Heart of Darkness, Chester River Press/Deep Wood Press

I was lucky enough to recently receive Chester River Press’s edition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, printed by Deep Wood Press. I am not sure of how many synonyms I can find for “wow”, so I will just stick to one big WOW!  That was my reaction when I opened the box, my reaction when I saw the binding and my reaction when I saw the illustrations and the sharpness of the text.  Then, an even larger wow when I saw and felt the pages.  Chester River Press hit it out of the ballpark in this production. Let me do things out of my normal order and show some pictures first, just to prove my point (keeping in mind my camera and photo taking capabilities are quite substandard).

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Heart of Darkness, Slip Case
Heart of Darkness, Slip Case and Blue Goatskin Binding
Heart of Darkness, Front Cover, Cockerell Paper over Boards
Heart of Darkness, Title Page
Heart of Darkness, Sample Page (picture does not do justice to the ivory look and luxurious feel of the paper)
Heart of Darkness, Close-up of Illustration
Heart of Darkness, Book Two Beginning
Heart of Darkness, Center Fold Out Illustrations
Heart of Darkness, Book Three Beginning
Heart of Darkness, End of Book
Chester River Press, Heart of Darkness, Colophon Page

Some books just have  a look and feel about them that smacks of a quality and presence that demands not only attention and respect, but also establishes an immediate fondness in the lucky owner to the inanimate object he may now call his own.  This is one such book.

Here are some of the “stats” around this edition:

  • Quarter Blue Nigerian goatskin binding and Cockerell Paper over boards (binding and slipcase by Jon Buller at Bessenberg Bindery)
  • 36 Original Drawings, 3 hand-colored drop-capital letters and a four panel center fold-out by maritime artist Marc Castelli (who also signs the book)
  • Letterpress printed (at Deepwood Press) on Hahnemuhle Biblio cotton rag paper, using Dante and Castellar typefaces
  • Designed by James Dissette and Chad Pastotnik
  • Text edited to conform to the 1921 Heinemann edition
  • Limited to 150 editions (mine is #53)
  • Awarded first place in the 2010 Carl Herzog Award competition for excellence in book design

One thing that strikes me is the look, feel and aura of the book just seems to fit perfectly with the setting of Conrad’s masterpiece.  To me, that is the essence of good design.  Of course, reading Heart of Darkness is a treat.  Gerard Cataldo, in his blog describes the book better than I could when he says that it “is all consuming, emotionally draining, rewarding in so many unforeseen ways, and certainly unforgettable“.  Though it has been a couple years since I last read Heart of Darkness, I have read it multiple times and agree again with Mr. Cataldo we he  says “I was overwhelmed by the story’s ability to capture my interest and hold my concentration with each reading. I couldn’t help admiring the structure of the book, Conrad’s use of narrator within narrator, and the risky use of double quotations, lengthy monologues, and the many images subject to interpretation. It all seems to blend, a perfect mixture, a successful experiment in literary technique and pure story telling.”

I am looking forward to curling up with Chester River Press’s production of Heart of Darkness, perhaps with a good, dark, well aged port (I am thinking only  a Taylor’s would work here, probably a 1977!), to once again re-immerse myself into the labyrinth that is Conrad, this time in the greatest production of it that I could ever hope to enjoy.

Borrowing from Mr. Cataldo’s information sheet, let me tell you a bit about Chester River Press.  Chester River Press was founded in 2006 by the Chestertown Old Book Co. The Press specializes in fine letterpress and offset book printing and publishing. Chester River Press prints and publishes fine editions of classic works, as well as modern literature, poetry, and history.  They published Heart of Darkness in 2008, and followed that a year later with a beautiful (as seen in pictures as I do not own it yet) two volume rendition of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as translated by Alexander Pope.

I look forward to future works from Chester River Press and lovers of fine books should definitely keep them in mind.  Gerard Cataldo, “Gerry” was extremely nice to interact with, clearly loves fine books (see his “The Passion for Books“) and certainly knows how to pull together an excellent production!

12 thoughts on “Heart of Darkness, Chester River Press/Deep Wood Press

  1. Don, a couple comments on your note:

    The Cockerell paper is used on the cover, the fly leaves are a lovely handmade from St. Armand, a small mill in Montréal, Québec.

    Alas, you are correct on the slipcase lining issue but I am sad to say that there comes a certain point in any production where everything that you would want to do, if done, would quickly make one a pauper and not a publisher of fine books. The cases are not lined. I’ve a lovely list of things I wanted to do with this books presentation, overall I’m content with it but I was never happy with the slipcase selection though any bookbinder or conservator can make a replacement to your specs (which I’ve done for my personal copy of course).

    Buy a copy for yourself and I will personally make you one.

  2. Chris –

    I enjoy your posts, but too many times you only extol all of the salient points you like without memtioning certain weaknesses.

    The Conrad novel posted does not seem to have the Cockrell paper as end leaves. This is cutting corners too much. A book selling for $500 should have the Cockerell paper presented as end leaves.

    Also, this doesn’t pertain to the book beauty, but means something to the durability. The lining of the slipcase is not mentioned. A velour lining is essential to keep the boards from rubbing. Even better, the board corners could have been protected by Nigerian corner protectors.

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