Heritage Press: The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1944)

April 20, 2015 Comments Off on Heritage Press: The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1944)

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1944)
Sandglass Number XIII:23
Artwork: Hither-to Unpublished Drawings by William Blake
Translated and with notes by Melville Best Anderson, Introduced by Arthur Livingston
Heritage Press Exclusive; the LEC printed their own edition of The Divine Comedy in 1933. This edition borrows the textual design from that edition.

Click images for larger views.

Front Binding – I recently asked my fellow Devotees to select a Heritage book from the lot I have remaining for this particular post, and the consensus settled upon the Heritage Divine Comedy. This is quite a lovely book, especially from the outside. But we’ll dive into that in a moment; let’s talk about Dante. Dante Alighieri is best known for this particular work, and the George Macy Company and its successors agreed on that front; this was the only work from the poet issued by the Club, but it was issued in its own unique edition for the LEC and for the Heritage Press. The LEC came out in 1933, and was printed by Officina Bodoni, the famed printing house in Verona, Italy run by Hans Mardersteig. It lacked any illustrations from my understanding (and quick research). The Heritage Press, a little over a decade later, decided to print their own edition based in part on Mardersteig’s LEC design, but with an addition: the previously unpublished drawings of Dante’s imaginative world done by the British artist and poet, William Blake.

Blake has been discussed here before, way back in 2011 when I shared a frankly shoddy copy of the Heritage The Pilgrim’s Progress with you. I failed in those heady times to properly document his bibliography in the Clubs, so I’ll do that now:

1941, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, illustrator (available as a Heritage)
1954, L’Allegro and Il Penseroso by John Milton, illustrator (available as a Heritage)
1973, Poems of William Blake, author/illustrator (seemingly available as a 1990s Heritage…which essentially means an Easton Press book)

Heritage Press:
1940, Paradise Lost by John Milton, illustrator (Carlotta Petrina did the LEC edition)
1944, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, illustrator

Blake was, to put it modestly, a fairly surreal illustrator, and the Club chose to avoid some of the “grisly surrealist suggestiveness” of many of the one hundred and two drawings left to John Linnell, the person who commissioned Blake to conduct this project back in 1824. Blake intended to engrave all of them, but his passing in 1827 left only seven finished engravings and the bunch of sketches. Linnell paid Blake a fairly nice sum of two to three pounds a week while he worked on these illustrations, but they ultimately came to naught, as Linnell chose not to use the unfinished artwork and merely retained the pieces in his collection. His family managed to keep these treasured sketches and engravings safe, and in 1918 the family sold off the assortment of Blake’s work to a multitude of scholarly institutions. Reproductions were made for subscribers, and George Macy (or one of his associates) happened to be one of those subscribers. Wanting to avoid comparisons to Gustave Dore’s Bible, which Macy describes as a child experiencing “nightmare after nightmare as a result of looking at the grisly pictures in the Dore Bible!“, Macy narrowed the selections down to 32 drawings and one engraving for the Heritage Divine Comedy — none of which he deemed too “grisly”. Macy also chose to tint the artwork for each section: a “hot red” for Inferno, a “warm brown” for Purgatory, and a “cool blue” for Paradise. The engraving is reproduced exactly as it was in the print from the original reproduced book.

Production details are lacking in…well, detail. I can tell you the font (Bembo), the binding (a dynamic red cloth with a sharp black design mimicking the ecclesiastics from Dante’s period, featuring a pomegranate motif popular in that time), and that Sir Emery Walker was the original reproducer of the Blake illustrations before they were subsequently reproduced in a smaller scale via photogravure for this edition. I can also tell you that the text design is pretty much borrowed from the LEC edition, as best as I can tell, making Mardersteig the partial designer of this book. Beyond that, unless someone has some other piece of paraphernalia, I can’t tell you much more about it.






Title Page – The text utilizes Dr. Melville Best Anderson’s translation, which the Sandglass notes was also used by the LEC to create their Divine Comedy. Anderson apparently revisited it for the Heritage version with some emendations, if I’m reading Macy’s words properly. Notes were also provided by Anderson. Arthur Livingston was called upon to write an Introduction to the text, and as the title page proclaims, this is the first public printing of William Blake’s Divine Comedy sketches.

