Limited Editions Club: Oedipus by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1989)

Oedipus by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1989)
LEC #547/49th Series V. 4 in 1989
Artwork: Photogravures by Marie Cosindas
Introduced by the author, translated by Leila Vennewitz
LEC #151 of 650. LEC Exclusive.

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Front Binding – If a single book could showcase the incredible shift of focus between the eras of George Macy and the Cardevon Press to Sid Shiff, perhaps Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Oedpius is a contender for such a change. Shiff’s tenure from 1978 to 2010 drastically transformed the Limited Editions Club from its origins and its recent (mis)handling from Cardevon into a force to be reckoned with once again. The titles selected became increasingly recent, spotlighting far more women, people of color and other marginalized voices in literature and art, and reduced the subscriber count gradually to a very exclusive 300 for most of Shiff’s ownership and made the books Livres d’Artiste — an “artist’s book” of the highest quality and prestige. While I’ve covered Shiff’s books in the past: The House of the Dead, The Secret Sharer and The Adventures of Simplicissimus, Oedpius is closest to the breaking point where Shiff finalizes his ambitions in redefining the LEC. Released in 1989, this title reprints Swiss author/dramatist Dürrenmatt’s play Der Mitmacher‘s (commonly translated to The Physicists) postscript as both introduction and main body of this edition for the first time in English. It’s a curious choice to ignore the play entirely (especially considering it is his best known piece of literature!) to focus on a philosophical essay on a topic tangibly connected to its anchor of a publication, but it does reveal much about where Shiff’s intentions for the next two decades of the LEC would take its membership.

Dürrenmatt would only see this edition and died shortly after its publication in 1990, but he is also well regarded for Romulus the Great and The Visit.

This edition also spotlights the shift in the artistic direction. Photographer Marie Cosindas, a disciple of Ansel Adams until her urge to utilize color redefined her vision for much of her career, was recruited to provide two photogravures to accompany Dürrenmatt’s essays, and the black and white prints included are exquisite shots that capture the general sense of Oedipus as Sophocles’ rendered the character centuries ago. This would be her only contribution as well. Shiff’s publications would typically reproduce its art/photos at a exquisite quality and feature far fewer illustrations than the Macy family’s tenure or Cardevon Press’ typical sampling, which Shiff used to make the LEC’s transition towards Livres d’Artiste even more desirable. Exclusive, high-end prints of modern artists helped raise the subscriber cost for a huge reduction in book quantity; over the 1980s the traditional 12 volumes a year were trimmed to 4 by 1990, and even that was slashed to one to two a year until the 2000s, where entire years might pass by before the next LEC was published. Definitely a different perspective than George Macy, but it worked well for Shiff, who found the Club a profitable enough venture to keep it going until his death in 2010.

Design Notes – Ben Shiff, Sid’s son, handled design duties for this one. I did get the ML for this book, so let me share the production details:

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Slipcase

Title Page – Dürrenmatt provides a reprinted introduction to his own work; this was not a common practice for the LEC, but always novel when it did happen. Leila Vennewitz served as a translator.

Colophon – This is #151 of 650, and was signed by Dürrenmatt and Cosindas. It was around the mid 1980s that Shiff reduced the limitation count from 2000 down to a far more limited number; The Secret Sharer was back to the traditional 1500 in 1985, while Oedipus was 650 by 1989. In the 1990s and most of the 2000s the limitation was capped at 300 and had less members than that active, so copies were available to purchase for non-members for several books (and some are still for sale by the LEC via their website). The final book of the LEC, The Declaration of Independence issued in 2010, had 500 copies produced, which was a bit of an anomaly but perhaps Shiff knew it was going to be his last volume before his death.

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

Personal Notes – I got this from Powell’s Books online in 2020, but it was accidentally listed as Oedipus the King and I was under the impression it was the more famous Sophocles rendition of the myth which the LEC published in 1956…but I got this Shiff edition instead. For a bit of a song, might I add. It’s always neat to pick up a Shiff-era book as I don’t expect to find them at decent prices very often, and to get one complete with monthly letter and slipcase is even sweeter. I wish more of Cosindas’ beautiful photography was featured, but beyond that I’m happy I have this.

