Heritage Press – Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (1970, Connecticut)

August 5, 2012 § 7 Comments

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (1970, Connecticut)
Sandglass Number XI:39
Artwork: Illustrations by Grant Wood
Introduced by the author
Reprint of LEC #89, 8th Series, V. 7 in 1937.

Click images for a larger view.

Front Binding – Sinclair Lewis has made an appearance on our blog before, but not as the author of a Limited Editions Club work! Main Street was the sole offering of Lewis offered by the Club, and it would take over 35 years for the Heritage Press to reprint its contents. Lewis was also involved in Macy’s third publishing arm The Reader’s Club as one of its judges, selecting and writing introductions for the Club’s brief run in the 1940’s. Main Street is probably his best known novel, so it was an apt choice way back when to select it!

The name Grant Wood may not immediately ring any bells. It’s a fairly common sounding name. However, this Grant Wood is exceptionally well known. You may recognize this painting:

This artistic classic, American Gothic, is by Grant Wood, the very painter recruited to illustrate Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street for the Limited Editions Club back in 1937. It’s a marvelous pairing of author and artist, that it most certainly is. Wood would not rejoin the LEC for any further commissions, but he did do a splendid job on this one! Django6294 chipped in this tidbit on the Wood/Macy relationship:

Incidentally, Jerry, that he didn’t do more than one commission for Macy wasn’t due to lack of enthusiasm on either side: Macy was effusive in praise of the illustrations and Wood had received a very generous price for this work, winning an LEC Prize for Illustration which came with a commission to illustrate one of the Club’s books (other winners were Thomas Benton and Reginald Marsh). But Wood was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer soon after the book was published, and died within 3 years, just short of his 50th birthday.

The LEC was designed by William A. Kittredge of the Lakeside Press in Chicago. The Lakeside Press is best remembered for its exceptional Moby Dick, illustrated by Rockwell Kent. They did their own fair share of classic printing themselves. I had a Walden from them briefly that I traded in for the LEC Twenty Years After. It was a really nice book, but I don’t have any room to start collecting EVERY well-made book made earlier this century. :p Anyway! It was Kittredge who decided to print the text and artwork on tan colored paper over the usual white, and that carried over to the Heritage printing. Caslon is the font of choice, and font fans will want to pour over the Sandglass, as it goes into its history in detail. For the Heritage edition, Tapley-Rutter served as its binder, and it was reprinted by the Connecticut Printers. The cover, resembling denim, is enhanced by pryoxylin to give it extra strength. The LEC original was chosen as one of the 200 books of its decade selected for Outstanding Design by the American Institute of Graphic Arts, one of seven total from the LEC! So you’ve got a treat waiting for you if you find either edition!


Title Page – Here’s a taste of the tan paper. Lewis introduced his own work.

Page 42 – Wood is a fine choice, doing some exceptional portrait work for the main characters. Stunning stuff.

Page 82

Personal Notes – I got this with my 70+ book haul from the Oakhurst Library, and I’m tickled to have it. I’ve not seen hide nor hair of this book anywhere else, so I’m delighted to have it in my library.

I suppose I should explain this book haul a little better, because I’ve said 50 book haul before. This was a two-part acquiring. The first half was when I went to the library itself to see what my friend John had in store for me, which exceeded my wildest dreams. Someone donated 70+ books, and all of them were Heritage Press books. It was mindblowing to realize that I had the chance of doubling my library! As I went through them all, I plucked key books that I knew I would have difficulty finding elsewhere, and I believe Main Street was among those. I gathered up about 20 books or so. John told me to take those (for free!), and he would talk to the higher-ups about the rest of the lot. I was stunned to walk away with a plethora of Heritage books for free, but I didn’t argue! A month later John called me to say that the manager of the library sales told him to sell the remainder of the books (50, magically) for $50 as a lot if I wanted them. I DID, so I managed to scrounge up the cash and made my way to John’s residence, where he was storing the books. It was a somewhat dangerous drive to his house, as the weather took a nosedive into hailing and occasional snow. His road is a dirt road of the bouncy, undergrated sort. I managed to get there safely and pick up the rest of the lot, handed him the fifty dollars and, with mild regret to not spend any time with him, hurried back home. So, that’s the story of my massive Heritage haul, and why I say 50 books sometimes. It truly was more like 70 or 80. And I STILL WANT MORE. What a curse. XD



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§ 7 Responses to Heritage Press – Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (1970, Connecticut)

  • don floyd says:

    Looks like your Heritage Edition has a better design than the LEC. I have the LEC and will be rebinding it next year. The old cover is pretty well shot, but the inside (text and illustrations) are Fine.

    Sinclair Lewis was very popular in the 20s and 30s, and he is still a good read today. I believe he was the first American to win the Nobel prize for literature. Main Street was his diatribe against the denizens of small town America. The portraits shown in the book demonstrate the sardonic wit shown by Lewis, but these types are not spcifically called out in Lewis’ book. It is the story of Carol Kennicott, a recent college graduate, who gives up all thought of her own career and marrries Dr. Kennicott and moves to his home town of Gopher Prarie, MN (Lewis was from MN). She enters into her new millieu with thoughts of bringing some culture to the small town. but she is met with substantial resistance by the townspeople who are set in their ways and opinionated against change.

    Lewis was a very prolific author in spite of his chronic alcoholism, finally subcomming to the disease in the 1950s. Other books by Lewis which helped him to the Nobel prize include Babbitt and Elmer Gantry, both of which are good enough to have been LEC selections. Babbitt, named after the protaganist, George Follonsbee Babbitt, was Lewis’ satire on boosterism and the American businessman. He was so successful at satirizing the businessman that Babbittry, standing for all that was foolish about boosterism and business, became a new word in the English languige.

    Elmer Gantry was the novel in which Lewis satirized religion and revivalism. A great movie was made of the book which won Burt Lancaster a best actor award in the early 60s.

    Of course many people disliked Lewis since he was continually making sport of American icons; eg, smalltown America, boosterism and business men, and religion and revivalism.
    It would be nice to see this talented American author become popular again. None the less, the three books mentioned above, with perhaps the addition of Arrowsmith and Dodsworth, will provide hours of enjoyable reading.

  • Tom says:

    Boy, was it ever worth the wait! Fab-u-lous.
    PS Another “gun-cotton binding” I see! They certainly seem to wear well.

  • don floyd says:

    I recently visited the Cincinnati Museum of Art where I viewed a Grant Wood oil painting. It was the iconoclastic Daughter’s of the Amrican Revolution which shows three ladies with their tea cups held delicately and looking out on the viewer in a very demeaning attitude.

    I remember studying Grant Wood in a modern art appreciation course which I took as an undrgraduate. His American Gothic and the DAR are two of his most famous iconoclastic works.

    While American Gothic has been used several times by advertising people, the most famous in this arena is probably that used by the late Paul Newman and Joann Woodman to promote Newman’s salad dressings and other food products. The faces in the Wood painting were replaced with Newman’s and Woodward’s.

  • Andrew says:

    I’m not sure if I like the brown paper used in this one. It reminds me to much of all those browned-with-age paperbacks I gave up when I started collecting Heritage Press titles. How is your copy?

    • WildcatJF says:

      Hi Andrew,

      I happen to like the pages being brown; it gives it a rather distinct look from many of the other books I have, and it’s quite nice for a Connecticut era printing. In short, I’m quite happy with it!

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