Limited Editions Club: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe (1930)

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe (1930)
LEC #5/1st Series V. 5 in 1930
Artwork: Designs by René Clarke
Introduced by Joseph Wood Krutch
LEC #735 of 1500. Heritage Press Reprint available.

Click images to see larger views.

Front Binding – We return to the First Series with its fifth publication, the first from one of America’s premiere writers, poets and genre definers in Edgar Allan Poe. We have covered two of Poe’s Heritage reprints in the past on this blog; his Tales of Mystery and Imagination and his poems, both of which are high on my list of LECs I wish to acquire as I do enjoy Poe’s writings a great deal. The linked post on his Poems provides his LEC bibliography, which isn’t too much longer, sadly. As for this particular novel, the sole example of the form from the noted short story pioneer, it’s a seafaring adventure of a stowaway named Arthur Gordon Pym who undergoes several ordeals that cross over from realistic to surreal multiple times in the narrative. Poe himself didn’t look back on it fondly, calling it a “very silly book.” It is a bit of a gruesome tale (fitting for Poe, who brought the macabre into the medium with incredible brilliance), featuring cannibalism and intense violence, and was not reviewed favorably upon publication. However, it had a lasting legacy and inspired other masters such as Jules Verne, Herman Melville and Charles Baudelaire.

It must be noted that in a modern context the book is quite racist in its depictions of African and Native American characters; Toni Morrison’s criticism in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination of the book observes that “no early American writer is more important to the concept of American Africanism than Poe,” which is right on the mark. The “otherism” that Poe implies throughout is very symbolic of racial tensions going on in America around the time of its writing, and while the book was a critical flop, its depictions of such characters captures the animosity prevalent in many white individual’s heads in the 1800s towards people of color.

Moving on, its illustrator, René Clarke, who Macy gives praise for his distinctive line drawings within this book’s pages, delivers a striking set of illustrations heavy on black ink to create a strong, bold rendition of the horrors Pym witnesses. This impression led to a second commission to illustrate the legendary Goethe drama Faust in 1932, but it seems Macy rued that decision as his comments below do not give praise for this particular job, and Clarke would not return to produce additional books for the LEC or Heritage Press. In fact, the Heritage edition of Faust would become an Exclusive for that printing press featuring reproductions of Eugene Delacroix’s illustrations over the ones he had received from Clarke. Ouch.

Clarke’s main calling was as an advertising illustrator who, shortly before the LEC was founded, received Harvard University’s Edward Bok medal in 1928, which certainly would have caught Macy’s attention. He climbed up the ranks at Calkins and Holden, the ad company he resided at for much of his career, up to its President around the time Macy wrote his comments in the Quarto. It seems Clarke would not have been the sort to hold a grudge, however, as he was viewed as an especially gracious, unselfish and encouraging individual who would prop up other’s work over his own if he felt it was stronger. He passed away in 1969. Thanks to the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame for the help fleshing out his background.

Design Notes – Per the Quarto, Fred Anthoensen of the Southworth Press handled design duties for Pym:


Slipcase – Unlike many other slipcases issued by the LEC, Pym has a rather decadent one featuring multiple colors, gold leaf, and a splendid illustration of the boat Pym sails on during the tale. It is also numbered on the slipcase, a practice that fell out of favor as the LEC continued forward in years.

Title Page – Unstated here, Joseph Wood Krutch provides an introduction. It also has a very classical 1800s approach to its design as you can see here, which works well for it.

Colophon – This is #735 of 1500, and was signed by Clarke.

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

Personal Notes – Another of my First series acquisitions from last year, although I did once own the Heritage reprint of this a while ago. It’s nice to have a Poe in my LEC shelves finally, and I have two more to get (I’ve resigned myself to not likely own the Shiff-era Fall of the House of Usher as it’s pricey, haha).

Of Interest: Random House’s Edition of Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination

The second “Outside the Macy Sphere” book post is on Random House’s exquisite 1944 issuing of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, here simply titled Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. While the mystery and imagination have been exorcised from the title here, Fritz Eichenberg did his best through his woodcuts here to represent those fantastical notions. H. Wolff Book Manufacturing Company of New York printed up the work, and Margaret B. Evans served as the designer.


Front Binding – This is a nice, medium-sized book that was originally issued with a light blue slipcase, featuring a nice cerulean (if I’m mistaken, I apologize; I’m unfortunately quite familiar with the Crayola color wheel :0 ) fabric with black and gold stamps for the spine (as you’ll see below).




Title Page – Harvey Allen introduces the work, and, of course, Mr. Eichenberg serves up several woodcut illustrations that spice up most of the tales. He did one per tale from what I’ve noticed. Unfortunately, I do not have as many crisp shots as I would like for this post; only four of the six turned out really well, so I’ll likely add in a couple more whenever I photograph more books in the future.

Example Woodcuts by Eichenberg (right click to enlarge):

For contrast with the Macy publication, see here. Out of the two, I think both William Sharp and Eichenberg bring a chilling tone to their artwork in their own ways. I am quite fond of Eichenberg, as is well stated throughout this blog, but I feel Sharp also grasped the underlying terror and darkness swirling about Poe’s stories. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with either edition!

