Heritage Press – The Travels of Marco Polo (1934)

November 26, 2014 Comments Off on Heritage Press – The Travels of Marco Polo (1934)

The Travels of Marco Polo (1934)
Sandglass Number 10N (missing from my book, but see notes below)
Artwork: Illustrations by Nikolai Fyodorovitch Lapshin
Introduced, Revised and Edited by Manuel Komroff, translated by William Marsden
Reprint of LEC #56, 5th Series, V. 8, in 1934 in 2 volumes.

Click images for larger views.


Front Binding – It’s been a little while since I gushed openly about a Heritage edition. Typically, the Limited Editions Club is where the truly stellar and remarkable books come from, with the Heritage re-releases, while still quite nice and attractive, are usually not of the same pedigree as their LEC cousins. Here, however, I will argue that this early Heritage printing of Marco Polo’s Travels is indeed the grander of the two printing houses. I LOVE the exquisite and appropriate binding; a luscious blending of purple and orange colors on what feels like rice paper (I lack a Sandglass, so I’m making generalizations). The bold choice of an orange spine with red text further makes this a stand-out. The LEC edition, in contrast, is covered in black cloth with a rather simple, elegant design that lacks the dynamism of this version.

Anyway, this amazing little book has some story to go behind it. You see, this is the winner of the very first Limited Editions Club illustration contest! Macy, Carl Purington Rollins and Frederic Warde served as judges, and after reviewing over 400 individual entries for 30 different titles requested by members, Nikolai Fyodorovitch Lapshin walked away with the $2500 prize and the right to have his brushed illustrations grace the Club’s edition of Marco Polo. This was the only time Polo’s journals were committed to print by the George Macy Company, and Lapshin only reappeared in the Macy canon to illustrate one of the many LEC Shakespeare titles, Titus Andronicus. Lapshin was a professor in graphic arts for Stalin University, and while he had never illustrated for books before, Macy felt he did a smashing job with his debut. He and the other judges felt that his work felt like it belonged to a book, and that it belonged to Polo’s remarkable travels. I happen to agree, in case my initial paragraph was not clear in how much I adore this book.

Design Notes – The Sandglass for this edition was not part of my good fortune of finding this gem, but since the initial posting of this book I’ve been graced with some information. Django6924 passed along this:

I don’t have this HP edition but perhaps you would like to include this from Michael Bussacco’s Sandglass Companion, Sandglass 10N, March 1950. The paper is from the Hamilton Paper Mill; the pages were reproduced (via photolithograpy) from copies of the original LEC, by the Duenewald Printing Corporation.

For the binding we arranged for a special making of linen, in a soft finish, to be done for us by the Western Shade Cloth Company…done in a “Chinese Orange” color….for the boards which cover the sides, we purchased a most-unusual, made-by-hand, obviously made-before-the-war, Oriental lamp-shade covering material of an unusual tensile strength and eye-filling Oriental colorings.

You are very close in surmising it is rice paper, Jerry; I’m sure it is probably mulberry paper, which feels a lot like rice paper, but is much stronger, also used to make tapa cloth. My mother had lampshades when I was a child that had very similar paper to the illustration on your site. I have a few sheets I intend to use someday to rebind one of my books.

The illustrations in the HP version have an interesting story themselves; per the Sandglass:

…Professor Lapshin’s illustrations could not be reproduced photographically from the printed reproductions.We decided to shoot the works, and had the illustrations redrawn….Luckily, Fritz Kredel entertains a great admiration for those illustrations by Professor Lapshin; and…agreed to push aside some of his own work, and to redraw the Lapshin pictures so that we would have actual drawings from which to make our reproductions.

From the samples I’ve seen in your HP, he did an excellent job. However, the illustrations in the HP seem to be monochrome, albeit in different hues for each illustration, whereas the originals are in multiple, vivid colors for each illustration. They were reproduced originally by offset lithography, and it is some of the finest use of that medium I have ever seen. Each illustration actually looks like an original watercolor, and considering how the numerous illustrations are scattered throughout, and integrated with the text, you begin to realize what an astonishing achievement it was for the time (and perhaps the reason Macy cheaped out somewhat on the binding).

I’ve included an example of the LEC’s illustrations (courtesy of parchment) in the Examples gallery below.




Title Page –  Macy chose William Marsden’s translation as his edition’s base, with the revision/editing of that original performed by Manuel Komroff, who further wrote an rather lengthy introduction on Polo’s life and adventures in the Middle East and Asia.

Examples of the Illustrations by Lapshin (right click and open in new tab for full size):

Personal Notes – I have had this book twice. The first was a lackluster Connecticut issuing I received as part of my 50 book lot a few years ago. I had seen a nicer edition than that, so I sold it off in the hopes of stumbling upon these earlier, quite beautiful editions. My patience was rewarded earlier this year at Half Price Books, where this amazing edition sat among its shelves for $5. And I was all over it. The LEC illustrations are pretty astounding, but I think I prefer the monochrome ones a bit more (and of course, the binding!), so I’m in no hurry to replace this.

Sandglass currently unavailable.

Updated 12/17/2014 by JF


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