Limited Editions Club: The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard by Anatole France (1937)

The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard by Anatole France (1937)
LEC #96/9th Series V. 1 in 1937
Artwork: Illustrations by Sylvain Sauvage
Translated by Lafcidio Hearn, Introduced by A.S.W. Rosenbach
LEC #278 of 1500. LEC Exclusive.

Click images to see larger views.


Front Binding – Sylvain Sauvage’s trilogy of similarly designed LEC editions comes to its conclusion with Anatole France’s The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, following At the Sign of the Queen Pedauque and Cyrano de Bergerac. France and Sauvage would reconnect one last time for the Heritage Press with an exquisite exclusive of Penguin Island (a book I still need to add to my collection!) in 1938. Both author and artist have been extensively covered here on the blog, with Revolt of the Angels and Zadig respectively covering their bibliographies for the two Clubs.

That being said, this is one of France’s more realistic and grounded works in contrast to the fantastical Penguin Island and The Revolt of the Angels. This could be due to it being his first published novel in 1881 following a writing career as a poet. The book follows its titular protagonist, a historian and professor, as he tracks down a rare tome of the French translation of The Golden Legend, a collection of biographies of various saints written by Jacobus de Varagine in the late medieval period (this is where “St. George and the Dragon” comes from, for instance). In the process of finding this work, Bonnard meets Jeanne, the granddaughter of a woman he knew and loved earlier in life. Jeanne is currently under the care of an abusive guardian, so Bonnard hides her away to protect her and in the process a love story forms between her and one of Bonnard’s students, Henri Gells.

George Macy (and Helen Macy, for that matter) seemed to greatly enjoy France’s work, as three more LECs would follow (without Sauvage) — Penguin Island in 1947 with Malcolm Cameron’s illustrations, Crainquebille in 1949 featuring art from Bernard Lamotte, and The Revolt of the Angels in 1953 republishing Pierre Watrin’s commission from Calmann-Levy. The Heritage Press would follow along in the admiration by doing their own aforementioned 1938 Penguin Island as well as The Gods are A-Thirst in 1942 with Jean Oberlé’s artistic sensibilities for its French Great Romances series. It’s among the easier ways to acquire France’s work in English these days, as the Heritage Press reprinted everything after Crime from the LEC as well.

Design Notes – Edward Alonzo Miller of the Marchbanks Press was handed the last of these Sauvage editions to design, of which he kept up the general aesthetic quite well with providing a few of his own unique touches.



Back Binding





Title Page – Lafcadio Hearn handled translation duties for Crime. Well known for his folklore collection Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, he performed this translation in 1890 for Harper and Brothers. A.S.W. Rosenbach provides an introduction.


Colophon – This is #278 of 1500, and was signed by Sauvage.

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

Personal Notes – I picked this up at the same time I received Queen Pedauque from an online order at Powell’s. As a big fan of both France and Sauvage I needed these! While the slipcase is a little banged up, the book is nearly perfect and I will be trying to sit down to read this later in the year!

Limited Editions Club: The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi by Richard F. Burton (1937)

The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi by Richard F. Burton
LEC #92/8th Series V. 9 in 1937
Artwork: Decorations and illuminations by Valenti Angelo
Preface and Notes by Richard F. Burton
LEC #661 of 1500. LEC exclusive.

Click images to see larger views.

Front Binding – Happy Holidays readers! Before 2020 closes, we have one last book to cover, and it’s a fine way to conclude a solid year of book blogging: The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi by Richard F. Burton. Published in 1937, this is the second in a subseries of books where book illustrator extraordinaire Valenti Angelo created fully decorated miniature editions of literary works based in the Middle East; the first was The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in 1935; following this was Vathek: An Arabian Tale in 1945 and The Book of Psalms in 1960. These all had a unique styling to them; leather bindings with intricate embossing of an Angelo design, a chemise along with a slipcase, and BEAUTIFUL interiors with heavily decorated pages with hand illuminated art done individually by Angelo himself. George Macy held the Rubaiyat as one of the great successes of the Club, much to his surprise. So it’s little wonder that Angelo would return to the design motifs of that edition with The Kasidah, Vathek, and the Book of Psalms.

Let’s touch on this text a bit before diving into the design further. The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi is in actuality an original poem created by British adventurer and Arabist Richard F. Burton, who created quite a mythos behind its publication to distance himself from the authorship. Per Wikipedia:

The Kasîdah of Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî (1880) is a long English-language poem written by “Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî”, a pseudonym of the true author, Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890), a well-known British Arabist and explorer. In a note to the reader, Burton claims to be the translator of the poem, to which he gives the English title “Lay of the Higher Law.” It is thus a pseudotranslation, pretending to have had an original Persian text, which never existed. The Kasidah is essentially a distillation of Sufi thought in the poetic idiom of that mystical tradition; Burton had hoped to bring Sufist ideas to the West.

