandglass, was the longest in “gestation” for the Club – conceived in 1939, announced in 1940, and then in limbo for 15 years to magically appear in 1955 for the LEC and 1956 for the Heritage Club thanks to World War II.  Definitely a milestone book for collectors intrigued by the behind-the-scenes moments of the George Macy Company!


LEC Comparison Shots (courtesy of pm11)