The Travels of Baron Munchausen by Rudolph Raspe and others (1929)
LEC #3/1st Series V. 3 in 1929
Artwork: Engravings by John Held, Jr.
Introduced by Carl Van Doren
LEC #995 of 1500. LEC exclusive.
Click images for a larger view.
Front Binding – The Travels of Baron Munchausen, printed twice by the George Macy Company (with slightly different names) is a collection of outlandish tales of a fictional Baron Munchausen, who came up with some whoppers to tell his distinguished colleagues. Of course, the Baron insists that they were all true! The character was penned by Rudolph Raspe, a German librarian/scientist/author who was considered “a rogue” in his time. His Wikipedia page is quite the read, I have to say! While employed at the University of Kessel, Raspe went out on a business trip to acquire rare texts for the library’s collection of the Landgrave of Hasse-Kassel…only to be caught selling the very valuable items he was supposed to be archiving! Forced to retreat to England in disgrace, he made a meager living translating and publishing books on various topics, getting into mining (which is also fraught with illegal activities such as “salting” veins on properties he was assaying), and penning the tales set before us today among other works in geology and art. Raspe seems to have lived a life not too dissimilar from his famous fictional telltale teller! Outside of the two editions of the Tales, that would be all Macy and the LEC would issue.
The first printing of these ribald tales was the third book the Limited Editions Club published back in 1929, with engravings by John Held Jr. and an introduction by longtime friend of George Carl Van Doren (who would appear in many other books under the George Macy Company umbrella). This edition was never reprinted as a Heritage edition, but the later LEC was (which we’ll get to in a bit). But let’s get into the meat of this particular edition, as it has a bit of a history behind its creation.
Longtime devotee and friend of the blog Django6924 shared the following about this book’s creation and its controversial illustrator in Held, Jr.:
Macy was never quite pleased, it seems, with the first LEC Munchausen–principally because he believed the illustrator, John Held, Jr., did not take his job seriously. Actually, it was a bold choice to use Held, who was famous for his comical portraits of flappers and 20s jazz babies and his New Yorker magazine covers to illustrate this piece of Germanic frivolity, and Macy probably thought the chance to do something of more than ephemeral interest would spur Held to create something extraordinary. That he did not is probably true, but what is also true is that viewed today, the illustrations have a good deal of charm and pungency, and their unusual color scheme I find most interesting. Although some have not found the binding to their taste, it is one of my dozen or so favorites of all the LEC bindings–just love those big fish and the marbled paper sides.
The source for the above quote is in the Quarto below; it doesn’t seem like Macy had much kindness to share about the book in hindsight. It would be the second in a row for Macy feeling like something was off about a book’s creation (as Leaves of Grass also fell short in his mind), which would sadly permeate several of the first series in his view. It definitely feels like Macy wanted to be provocative and daring with this book and it just didn’t come together as he envisioned. Held would not return for a second commission, unsurprisingly. I don’t necessarily feel the same as my good friend on the quality of the illustrations; while the bold yellow is certainly eye catching, Held’s linoleum cuts lack the detail, personality or whimsy of many other engravers who graced the LEC after him. I do concur on the binding though; it stands out from the other first series books as very exaggerated and bold, which works for a book planned from the start to be striking.
I do have to note that Munchausen visits several foreign countries in his exaggerations, and Held leans pretty hard into racist tropes of the time to depict the indigenous characters the Baron encounters in said countries.
Design Notes: William A. Kittredge handled design duties. Per the Quarto:
Title Pages – Here’s a taste of the bold yellows that spotlight the visual flourishes of Held’s illustrations. As noted before, Van Doren turned in his first introduction of several.
Colophon – This is #995 of 1500, and was signed by Held.
Examples of Held’s engravings (right click and open in new tab for full size):
Personal Notes – This came from ABEBooks sometime in 2022 when I was rapidly filling the gaps in the first series, haha. This was by far the most affordable copy I was able to find, but it’s got a fair amount of problems; foxing, imprints of the Held prints on the opposite page, the spine is a mess, and the binding is faded and lacking the color that made it pop so much in 1929. I would probably tag out this copy for another if I could find one reasonably. As for the book itself, I do have to admit it’s probably my personal bottom of the pile for the first series. I don’t care much for Held’s style, and I think I’d prefer the more complete 1952 edition for reading purposes.
