Limited Editions Club: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1934/1946)

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1934)
LEC #62/6th Series V. 3 in 1934
Artwork: Decorations by George W. Jones
Translated and introduced by Frank Ernest Hill
LEC #268 out of 1500. LEC exclusive.

Click images to see larger views.

Front Binding – 
Hello friends! It’s time for another comparison post between different LECs of the same work, and this month’s post brings the original 1934 printing of Geoffrey Chaucer’s immortal The Canterbury Tales. After this, you can look at the later 1946 edition which brought in Arthur Szyk to illustrate the tales, but for now let’s focus on this one.

Chaucer’s literary importance to the English language cannot be understated, as his work stands as among the earliest remaining texts in the language and is considered “the father of English poetry”. So it’s little surprise to see his best known work come out in the first few years of the Club. In 1940, the LEC would issue Troilus and Cressida, which would reunite the author with this book’s designer George W. Jones (who I’ll get to momentarily); in 1946, the aforementioned second Canterbury was issued, and that was the last time his words were put to paper by the Club. The Heritage Press only reissued the latter Canterbury. However, I was just notified by fellow Devotee and friend Django6924 of a variant edition of the Canterbury Tales for the Heritage Press’ Illustrated Bookshelf subseries, which I’ll let him explain:

The Heritage Illustrated Bookshelf Tales From Chaucer. This slim volume uses the same binding as the HP version, the Szyk illustrations which in their reproduction are an exact match for the ones in the HP, but instead of the Hill translation, uses “selected tales told for young people by Charles Cowden Clarke.”

Clarke’s retelling is in prose, includes the Prologue and nine of the tales. The Prologue is abridged to only describing the characters in the related tales, and the more ribald tales, the Miller’s Tale and the Monk’s Tale, for example, are excluded. Some of the byplay between the characters is also cleaned up; when the Pardoner finishes his tale in the unexpurgated version, he offers his holy relics to the other members of the party for “a grote,” and to the Host first as he is the most sinful. He says he will let the Host kiss the holy relics and the Host replies:

Thou woldest make me kiss thyne olde breech,
And swere it were the relyk of a seint,
Though it were with thy fundament depeint!
But by the croys which that Seint Eleyne fond,
I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond (testicles)
Lat kutte hem of…
They shul be shryned in an hogges toord!

In the Tales From Chaucer, the Host just introduces the next character.

Jones wore many hats on this publication; not only was he the designer, but he also created and colored the decorative initial flourishments featured within, and served as the printer and binder. Jones operated his own printing shop, The Sign of the Dolphin, which handled such duties for this particular book. He created a few well known fonts such as Venezia, Granjon and Baskerville, and showed a talent for initial embellishments highlighted in this edition. He retired from his shop in 1938, but did come out of retirement for Troilus to mimic the design of this particular rendition. He also served as the designer for the Arthur Rackham illustrated edition of Dickens’ The Chimes in 1931. He passed away in 1942.

Design Notes – Here’s the Quarto‘s comments on this book:





Slipcase – This slipcase has the unusual distinction of having a lot of the basic publication info on its spine, as well as a handwritten limitation number. This was far more common on early LECs, I’ve come to realize.


Pre-Title Page – This book features an interesting feature of having two title pages. The first, which I’m calling a “pre-title” page, features the publication info, and a frontispiece of Chaucer. This is a pencil drawing Dorothy Woollard did based on a bust inside the Guildhall Library and Jones got permission to reproduce it from the “Chairman of the Library Committee of the Corporation of the City of London”. The signature is reprinted from the sole remaining one in the Public Record Office in London. Frank Ernest Hill served as the translator, editor and introduction provider — his work would be revised further for the 1946 edition. Macy did comment on Hill’s contribution in the Quarto above.


Title Page – Jones is incredibly talented at decorative initials! The title and author get the deluxe treatment here.


Colophon – This is #268 of 1500, and was issued with Jones’ signature.

