Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, Folio Society Limited Edition

{Ed Note: I will stick to my rule of only reviewing the story itself if I have just read the book in the last couple months, so this review is on the Folio Society edition itself, not on the content of Moby Dick}.

First published in New York in 1851, Herman Melville‘s Moby Dick is generally considered one of the greatest of American novels, a masterpiece of world literature.  Ishmael and Ahab are deservedly two of the most recognizable and important characters in all of western literature.  Melville’s themes of good and evil, the existence of God and pre-destination are woven into a fantastic tale full of symbolism, metaphors and literacy/stylistic devices that leaves the reader simply astounded at the intellectual depth that comes naturally from a simple reading of the pages.  One is simply not well read, without having done at least one reading of Moby Dick.

Melville’s Omoo and Typee made him famous in his time, but Moby Dick was not well thought of or popular when released or in Melville’s lifetime.  In fact, during his lifetime, the initial publication run of 3,000 copies did not sell out with Melville earning only around $550 dollars from the work!  With the current stature of Moby Dick within the Western Canon, it is easy to forget that it languished, largely unrespected,  for 60-70 years before starting to grow in recognition and importance after World War I.  In fact, Melville himself was largely forgotten.

Since Melville’s revival, many fine editions of Moby Dick have been published.  Probably the greatest is a 1930 edition from Lakeside Press, with illustrations from Rockwell Kent (1882-1971).  This edition, with Rockwell’s haunting images, helped propel Moby Dick to the status that it has today.  Rockwell was one of America’s most sought after and premier illustrator’s of classic books in the twentieth century.  Besides Moby Dick, he illustrated such books as Candide, Faust, Beowulf, Leaves of Grass, Erewhon, Canterbury Tales, The Decameron and Shakespeare’s works.  As an aside, many readers of Books and Vines know I have a love for Arion Press books.  Arion Press published a 1979 version which is also highly sought after and respected.

It is Rockwell’s images from the Lakeside Press edition that Folio Society decided to use when publishing it’s Limited Edition of Moby Dick.  The illustrations are beautifully reproduced, and I love the job Folio did in blocking one of his illustrations in white and silver on the leather cover.  Speaking of leather, the feel of the cover is fantastic, very smooth and soft to the touch.  Having said that, I do find the pages a bit thin and plain for my taste.  I personally feel the limitation number of 1,750, along with nothing in this edition really being original, limits its overall “special-ness”.  However, it is very nicely done, and together with the companion volume with critical analysis of Moby Dick, it is hard to argue that the overall production and “nice-ness” is not worth the cost Folio is charging for this (around $350).  There seem to be some left at Folio, if you are lacking a nice version of Moby Dick, and do not have thousands to spend on a Lakeside Press or Arion Press version, I would recommend purchasing it before it sells out.

About the Folio Society Limited Edition

  • Limited to 1,750 numbered copies, mine is copy 1103
  • Each copy numbered by hand on a special limitation page
  • Bound in Wright’s smooth grained goatskin leather, blocked in white and silver with a design based on one of Rockwell Kent’s illustrations
  • Ribbon marker, silver gilded top edge
  • Set in Fournier at the Folio Society
  • Printed on Abbey Wove Paper by Memminger Mediencentrum, Memmingen, Germany
  • Bound by Real Lachenmaier, Germany
  • Approximately 280 black & white illustrations by Rockwell Kent, from the famous 1930 edition from Lakeside Press
  • Size: 9¼” x 6¾”, 768 pages
  • Commentary volume is bound in buckram, 312 pages, 9¼” x 6¾”
  • Both presented in a buckram-bound solander box


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Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Solander Box
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Book and Companion Book in Solander Box
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Cover and Spine
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Front Cover Detail
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Silver Gilding
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Colophon
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Title Page
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Copyright and Contents Pages
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Sample Page with Text and Illustration
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Second Sample Page with Text and Illustration
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Third Sample Page with Text and Illustration
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Fourth Sample Page with Text and Illustration
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Fifth Sample Page with Text and Illustration
Moby Dick, Folio Society LE, Companion Book

6 thoughts on “Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, Folio Society Limited Edition

  1. Thanks for following The Moon Seen in Water! I love Moby-Dick, was raised on it. My parents believed in “striking through the mask” against anything in society that prevented one from living one’s own free and delightful existence. Not quite what Ahab meant but… still, they loved Moby-Dick and Melville (and Blake, Shaw and a few others)… like the Kao Dai sect in Vietnam who worship Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, Buddha, and Jesus.
    I appreciate this and LOVE the Rockwell Kent version. I look forward to seeing more of your writing. Isabella (Ladybelle)

  2. Frankly, the Folio Society Ltd. Edition of Moby Dick appears to be excellent value for the money and I greatly prefer the Rockwell Kent illustrations to Barry Moser’s aloof, somewhat detached woodcut illustrations for the Arion Press edition. The other fine press alternatives are the 2 volume LEC edition with illustrations by Boardman Robinson and the 1975 publication by the A. Colish press of Mt. Vernon, N.Y., with 13 color paintings/illustrations by Leroy Nieman and an introductiohn by Jacques Cousteau — with both signing each book. Both the LEC and the Nieman editions were printed in runs of 1500.

    One can forget about the LEC edition because it was bound in full sheepskin and the leather invariably has dried to the point of crumbling. It is near impossible to find in a collectible edition. The A. Colish edition is not my cup of tea because I am not a fan of Leroy Nieman’s art. His illustrations are wildly colored and over the top and have an unflattering resemblance to Peter Max’s works. They are both “very 70’s” and have dated badly.

    That said, I have two pleasing editions that represent poor man’s versions of the Arion Press and the Rockwell Kent illustrated Lakeside Press publications, both of which are worthy of consideration for anyone contemplating the Folio Society Ltd. Editions publication. The first book is the trade edition published by Random House and printed at the Lakeside Press, Chicago, in 1930 containing the Rockwell Kent illustrations. My copy comes in a beautiful olive-green marbled slipcase. The book is 5.5 by 7.5. inches with black cloth binding and the title and a Kent illustration of Moby Dick breaching the ocean surface stamped in silver into the covers and binding. The second book is the Limited Edition published by the Univ. of California Press which was done in consultation with Andrew Hoyem of the Arion Press. It is a folio sized book measuring 9 1/4 by 13 1/2, smaller than the Arion Press monster but still a formidable size. Otherwise, it is identical in appearance to the Arion Press book. The original pages from the Arion Press edition were photographed for reproduction at the Univ. of California Press and subsequently printed at The Kingsport Press. Both the binding and slipcover are of blue cloth with silver titling. The paper is of excellent quality although the type of paper is not specifically mentioned in the colophon. This California Deluxe Edition was limited to 750 copies.

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