Limited Editions Club/Heritage Press – The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1930/1940)

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1940)
Sandglass Number 11L
Artwork: Woodcuts by Fritz Kredel
Introduced by Edward Hutton, translated by Anonymous in 1620
Also printed as a special two volume LEC in a limitation of 530 copies, signed by Kredel. The LEC first published The Decameron in 1930, #7 of Series 1, featuring the artwork of T.M. Cleland and the modern English translation of Frances Winwar (see below).

Click images for larger views.

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Front Binding – The Decameron is our next highlight of the Heritage Press. A little background on the book’s publishing history is in order! In the very first series of the Limited Editions Club, The Decameron was produced with T.M. Cleland’s design and decorative skills and a modern verse translation by Frances Winwar. I’ve appended this post to feature that edition below.

When the Heritage Press got going, George Macy wanted to revisit The Decameron for that readership. Macy had released a limited run of The Decameron as a special offering to LEC members in 1940, on which this edition is based. He appointed Mr. Fritz Kredel, a man who needs little introduction on this blog by now (but in case you do, here’s a post with his extended tenure working for the Macys), to render period-appropriate decorations to serve as illustrations for this new work. However, despite having copyright over Winwar’s translation, Macy felt that the period-apropos work of Kredel clashed with the modernity of Winwar’s words. So, he went way back to the very first English translation of the text, done anonymously in 1620, to serve as a proper contrast to Kredel’s woodcuts. It also returns two chapters omitted from 1620 that were considered too “racy” back then with a simple modern English translation (no idea if it’s Winwar’s or not). Ultimately, 530 copies of the premium Kredel Decameron were issued to LEC members in 1940, making it the rarest limitation of any Macy-era LEC. There is no Heritage edition of the earlier Cleland/Winwar collaboration.

I’ve included a special bonus in the Sandglass section of the post; an official announcement issued in 1948 regarding the switch of some of the titles in the Heritage program. Now, one will notice rather quickly that 1940 is not the same year as 1948. I can’t explain the inner workings of the Company, but it would appear to me that the LEC edition shipped out in 1940, and that a potential Heritage edition may have been benched until 1948, as Macy sure is making it sound like The Decameron was not issued to the Heritage Press until then. Regardless, it’s a glimpse into the scheduling background that readers rarely get to see in the publishing world, and worth a look for those curious about Macy’s operations.

A final note on the author before we touch on the design; Giovanni Boccaccio published other works beyond The Decameron, but that was all the LEC or Heritage Press offered. Still, it’s always an honor (in my view) to get your work printed twice by the same high-end publishing house.

Design-wise, the design of the type for this edition was handled by Mr. Macy himself. Kredel was the designer of the boards. Cloister (main text) and Centaur (title page and other decorative uses) are the fonts. West Virginia Paper Company supplied the paper. That’s as far as the Sandglass and book goes in revealing design elements!

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Slipcase

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Title Page – A lovely title page that was supposed to reflect the era of the Italian Renaissance; Kredel hit it out of the park, I’d say. Despite that, it’s interesting they refer to Boccaccio as John here. Edward Hutton has much to say on the work and the translation in his Introduction.

Examples of the In-text Decorations by Kredel (right click and open in new tab for full size):

Personal Notes – I got this as part of my volunteering at Second Time Around Used Books in Merced. The condition is a little rough, and the slipcase is barely together, but the bonus ephemera and scarcity of this book (I’ve only seen this particular copy in a store) made me snag it. I look forward to reading it sometime.

Sandglass and Announcement Letter (right click and open in new tab for full size):

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1930)
LEC #7/1st Series V. 7 in 1930
Artwork: Decorations by T.M. Cleland
Introduced by Burton Rascoe, with a modern English translation by Frances Winwar
LEC #1098 of 1500. This edition is a LEC exclusive.

Click images to see larger views.

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Front Binding – Now for the new content, the original 1930 edition of The Decameron! This was the seventh offering from the Limited Editions Club, and a high quality release that truly shines the spotlight on one of the more illustrative of Macy’s many book designers. Unlike the Heritage, it was issued in two volumes.

Not much more to add to Baccaccio’s comments from before, but we can talk a little about the aforementioned designer, T.M. Cleland, who got his start with this very book. His decorations are perfect for this edition, and highlights the very things I find most enjoyable about his work: an exquisite sense of placement. His title page is as usual spectacular, and his decorations suit the beginning of each “chapter” beautifully. You can definitely see the talent that would embellish many more LECs in the future here.

Design Notes – Cleland designed the book, as I noted. From the Quarto:

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Spine

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Slipcase

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Title Page – Astounding. I love Cleland’s title page designs; they bring me so much joy. Frances Winwar delivered a brand new modern translation to Macy for this edition, while Burton Rascoe wrote up an introduction.

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Colophon – This is #1098 of 1500, and Cleland signed the colophon.

Examples of Cleland’s illustrations (right click and open in new tab for full size):

Personal Notes – I got this on the same trip to Moe’s in Berkeley as the Jorrocks book I just wrote up on. This was definitely one of the high points of that trip!

Comparisons:

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Front Bindings

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Title Pages

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Example of the text/decorations

Updated 4/12/2020 by JF

1 thought on “Limited Editions Club/Heritage Press – The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1930/1940)”

  1. The Decameron was published in 1940 as one of three special LECs: the Decameron, Wind in the Willows, and The Gapes of Wrath. These are all hard to get in any kind of shape. I have the Rackham illustrated Wind, and it will be rebound this fall. I had to give $500 for it in bad shape, but it will look great when rebound. The Decameron is bound in that nefarious of all leathers, sheepskin, and I have never seen a copy that didn’t have rubbing or worse. The Grapes of Wrath is the only Benton illustrated book I don’t have. It’s rawhide binding makes it as suspect as The Decameron. Have been looking for a copy for about a year with no luck.

    The 1930 Decameron, I have. This was the first book Cleland did for Macy and it is unillustrated. Cleland did the rules and layout. He proved to Macy he could illustrate when he did Tristram Shandy. Cleland claimed he was related to John Cleland who wrote the 18th century soft porn novel Fanny Hill, and that he would like to illustrate Fanny, but Macy would have none of that in 1930.

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