Examples of Jones’ decorations (right click and open in new tab for full size):

Personal Notes – I got this from fellow devotee NYCFaddict earlier this year with a big lot of other titles. Definitely among the favorites I received this year!

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1934)
LEC #175/17th Series V. 1 in 1946
Artwork: Miniatures by Arthur Szyk
Translated and introduced by Frank Ernest Hill
LEC #1122 out of 1500. Heritage reprint also shown in this post.

Click images to see a larger view.

Front Binding (LEC on the left, Heritage on the right) – It’s been nearly 10 years since I wrote this post! It was also the very first comparative post I did on the blog, so it seems a little fitting I get to resurrect it to add another layer of comparison to it with the 1934 original! With this particular edition, quite a few changes took place to differentiate it from its earlier cousin. First off, George W. Jones was no longer alive, so he could not provide any of his design or decorative expertise. Second, Arthur Szyk, who literally just had his first production with the Limited Editions Club with The Book of Job issued two volumes before this one, would provide his incredible miniatures to Chaucer’s iconic characters. Third, the book would have a Heritage reprint that scales quite well against its fancier cousin, and fourth, George Macy himself would take on book design duties.

I just found out about a fifth difference! Thanks to the Devotees, I learned that the 1946 Tales removed the “Prioress’ Tale” from its collection of narratives. Devotee BionicJim noticed this:

There is a publisher’s note at the beginning stating simply that it has not been included, which seems to be news to the translator, Frank Ernest Hill, who also wrote the introduction dated March 1946. Here he states that his is the first “complete” translation, which isn’t relevant if The Prioress’s Tale isn’t included, and he even references the tale later in the Introduction while illustrating one of his points.

Django6924 replied with a well-reasoned hypothesis as to why it was cut:

The Prioress’s Tale (and her Prologue) is definitely in the 1934 LEC. I’m not sure about the statement that it is partially lost: although it may not be printed in more recent common editions (for the same reason it is omitted in the 1946 LEC), it is in The Riverside Chaucer (1987) which is the standard critical edition of Chaucer’s works, the 1986 3-volume Folio Society edition of the Canterbury Tales, as well as the 1992 Everyman’s Library edition.

Yes, as you point out, I’m sure Macy left it out due to sensibilities arising from the aftermath of the Holocaust. I will quote from Larry Benson’s introduction to The Prioress’s Tale in The Riverside Chaucer:

The Prioress’s Tale is a “miracle of the Virgin,” a very popular genre of devotional literature, and the story that she tells was widespread in medieval Europe…yet this tender tale is also a tale of violence; the Prioress seems to dwell on the sickening details of the child’s murder and the savage punishment meted out to his murderers…Even more difficult for the modern reader is the anti-Semitism the tale. In Chaucer’s time there were almost no Jews in England; they had been banished a hundred years before. The tale is set therefore in far-off Asia, and its Jews are the stock boogiemen of the fairy-tale-like miracles of the Virgin. The tale’s anti-Semitism is thus somewhat different from modern varieties. It nevertheless inevitably discomfits twentieth-century readers….

Seeing as Szyk himself was Jewish, it’s possible Macy didn’t wish to offend his artist, especially in the wake of the Holocaust.

Here’s the announcement letter from Macy for this edition:

I will provide a proper bibliography for Szyk early next year in my update to the Book of Ruth post. For funsies, let’s look at the Quarto comments on this release:



Title Page – The LEC edition went with a nice blue ink for its title page, while the Heritage ran with standard black. Otherwise, they’re about the same. Not too surprising, as this was common practice to drop color from Heritage rereleases. Frank Ernest Hill’s translation from the 1934 edition is reused here, but has further revisions, so it might be the definitive.

Introduction – The LEC continues to spice up its pages with color – blue and red are used throughout the text, while the Heritage reprint stays with black only. The LEC also has the added bonus of “feeling” the text with your hands (and by that, I mean that the ink rises above the page slightly, and you can notice the difference brushing the page with your hand), which is just incredible.

Signature Page – This was a copy from my old university’s library, and is #1122 of 1500. Szyk has a very nice signature, I must say.

