Limited Editions Club: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1969)

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1969)
LEC #418/37th Series V. 8 in 1969
Artwork: Wood engravings by Agnes Miller Parker
Introduction by John Bayley
LEC #1063 of 1500. Heritage Press reprint available.

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Front Binding – After the salacious Robinson Crusoe post last month that had mountains of text about the feud between Macy and Edwin Grabhorn (that pulled in Valenti Angelo for good measure), our book this month will seem a much calmer, straightforward affair, haha. That being said, it is definitely among the gems of the brief Jonathan Macy period of the Club in my view: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy with the woodcut majesties of Agnes Miller Parker. As I’ve noted before in our previous posts on Hardy, Parker served as the illustrator for all five of his novels produced by the Limited Editions Club and the Heritage Press, and this would be both the last Hardy novel and Parker’s final commission when it was issued in 1969. I cover both of their careers in the linked post discussing Far from the Madding Crowd.

Jude followed suit with Far from… by including a Japanese rice paper print issued to subscribers of one of Parker’s woodcuts, this time as a two-color print; alas, I did not have the good fortune of repeating my success as I did with Far from… in getting this with my copy, but it came otherwise complete. Curiously, this rice paper print was excluded from the Hardy novel in between these two, The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Design Notes – John Dreyfus was the designer for Jude, continuing on from Far from… and Casterbridge. Dreyfus looked back for some of the design motifs established by A.G. Hoffman’s Heritage exclusive The Return of the Native for Jude, including the font choice of Caledonia, the spine style, and, of course, the continued appearance of Parker’s woodcuts, considered essential by the Monthly Letter for the Hardy novels. It could be why the series ended here, as Parker herself never saw another commission come from Cardevon Press or Sid Shiff before her death in 1980. I do have the announcement for this book, which I’ll share now:



Title Page – A classy title page reveals John Bayley’s involvement as the book’s introduction author.

Colophon – This is #1063 of 1500, and was signed by Parker.

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

Personal Notes – After picking up Far from the Madding Crowd, I knew I wanted to collect all of the Parker illustrated Hardy novels (and…well, ANYTHING she’s done for the Club, haha), so this pickup from Powell’s definitely helped me get a bit closer! This is my second Parker signed edition and I still have quite a few to go to get to having them all…so I must have patience!

Heritage Press – The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (1964)

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (1964)
Sandglass Number Unknown
Artwork: Wood engravings by Agnes Miller Parker
Introduced by Frank Swinnerton
Reprint of LEC #353, 32nd Series, V. 3 in 1964

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Front Binding – Welcome to our third post on Thomas Hardy’s novels done up by the George Macy Company (The Return of the Native and Far from the Madding Crowd preceded this).  With my discussion on both Hardy and Agnes Miller Parker being well documented in those posts (and Parker elsewhere), we’ll just focus on the book.  I was not gifted a Sandglass with this book, but I do know who designed the later Jude the Obscure – John Dreyfus.  Odds are good that he designed this one as well based on A.G. Hoffman’s Native design from the ’40’s.


Title Page – Parker continues to wow with her work – I adore her woodcuts.  Anyway, Frank Swinnerton offers his thoughts for the introduction.

Page 3 – Parker did smaller chapter opener woodcuts on top of full-page ones.

Page 6 – Lovely stuff.

Page 42

Personal Notes – This copy was once mine, but it lacked a Sandglass and wasn’t in the greatest condition, so I sold it off.  Plan on reacquiring it in the future, though!

If you have a Sandglass or comparisons to the LEC original, 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!

Limited Editions Club – Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (1958)

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (1958)
LEC # 287, 26th Series, V. 8
Artwork: Wood Engravings by Agnes Miller Parker
Introduced by Robert Cantwell
#403 out of 1500

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Front Binding – Thomas Hardy’s second LEC, issued in 1958 two years after Tess of the D’Urbervilles, continues the stylistic motif established by its predecessor.  Curiously, in 1942 the Heritage Press started off this series with The Return of the Native, but the LEC never reprinted it for their members.  Agnes Miller Parker was the illustrator for it, too, and the design is identical – repeating art from Parker over the boards in a vibrant color (in this case purple), so who really knows what happened.  At any rate, in 1956 the LEC began their four book series of Hardy – following Far from the Madding Crowd was The Mayor of Casterbridge in 1964 and Jude the Obscure in 1969.

Mrs. Parker was among the more productive women artists on George Macy’s commission list, with a solid seven assignments for the LEC and two Heritage Press books.  She began with the lovely Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray back in 1938 (I have the Heritage of this, so look forward to it!), began her Hardy run with the aforementioned Heritage Return of the Native, and then had a brief hiatus until 1953, where her artistic talents were called on, alongside John Austen, for The Faerie QueeneShe then completed the four remaining Hardy novels, a Heritage compilation of Shakespeare’s Tragedies in 1958/59, and a Poems of William Shakespeare in 1967.  Jude the Obscure would be her final contribution to the Company.  She is quite well known for her George Macy Company output, which is deserving, as she shone brightly among the many astounding artists who provided artistic assets to the LEC and Heritage Press.

The book was printed at the University Press at Cambridge and designed by John Dreyfus, who would continue on to design Jude the Obscure as well. Unlike the later Jude, Dreyfus chose to do more of a unique interior and exterior, utilizing Monotype Goudy Modern as the primary font and featuring a less decorative spine design than many of the other Hardy novels. Despite this, the binding evokes the connection, as does the title page layout.

Spine – It’s leather, I can say that much!

Slipcase – The slipcase also has the Parker design from the boards on its sides, which is a nice touch.