As the Translator, Burton signs himself “F. B.,” for Frank Baker, an English nom-de-plume from Francis (his middle name), and Baker (his mother’s maiden name). In notes following the poem, Burton claims to have received the manuscript from his friend Haji Abdu, a native of Darabghird in the Yezd Province of Persia. Describing Haji Abdu, Burton writes that he spoke an array of languages and notes that “his memory was well-stored; and he had every talent save that of using his talents” — an apt description of the true author.

This edition contains the Preface from “Baker”, as well as notes about the text that dive into its own meta about its creation. I suppose it’s in its own little self contained Burton universe, haha. Of course, Burton is best known for his work with The Arabian Nights Entertainments / The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, which was printed by the LEC twice; in 1934 with Angelo’s illustrations, where he did 1001 individual sketches! The Heritage reprint is covered here, and in 1954 with Arthur Szyk’s miniature paintings. And that is Burton’s bibliography with the George Macy Company.

Angelo, of course, is no stranger here; we’ve covered many of his editions, but still have several to go before I can say we’ve documented all of his contributions to the Company; he was prolific! As noted in my article on the most frequent LEC illustrators, he has 12 works to his credit, plus an additional 3 exclusives for the Heritage Press. We’ll be seeing Vathek next year.

Design Notes – Angelo was the designer of this edition. Per the QM:

As noted, it is a small book in a similar style with The Rubiyat, and Vathek and The Book of Psalms would follow in this design template.


Slipcase and Chemise

Title Pages – This is a unique edition as it has two title pages; one that serves as a more descriptive one, with Angelo, the LEC and the year featured; the following is a far more simple and decorative feast for the eyes. Unstated is Burton’s preface and notes under the guise of Baker.

Colophon – This is #661 of 1500, and was signed by Angelo.

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

Personal Notes – This was part of a lot I received from NYCFAddict, a fellow Devotee. I was delighted to discover these were much like Salome and The Song of Songs in their design; I love these intensely decorated pages, haha. This one is also in really good shape both with the book and the case; a boon with something as delicate as this! The book is a little stiff to open though; that’s why some of the photos are a little uneven. Apparently the original owner didn’t partake of its contents often.

Heritage Press: The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde (1937)

The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde (1937)
Sandglass Number V:17
Artwork: Stone lithographs by Zhenya Gay
Introduced by Burton Rascoe
Heritage Press Reprint of LEC #87/8th Series V. 5 in 1937

Click the picture to see larger images.

Front Binding – This is bound with leather product, as the Sandglass calls it – put together by combing off-cuts of skins into a hopper alongside plastic materials.  It’s called leatherlen, and is said to outlast standard leather.  The gray is intentional, meant to simulate a granite block.  It was stamped twice with two different dies, one sunk in to create the wall, and another embossed upon the cover for the bars.  Quite distinctive.  Designed by John S. Fass, who also designed the LEC edition of this book, as well as the LEC’s of Herman Melville’s Typee and Apulieus’ The Golden Ass.  He created his own press, the Hammer Creek Press, in 1950, and went on designing his own limited editions.  As usual, thanks to Django2694 for the info!

Zhenya Gay only worked on two Limited Editions Club titles, but she most certainly left a lasting impression with this and Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, done in 1930 as her first commission.  Following this Gay would cease her involvement with the George Macy Company, but she kept up illustrating for many more books, focusing on children’s titles and becoming keenly fascinated with animals, quite the switch from illustrating two of the darkest and more adult-oriented books in the Macy canon.

As for Oscar Wilde, I get into his publishing history in my Salome post.  I will state here that this was the first work of Wilde’s done by the LEC or Heritage Press, and what a book it is.

Title Page – Gay was an ideal choice for this book’s illustrations.  Her haunting style fits the dark poetry Wilde crafted while in Reading Gaol perfectly.  The type was designed by John S. Fass, and the Heritage edition duplicates the LEC pages via photography of the original proofs.  The type itself is Egmont, imported from Holland and created by S. H. de Roos.  Burton Rascoe provides the introduction.  Lastly, the paper was supplied by the International Paper Company, and is supposed to last for two centuries at minimum.  This was a book meant to last, it seems.

Page 1 – Among my favorite illustrations in any Heritage/LEC book.  Incredible.

Page 27

Personal Notes – This I picked up at my hometown’s library in Mariposa, I believe. The cover caught my eye, and the amazing art committed me to a purchase.  I still consider it one of the better books by the press, after acquiring so many others following it.

Unlike Salome, which did little for me, I did enjoy this work a lot.  It’s by no means a happy piece, but it does provide a fascinating glimpse into a man watching another’s final days before his death, and is an exquisitely designed book.


Updated 9/17/2011