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

Personal Notes – I’ve had this book since 2012 I believe. I got it at Carpe Diem Rare Books in Monterey, alongside my lovely Penguin Island starring Frank C. Pape’s artwork. Lovely shop with very kind owners. The binding won me over; what a lovely cloth this is! Blake’s style is not really my cup of tea, but it’s certainly unique and bizarre and fascinating to look at, so I’m quite happy to have this edition in my collection.

Sandglass (right click and select Open in New Tab to see full size):


Limited Editions Club: Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1952)

April 10, 2015 Comments Off on Limited Editions Club: Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1952)

Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1952)
LEC #230/21st Series V. 10 in 1953
Artwork: Lithographs in color by Lynd Ward
Introduced by Henry Van Dyke
LEC #42 of 1500. LEC exclusive. A Heritage exclusive version of this work, featuring Robert Ball’s illustrations, was issued in 1939.

Click images to see larger views.


Front Binding – Our latest LEC is the lovely 1952 offering Idylls of the King, by the lauded poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. However, this was not the first time Macy published this loving epic to the heroics of King Arthur and the Round Table; in 1939, the Heritage Press issued their own edition starring the artistic talents of Robert Ball. If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a slight tangent, as Ball is a bit of curiosity in the Macy canon. He was called upon to do more Heritage exclusives (Idylls, The Compleat Angler and Bleak House) than he was for LECs (Waverly), which is unusual. But let’s return to the book in question (I can go into Ball’s career more when I get a book featuring him). The LEC Idylls was the first Tennyson outing for the Club; Cardevon Press would issue his Poems in 1974 with Reynolds Stone providing the art. And that is that for Tennyson; three books isn’t shabby, but perhaps a little skimpy for one of Britain’s more famous poetic figures.

Someone who was not a stranger to the LEC (and is not at all skimpy in their output!) is the talented Lynd Ward, whose work has been frequently covered here on the blog already. It has been some time, though; Les Miserables was the last post starring Mr. Ward, and that was in 2012! That post just so happens to cover his bibliography with the two presses as well. Ward is easily one of my favorite illustrators, and this book furthers my commitment that he was among the finest artists of the 20th century, if not in human history (alongside Fritz Eichenberg). For this book, as with The Innocent Voyage, Ward utilized color lithographs, and the process is once again astounding in its execution. Six months of work generated forty eight lithographs, with each color representing its own unique plate per illustration. Since most of these lithographs are at least five colors, that is a herculean two hundred and forty individual plates Ward created, and then he magically put together correctly to form the beautiful illustrations in this book. If one plate was out of order, then the entire illustration was botched! It’s almost unbelievable to fathom the dedication and care Ward utilized for these complex art pieces.

With the author and illustrator covered, let’s focus in on this lovely book’s production details. Carl Purlington Rollins came out of retirement to design this volume for the LEC, and the letter has a fairly rich biography of his career on Page 4. His touch can be seen earlier here for the Heritage Walden and the Heritage Crime and Punishment. Yale University’s printing office handled the printing of the text on a special Curtis paper specifically made for the LEC called Colophon Text. The font is indirectly stated to be of the Baskerville family, with the text initials coming from the Goudy family. Russell Rutter was the bindery. Ward’s lively lithographs were printed by the Duenewald Printing Corporation. Red buckram is the primary cloth for the boards, with a sheepskin leather for the spine. The vermilion spine features excellent renderings of Arthur and Guinevere on each side done by Ward and stamped in with gold leaf, which also is featured in the classy spine text.

Macy notes that this is the “magni opi” of Tennyson and Lynd Ward; I’ll let you be the judge. I’m not too sure Macy’s far off in his assessment!


Back Binding






Title Page – Henry Van Dyke was called upon to introduce the book. The Heritage version, meanwhile, lacks any formal introduction (thanks to Django6924 for checking his copy for me). Anyway, isn’t this a lovely title page? This may be one of my all-time favorites of the Macy canon.


Colophon – Ward signed the work, and you can see that this is #42. I think this is the “youngest” book I have in terms of rank.

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

Personal Notes –
This too was a bit of a calculated risk, like Fathers and Sons. I ordered it off of ABEBooks for the low price of $20 (plus shipping), and all and all I’m very happy with it. There is a former owner’s inscription in it, but beyond that it was on par with all of my other LECs, and I’m thankful I took the chance on it! It’s nice to have a second signed Ward in my collection, and it’s a doozy, too!

LEC Monthly Letter (right click and open in new tab for full size):

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