Video Series #5 – Notable Women Illustrators for the George Macy Company

For the fifth video for the George Macy Imagery Video Series, I share some books illustrated by women for Women’s History Month. Covered in this episode are The Ballad of Reading Gaol (Heritage) illustrated by Zhenya Gay, South Wind (LEC) illustrated by Carlotta Petrina, Jude the Obscure (LEC) illustrated by Agnes Miller Parker, and The Adventures of Hajji Baba in Ispahan (LEC) illustrated by Honore Guilbeau!

There’s a lot of books referred in this video, so here is a medley of links:

The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde/Zhenya Gay
The Aeneid by Virgil/Carlotta Petrina
George Macy Imagery Video Series #1 – The Aeneid
South Wind by Norman Douglas/Carlotta Petrina (Conn.)
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy/Agnes Miller Parker
Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard by Thomas Gray/Agnes Miller Parker
The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser/John Austen/Agnes Miller Parker
The Shaving of Shagpat by George Meredith/Honore Guilbeau

Heritage Press – Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey (1950)

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey (1950)
Sandglass Number unknown
Artwork: Stone lithographs by Zhenya Gay
Introduced by William Bolitho
Heritage Press Reprint of LEC #14/2nd Series V. 2 in 1930

Click the picture to see larger images.

Front Binding – Twenty years following its LEC release, the Heritage Press reprinted Thomas De Quincey’s most well-known work, the autobiographical Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. I have read this particular edition, and it’s pretty interesting stuff. De Quincey’s tone through most of the book is delightfully dark, save the chapter on the pleasure of opium, which is a drastic switch into euphoria that makes it stand out. Didn’t like this side of his personality as much as the rest of the book, but it’s a good read.

What’s really nice about this book is that it was the first of two commissions of Zhenya Gay for the George Macy Company, and my god, her work continues to impress. Her later spin on Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol is splendid, too, but I think there’s some art in here that exceeds most anything else I’ve seen in the LEC and Heritage lineup. Exceptional lithographic work.

De Quincey only saw this of his literary canon as a LEC/Heritage edition, and Gay only had two books to her credit, so this is an awfully short introduction. It gets worse when I say I have no Sandglass, so I’ll have to keep its production credits in the dark for now. The boards have this funky green bubbly effect to them that is quite appropriate to the material, methinks.

Slipcase – Identical to the boards. Mine had a bloody price sticker on it that did not want to be removed. :(

Title Page – William Bolitho adds some introductory comments to De Quincey’s text. This is a lovely, lovely book all the way through, with wonderful design and the aforementioned stunners from Gay.

Page 2 – Wonderful use of black and white differentiation.

Page 18 – Now this is what I call the perfect illustration. I would frame this and put it in my library. Intensity that is mostly unrivaled in any medium in my opinion.

Personal Notes – I got this at Bookbuyers’ in Monterey as part of a massive trade-in. I would adore owning the LEC.

If you like what you see, fellow LEC collector busywine has a post at his blog, Books and Vines, on the LEC of this work, loaded with images, and does some comparisons to the Heritage, too.

If you have the Sandglass, I’d love to add that information to the post. Please drop me a line in the comments here or through my thread at Librarything. Thanks!

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