Wednesday, Sep 01, 2021
Welcome to the first post of our new and ongoing Series on The Limited Editions Club (LEC) and the beautiful books published by this famous publisher.
Before we start to explore the wonderful books published, we need to go back to New York 1929 where it all started with a 29-year-old George Macy. In total the LEC published 589 books in 58 series between 1929 – 2010, this excludes some of the special editions and publications that also happened from time to time. The concept was simple, they reissued many of the world’s greatest works in limited edition formats, initially limited to 1500 copies, which for a period in 70’s-80’s increased to 2000 and then decreased again between 1985 – 2010 to as low as 300. It was based on subscription and you can subscribe to a series (12 books initially) delivered monthly. The majority of the books came signed, by either the artist, author, designer or related people, with up to 3 signatures.
In many ways LEC has been unique in the publishing world and this uniqueness do not lie in a single factor, but in many different areas that make these books such sought after items for collectors. Many of the volumes are now considered some of the best published books of the 20th Century. Even though they republished older and modern classic, there was always something special to each and every book. Often brand-new translations were commissioned, in almost all cases they used specially commissioned original illustrations and art for their books.
Many of the biggest names in book illustrations and art were used, including Edward A Wilson, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Arthur Szyk, Lynd Ward, Alexander King and many more. Some of the more famous artist include Picasso (Lysistrata 1934), Henri Matisse (Ulysses 1935), both issues signed by the respective artists and in the case of Ulysses 250 of 1500 was also signed by James Joyce. Copies signed by both Joyce and Matisse can fetch retail prices of more than $50 000, while a good copy of Lysistrata could fetch up to $10 000.
In the later years (1985 – 2010) the books themselves became objects of art, with large original lithographs and art bound into the issues from artist like Betye Saar, Dean Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Wilhelm De Kooning and many more. For most of these publications there were also limited release portfolio of the art available, something that was also done with some of the early publications like Picasso and Matisse.
The books are also just as famous for the meticulous design and attention to details that went into every publication. This includes special bindings, two examples being “Far Away and Long Ago - 1943” bound in rough horse hide with the hair still present or more recently “Farhenheit 451 – 1982” with a special Aluminium binding. Naturally this attention to detail also extended to the paper used, custom made clamshells and much more.
Of course all of this requires quality source material and LEC published many of the world’s most famous authors and works. This includes Christian Anderon, Jane Austen, Honore De Balzac, Confucius, James Boswell, Lewis Caroll, Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Victor Hugo, Maya Angelou, Hughes Langston, Ray Bradbury, Joseph Conrad and off course a great many more. The 11th Series was entirely dedicated to 37 volumes of William Shakespeares plays with original commissioned illustration commissioned for each volume, including the last work done by Arthur Rackham before he passed away, in The Midsummer’s Night Dream.
We hope you enjoy this journey with us, we will eventually feature all the books published by LEC, but will also do special features on some of the more famous illustrators, printers, publications that came along in its long history.
We cannot possibly cover all of the rich history that went along with the publication of each volume. If you are interested in these stories, I can highly recommend, “The History of the Limited Editions Club by Carol Porter Grossman”, printed by Oak Knoll Press 2017. This is definitely the finest source available of the colorful and personal stories that surrounds the club and the beautiful books they published.
Any collector and LEC enthusiast will also do well to get a copy of Quarto-Millenary: The First 250 Publications, the 4th book of the 27th series. A wonderful volume on the first 250 books of the club. The special LEC publication in 1985 followed, “Bibliography of the Fine Books Published by the Limited Editions Club”.