Limited Editions Club: The Adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus by Johann Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (1981)

The Adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus by Johann Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (1981)
LEC #514/45th Series V. 11 in 1981
Artwork: Wood engravings by Fritz Eichenberg
Translated and Introduced by John P. Spielman
LEC #1116 of 2000. LEC Exclusive.

Click images to see larger views.

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Front Binding – It’s been a little while since we’ve covered a Shiff edition (The Secret Sharer way back in early 2020), so I think it’s high time to return to his tenure with one of my personal highlights: 1981’s The Adventures of Simplicius Simplicissimus by Johann Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen. Grimmelshausen penned the tale in his native Germany in 1669 to general acclaim, serving as Germany’s answer to Don Quixote and Robinson Crusoe. Witty, imaginative, and critical, Grimmelshausen’s work took nearly 300 years to receive a full English translation, which arrived in 1912. Two later stabs took place in the 1960s, but none ever delivered the full text until this edition emerged in 1981 with John Spielman’s handiwork rendering the sardonic text into English.

Grimmelshausen’s primary career was an estate agent and tavern keeper, ending up as mayor of the small town of Renchen thanks to his father-in-law’s influence. However, his passion was in writing, and spent many of his free hours primarily at his desk crafting stories. Beyond Simplicissimus, his best known work was The Vagabond Courasche, made contemporary by Bertolt Brecht’s drama Mother Courage. At the age of 54, in the middle of his return to serving in the military as he did in his youth, he passed away of unstated causes. This would be his only LEC, but it’s a stunning one!

The illustrator, meanwhile, needs little introduction at this point: it’s Fritz Eichenberg, legendary engraver and artist who had the longest run in the role in the LEC canon. Beginning his run in 1939 with Richard the Third for the LEC Shakespeare (however, he truly began working with George Macy in 1938 with the Heritage Crime and Punishment), this would be his third to last commission before his death in 1990. He was 82 when Shiff approached him for this task, and he delivered some of his most detailed and beautiful handiwork in Simplicissimus. A complete bibliography can be found here.

Design Notes – I got the letter with the announcement with this copy so I’ll let that speak for me:

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Antonie Eichenberg is Fritz’s wife, by the by, and it’s absolutely delightful both collaborated on this book. Personally, the design is among my favorites in the Shiff period, with the classy embossed cover and 18 amazing full page wood engravings from Eichenberg. It’s also huge!

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Closeup of Emboss

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Spine

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Slipcase

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Title Page – John P. Spielman handled translation duties for this one, and provides an uncredited introduction as well. Shiff considers it essential to best understand the text!

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Colophon – This is #1116 of 2000, and was signed by Eichenberg.

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

Personal Notes – This is another I bought from Devotee NYCFAddict a few years ago. This one is definitely among the ones I was really ecstatic to pick up, and seeing its glories made my hopes seem small in comparison, haha. Definitely among my favorites of the Shiff period.

Video Series #2 – Man and Superman and The House of the Dead

Welcome to the second video for the George Macy Imagery Video Series, a look back on my very first Limited Editions Club book I ever owned, Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw! Since this is for the 10 year anniversary of the blog, I also share my LEC edition of The House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and discuss my purchases from Bookhaven/Old Capitol Books in Monterey!

For the original post on these books:
Man & Superman: https://georgemacyimagery.wordpress.c…
The House of the Dead: https://georgemacyimagery.wordpress.c…

Thank you for watching!

Limited Editions Club: The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad (1985)

The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad (1985)
LEC #535/47th Series V. 10 in 1983-1985
Artwork: Etchings by Bruce Chandler
Introduced by Ian Watt
LEC #1315 of 1500. LEC exclusive.

Click images to see larger views.

Front Binding – Happy 2020, dear readers! It’s hard to believe this blog will be hitting its 10th anniversary in December. I’ve been collecting LECs and Heritage Press titles for a little longer than that, but I can say that the passion for tracking down and documenting these books has been part and parcel of running the Imagery, and I want to thank everyone I’ve met along the way who has provided information, comments, or even books on this journey. A more elaborate anniversary post will come much later in the year.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks and discuss the SECOND Sidney Shiff-era book I’ve covered in these ten years: Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer. Shiff’s ownership began in 1978, and he transitioned the Limited Editions Club from Cardevon’s higher subscription count and slightly downgraded publications compared to the Macy family over the 1980s into Livres d’Artiste editions with highly renowned artists and mostly contemporary works of fiction, poetry and prose, with hugely reduced subscription counts and far more exquisite materials utilized for his books. Looking at the bibliography, you can observe the books produced in each series to slowly reduce in count and increase in the years covered over the 80s, with the 1990s dissolving the series idea altogether and entire years going by with no books being issued. Because of all of these factors, it can be difficult to come across Shiff’s titles in the LEC due to their lower limitations and inflated pricing. Thus, why I’ve infrequently covered his tenure of the Club. In fact, the very last time I did was in December 2010 with the 1982 edition of The House of the Dead!