Title Page – Robert Cantwell has written up the introduction, and Parker’s wood engraving of a stately manor sets the mood.  I haven’t read this book, but I’m curious as to how it goes thanks to Parker!

Signature Page – Parker’s signature is here (and it’s among the nicer ones!), and this copy is #403.  Studious viewers of this blog may recollect that number, and with good reason, as I’ve snagged several LEC’s from this member from my favorite bookshop.  Shame they seemed to make the letters vanish!

Signed Print of Page 5’s Woodblock – From what I can gather, every member was sent a Japanese paper print of Parker’s Page 5 woodblock, which Parker signed and dated.  Jude the Obscure would also be issued in the same manner.  The print sold me on the book – I love Parker’s work, and I’m trying to figure out some way of framing this that won’t damage it.

Page 17 – Dynamic rendering of a fairly static, ordinary exercise – that’s talent!

Page 37

Personal Notes – I bought this at my favorite book store in Monterey, California, for $80.  It’s currently the most expensive LEC I’ve purchased, but the print made it worth it to me, and it’s nice to finally have a signed Parker in my collection.

Updated 7/8/22 – JF

Heritage Press: The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1942)

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1942)
Sandglass Number Unknown
Artwork: Wood Engravings by Agnes Miller Parker
Introduced by John T. Winterich, with Hardy’s Preface and Postscript included
An Heritage Press exclusive, part of the Thomas Hardy collection.

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Front Binding – The other Hardy books put out by the Heritage Press tend to repeat an artistic motif that represents the book done by Agnes Miller Parker (Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Caster Bridge do for certain, as I own those, and I believe I’ve seen Tess of the D’Ubervilles run with the same idea), the series’ illustrator, but this one does not.  It instead relies on a fairly sterile piece of brown cloth.  Not the most pleasing book in the Press’ history.  However, there may be a good reason as to why this book lacks a more dynamic cover:

Django2694’s Copy

This one shares a similar styling to my other two Hardy novels.  His was printed in the Netherlands, while mine was composed and printed at Quinn & Boden Company in Rahway, New Jersey, and bound by Russell-Rutter, based in New York.  I noticed that the LEC did not print a version of this novel, so I asked Django if he had any insights.  Here’s what he has to say about that, his copy of the book, as well as the possibility as to why there’s differences between our two books:

In answer to your question about why the LEC didn’t do The Return first…I don’t know, and the Sandglass (Number 5LX in my copy) offers no help either. (Hardy had not yet achieved the popularity that he was to have in the late 1950s and 1960s that was to result in the LEC doing all the other Wessex novels–as well as acclaimed film versions of Far From the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d’Urbervilles–so when this first Hardy novel was conceived and published in the early days of WW II, it may have been Macy feeling a wave of pro-British feeling and wanting to publish something “English,” but feeling that it might not be acceptable to the subscribers of the LEC, who were still grousing about the LEC publishing works not in the canon of accepted classics.)

The Sandglass spends the first half of its length praising Agnes Miller Parker–and rightly so. The Sandglass calls The Return the “best” of Hardy’s novels, because in addition to hardy’s usual pessimism and gloom, there is “romance and excitement”–two qualities caught amazingly in Parker’s wood engravings.

The book’s designer was A.G. Hoffman, who died after completing the layouts for this book. He chose Caledonian as the type–an adaptation by W.A. Dwiggins of the old Scotch font.

The plainness of your binding brings up one of those interesting conundrums that make the Heritage Press a never-ending source of research. My copy, which bears a copyright date of 1942, and was printed in the Netherlands, has the same design characteristics as the other Heritage Hardys. To quote the Sandglass:

“There is a decorative pattern printed on the covers, built up out of a recurring motif engraved in wood by Mrs McCanse (Parker’s married name–the motif is made of Egdon Heath butterflies and snakes). The sheets are…stitched into a binding case which is covered with a staunch linen upon which this pattern is printed in a kind of earth-green. The title is stamped in gold on a bright green label.”

The Sandglass says the page tops are dyed green, but my copy has green-speckled page edges all around. This is one example of the amazing variety of bindings in which a single title from the Heritage Press may be found. One could have a very interesting library by collecting all the variants!

Neither of us know which version came first, so it’s one of those pleasant mysteries that make collecting these books so fun!  It would seem World War II is the culprit in this book’s basic cover design – they had little choice in a time with heavy rationing.  A.G. Hoffman was responsible for this book’s design according to the book’s final page detailing the book’s creation, as well (which isn’t a surprise, as I imagine the two are identical beyond the binding).

Spine – The spine’s declaration of the book’s title is the same as the other two Hardy books I own – a block, boldly colored, with similar fonts, the declaration of Parker as its illustrator, and the Heritage brand at the bottom.

Title Page – Parker’s woodcut engravings are a great fit – she’s one of my favorites.  The title page includes a quote from the text, I’m assuming.

Page 19

Page 380 – I apologize for the blurriness of this one, and will put up a replacement in the near future.


Personal Notes – I can’t quite remember where I got this one, but I got it for cheap, I know that.  I’d wager a library book sale.  Parker’s exquisite art sold me more than anything else – it was water damaged on several pages (the art from Page 19 is one of those pages, but I cropped it to keep that stain out), and lacked a Sandglass or slipcase, and isn’t the most attractive book of theirs I’ve seen…but Parker did a great job with the engravings, and it served as my introduction to her work, which I’ve been collecting eagerly since.

Haven’t read Hardy yet, so no comments on that side of things.

I plan on doing a post discussing some of the classics that the LEC did not print in the near future, so look forward to that. ^_^