The Singular Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Rudolph Raspe and others (1952)
Sandglass Number IV:17
Artwork: Illustrations by Fritz Kredel
Edited and Introduced by John Carswell, proclaimed the “Definitive” text
Reprint of LEC #221, 21st Series, V. 1 in 1952.
Click images for a larger view.
Front Binding – New York is on the left, Connecticut right.
In 1952 the Baron’s whimsical stories were revisited by the LEC, and that particular rendition did get a Heritage edition, the one you now see before you. This is declared the “definitive” edition of Munchausen, a claim the earlier LEC did not make. It might explain the change in title from “Travels” to “Singular Adventures”. John Carswell poured through the copious lore of the good Baron, and compiled everything original author Rudolph Raspe and a few copycats composed into this edition, making this the first time all of Munchausen’s tales were fully assembled in one place.
Fritz Kredel, who is no stranger to this blog, served as the illustrator for take 2 of the Baron’s exploits. Kredel is among the high end of Macy’s contributor list, with an incredible twenty individual jobs for the Limited Editions Club over a forty one year span. That’s a book every two years, and he wasn’t slouching in illustrating for other publishers, either. Busy man! Since this is a massive undertaking, I’m just going to list them:
Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1931)
Slovenly Peter by Mark Twain (1935)
The Life of Benvenuto Cellini (1937)
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1940, Heritage original, only 530 LEC editions issued)
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (1939/1940, part of the LEC Shakespeare)
Andersen’s Fairy Tales (1942)
The Rose and the Ring by William Makepeace Thackeray (1942)
The Republic by Plato (1944)
Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (Evergreen Tales, 1948)
The Complete Andersen’s Fairy Tales (1949)
King Henry V by William Shakespeare (1951)
The Singular Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Rudolph Raspe (1952)
The Warden by Anthony Trollope (1955)
Poems of Heinrich Heine (1957)
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope (1958)
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (1962)
Emma by Jane Austen (1964)
Four Plays of Christopher Marlowe (1966, with Albert Decaris)
The Book of Ballads (1967)
The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin (1971)
The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce (1972)
A fairly diverse list of authors he provided the backdrops for, huh? Kredel passed away in 1973, but he certainly left his impression on the LEC, no question.
The New York edition of the Heritage reprint was designed by both Kredel and George Salter. Salter handled the text, Kredel the illustrations. Salter went with Bell Monotype for the font, and there’s a slew of information on it in the Sandglass below. Kredel’s work in here is drawings colored with water-color inks, created by using hand-cut rubber plates. The Arrow Press was responsible for the illustrations, while The Ferris Printing Company printed up the text. Frank Fortney of Russell-Rutter fame was the binder. The marbled paper covering the boards were specially made by Jean-Pierre Putois of Paris, with the boards themselves made of English buckram. I know nothing of the Connecticut printing.
Django6924 chips in some additional info:
The Kredel-illustrated Munchausen is a lovely book, and the technique of using hand-cut rubber plates to apply water-color inks is a technique that Macy often employed for the Heritage Press reprints of LEC books which were hand-colored with stencils. I mentioned in an earlier post somewhere that this technique provides beautiful color, and is only inferior to the hand-colored version in that it is a too-perfect application of color–no variations in color value or thickness of application. I prefer it to the half-tone process that many other publishers used for color reproduction–which can produce color variations, but at the cost of the dot-screen “noise.”
Title Page – Carswell also wrote the Introduction for the work. You can learn much about Carswell in the below Sandglass.
Page 4 – I imagine the LEC features full-color illustrations, but Kredel’s charm still radiates from these illustrations. A good fit.
Personal Notes – I got this at Monterey’s BookBuyers, another part of the trade-in deal I got from them. It’s in very good shape, although that lovely marbled paper is not completely attached to the boards any more. I’ve read all of Raspe’s work in here, and it’s whimsical and entertaining. I’ve since traded it in, but I wouldn’t mind getting the LEC to match the earlier one!
Updated 2/14/2023 – JF