Conrad, however, was not an infrequent author in the LEC — eight books in total were issued by the Club beginning with Lord Jim in 1959, starring the talents of Lynd Ward; next came Nostromo, featuring Lima de Freitas’ illustrations and issued in 1961; next was The N***** of the Narcissus* in 1965 with art from Millard Sheets; Heart of Darkness, perhaps Conrad’s most resounding novel, came next in 1969 with Robert Shore serving as artist; a collection of three shorter stories, Youth, Typhoon, and The End of the Tether, would come in 1972 with Shore returning as its visualizer; Shore would go to bat one more time with 1975’s issuing of An Outcast of the Islands; next was The Secret Sharer in 1985, followed up with a second attempt at Heart of Darkness in 1992, with modernist painter Sean Scully’s abstractions serving as its decor. An interesting fact about Conrad is his name — he was born Joseph Theodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski, which was shortened to Joseph Conrad after joining the English Merchant Navy once he had departed his native Poland. His days in the Navy took him to Colombia, Haiti, Australia and what is now Congo (the inspiration for Heart of Darkness), eventually settling in Kent in the UK and beginning his author career.

For this book, Shiff recruited Bruce Chandler to do some etchings — three total are included, and they’re pretty smashing, I have to say. Chandler also contributed to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman LEC, which was issued in 1984. His three etchings diversify in technique and execution, and were even printed at different print shops: the first, a surface roll mostly of blue inks, was printed at the Heron Press, Chandler’s own printery; the second, featuring aquatint, line etching, roulette and burnishing, was done at Water Street Press by Maureen Kane; with the third, a drypoint printed with a roll of a sand color, handled by R.E. Townsend.

Design Notes – Ben Shiff and Bruce Chandler served as co-designers for this book. As one might surmise, Ben is indeed the son of Sid Shiff, and the two did collaborate on several books in the 1980s. Darrell Hyder served as the printer, placing the text on 100% cotton mould-made letterpress paper supplied by Cartiere Enrico Magnani, based in Pescia, Italy. The font is 13 point Monotype Van Dikck, created by the Mackenzie-Harris Corporation of San Francisco. The prints were printed on hand-made printmaking paper from the same shop. General Bookbindery handled the bindery details, with the cover and casing-in done by Denis Gouey (his first for the LEC). The binding is handwoven silk from Thailand with an inlay of goat leather from Nigerian Oasis, with the title stamped in gold. The box was created by Jovonis Bookbindery.

The design of this book reminds me a lot of journals I came across in my museum collections job; a elegantly simple but classy binding in blue, with the title gold stamped placed top center on a goat leather strip, and nothing at all on the spine. Really does feel like a piece of history taken from a ship’s library, and I kind of love it.

Spine

Slipcase

Title Page – The title is printed in blue, which my photograph doesn’t express super well, so my apologies. Ian Watt provides an introduction.

Colophon – This is #1315 of 1500, and Chandler signed the colophon.

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

Personal Notes – As seems to be usual as of late, this is yet another wonderful donation from a blog fan who continues to amaze me with their kindness. My everlasting thanks.

*- Note: I refuse to utilize the full spelling of the word “n*****” on this blog. As a person who is of European ancestry keenly aware of the horrific and racist history of the term due to my academic discipline in anthropology, I feel it is wildly inappropriate for me, as someone who is white and likely descended from people who may have owned slaves at some point, to type it out given its ramifications, even though it is a title of a written work and does not reflect my opinion or perspective in any way by retyping it. It is a principal I deeply carry out of respect for anyone of African heritage who may come to my blog to feel that this is a safe space for them to peruse. I hope you understand my reasoning for choosing to censor.