Heritage Press – Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe (1941)

Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe (1941)
Sandglass Number III:23
Artwork: Aquatints by William Sharp
Introduced by Vincent Starrett
Reprint of LEC #253, 23rd Series, V.  in 1941

Click images for larger views.


Front Binding – Two previously featured icons return to the Macy blog today: the author, Edgar Allan Poe, and the artist, William Sharp. We last saw Poe in the exquisite Hugo Steiner-Prag illustrated Poems; I detail out his LEC/HP career in that particular post. Here we have what many would consider his most enduring legacy to literature; his horror-fueled short stories. Many of the classics are included here: “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Black Cat”, “The Gold-Bug”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, “The Masque of the Red Death”, and plenty more. The marbled boards are perfect too; the coloring is ghastly!

William Sharp, last spotted doing the set of Samuel Pepys’ Diary, gleefully made his debut for the George Macy Company rendering these chilling tales in 1941. He definitely shows some versatility in his style; his later, more restrained pen drawings for Pepys and Rousseau’s Confessions greatly contrast against these more grisly interpretations of Poe’s imaginative narratives. Sharp provided the LEC edition of the book aquatint illustrations, which the Sandglass goes into great detail about. To summarize, the original artwork was done via engraving on a specifically prepared copper plate, and is then dipped in nitric acid to create the print in a watercolor-esque fashion. Photogravures of the originals were utilized for the Heritage edition.

Production details: the designer is unstated. Original Old Style serves as the main text, with English Caslon embellishments and Sylvan decorations. The red ink scattered throughout is called English vermillion. Printing was done by the Riverside Press on Crocker-Burbank Company paper (dubbed “Saturn” paper here). The stunning boards are of the Putois marbled paper family. The spine is gold-stamped.




Title Page – Vincent Starrett is the Introductory man for this set of stories. The use of red ink throughout the text is quite lovely.

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

Personal Notes – This book came from Carpe Diem Rare Books on my first visit there a few years ago. I paid $15 for it, which is a little more than I usually pay for Heritage titles, but it’s Edgar Allan Poe’s brilliant tales! The next book on my Non-Macy tab is the Fritz Eichenberg illustrated Tales; look forward to that!

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

125Wikipedia: Year 125 was a common year starting on Sunday of the Julian calendar.

Heritage Press – The Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe (1943)

The Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe (1943)
Sandglass Number Unknown
Artwork: Lithographs by Hugo Steiner-Prag
Prepared, Edited and Commentated by Louis Untermeyer
Part of the Heritage American Poets Series

Reprint of LEC #153/15th Series V. 1 in 1943

Click images to see a larger view.

Front Binding – Welcome to our first American Poets title!  There’s quite a few of these, all with the same bland boards on the front and back, saving its creativeness for an patriotic spine (which you can see below).  Louis Untermeyer (didn’t I just talk about him?) served as the Editor for this series.  Others include Longfellow, Bryant, Whittier, Dickinson, and Emerson (from a quick ABE Books scan), with Dickinson being the last LEC reprinted in 1952.  Poe’s was the first, originally done in 1943 by the Limited Editions Club and thus redone by the Heritage Press in this exclusive series.  Curiously, they omitted Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass despite the collection being among the most reprinted of any of Macy’s books.

Anyway, this is our first Edgar Allan Poe post, but there is no shortage of future posts about the Gothic master.  The fifth book the LEC ever produced was Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (which bizarrely had a Heritage reprint – a scarcity for a book done this early in the LEC lifeline!) in 1929.  In 1941 his Tales of Mystery and Imagination would be printed, followed up by this particular book in 1943.  With most everything major printed, Macy would retire from Poe’s works, but Sid Shiff revisited The Fall of the House of Usher in 1985 with its own edition.  I have Heritage copies of the first two, so expect those down the road.

Herr Steiner-Prag has been documented before for his work on Tartuffe – his full career with the George Macy Company is there (and will be revised in the future), but I will add here that this was his last LEC before his passing in 1945.  As usual, his work is astounding.

Spine – All of the American Poets books have this spine design.

Title Page – Steiner-Prag does a very good Poe portrait, that he does.  Untermeyer provides commentary to the poems on top of preparing and editing them, and that is a lovely logo of the Heritage Press Sandglass there!  I should scan that for the blog’s Gravatar.

Page 11 – A little more surrealist than Tartuffe, but amazing none the less.

Page 15

Personal Notes – I got this one for $5 in Jamestown, California this past summer.  It has no Sandglass or slipcase, but the book was in nigh-perfect condition, and it was $5.  I tend to not pass up books that low for documenting!…although I am keeping this one thanks to how nice it is.  With any luck I’ll get a slipcase and Sandglass in the future for it.

If you have a LEC of this book or a Sandglass for the Heritage New York printing, please drop me a line here or through the comments at my thread about this blog at the George Macy Devotees @ LibraryThing!  I could use extra insights into this book.  Thanks!