Title Illustration – Flip the title page and you’ll see this decadent piece that Szyk did of the entire cast of the Canterbury Tales. The LEC original (top) is much more vibrant with its colors and detail, which isn’t much of a surprise. It’s a bit hard to tell in these shots, but the LEC artwork has a nice border around it that’s a light tannish color, and the text on the right or left of the portrait shares that attribute, as you’ll see below.

The Host

The Wife of Bath

Personal Notes – Nine years on and I’m still on the hunt for this one. Szyk’s titles for the LEC tend to be coveted items, so they usually run a pretty penny. Someday! Luckily, I was able to check out both the Heritage and LEC from UC Merced’s library back then for this post.

LEC Newsletter

Updated 11/24/2020 by JF

Limited Editions Club: The Pastoral Loves of Daphnis and Chloe by Longus (1934)

The Pastoral Loves of Daphnis and Chloe by Longus (1934)
LEC #52/5th Series V. 4 in 1934
Artwork: Illustrated with etchings by Ruth Reeves
Introduced and translated by George Moore
LEC #1173 of 1500. LEC exclusive.

Click images to see larger views.

Front Binding – This is a stunning binding; one of the finest and most well executed in the LEC in my opinion. George Macy felt similar, praising the release of The Pastoral Loves of Daphnis and Chloe as “a perfect text, an absolutely perfect translation, unutterably perfect illustrations, an exquisitely perfect type composed and printed with perfect craftsmanship upon a shudderingly perfect paper and cased in a perfectly lovely leather”. While I have yet to read this book, I find his assessment not far off the mark!

But before I go into design notes, let’s reflect upon the work itself. Daphnis and Chloe is a well regarded tale from the Ancient Greek writer Longus — little is known about him, alas — originating from the 2nd century AD (the monthly letter says fourth, but a fair amount of time and research has passed since the 1934 publication of this book). Nothing else is known to come from him, and this is the only time the LEC would print this work. It was never reprinted by the Heritage Press.

Its illustrator, Ruth Reeves, was not so much of an enigma. In fact, she was a leading textile pattern designer in America at the time, as well as an accomplished industrial designer. Reeves decided to toss her hat into the arena of book illustration via the Limited Editions Club’s contest for book illustration in 1932 (possibly the first one!). While her initial submission for Tyl Ulenspiegl did not win (that honor went to Richard Floethe), Macy was taken by her style and asked her if she would be interested in illustrating Daphnis and Chloe. She leaped at the opportunity (Macy indicates that the offer was “right up Reeves Street”), becoming the third woman to illustrate for the Club (following Zhenya Gay and Carlotta Petrina). Reeves promptly created 24 copper etchings that were then faced with steel for the 1500 reproductions to follow, with each needing to be done via hand press and cleaned each time; this translates to 36,000 pulls for the numbered copies alone, not to mention any with initials! This task was expertly handled by Charles Furth, who so happens to have been a LEC member from the beginning, and delivered to book designer and printer Porter Garnett in Pittsburgh. Although Reeves’ etchings were a big success and Macy spends a fair amount of ink praising them, Reeves never returned to do a second commission. She was fairly busy working on The Index of American Design for the Federal Art Project on top of her textile work, so it might just be the opportunity never presented itself for her to return to book illustration. She passed away in 1966.

Design Notes – Garnett, as noted above, as the designer:



Title Page – Reeves’ etchings really capture the essence of Ancient Greece art; I wish she had the chance to come back to do more for the LEC. The book’s other major contributor was George Moore, who translated the Ancient Greek into English and also provides a rather curious introduction written as a dialogue between him and a “Whittaker”, whoever that might be.

Colophon – This is #1173 of 1500, and signed by Reeves.

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

Personal Notes – I bought this from Moe’s earlier this year, and was not disappointed at all. In fact, this has become one of my favorites of all my LECs for its incredible binding and exquisite illustrations surrounded by sharply printed text. I think I can echo Macy’s sentiment that this is indeed the “nearly perfect book”.

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