Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, 1920 Edition Published by Julius Schroder

{Ed Note: Contributor DlphcOracl sent me this article on an absolutely beautiful edition of Hamlet. Pictures follow the article. I would like to thank DlphcOracl for the research that went into this one.  It is quite an impressive book.}

There are many private press books I have that would likely be of interest to readers of Books and Vines but one in particular is quite unique.  It is an edition of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ printed in Weimar Germany (1920).   From what I can decipher from the colophon, which is written in German, it was published in Munich by publisher Julius Schroder in an edition of 182 copies, with 35 original drypoint etchings by artist and illustrator Sepp Frank.  The entire book is done in a distinct German Expressionist style, appropriate for the time and VERY appropriate for Hamlet.  Additionally, each page has a border image which contributes to the feeling of tension and anxiety created by Sepp Frank’s illustrations.  The images include macabre-appearing skulls, gargoyle faces, skeletal arms and hands, etc.

The typeface is a Gothic script and the book is printed using letterpress on a special thick paper called Japan-Butten made by van Gelder Zonen in Amsterdam.  The vellum binding and boards have elaborate tooling with gilt lettering on the spine.  The elaborate full vellum is a mixed blessing — as is typical with thick vellum it bows badly over the course of time and the resultant tension has created mild separation between the front cover and front end page at the hinged inner joint.

This edition of Hamlet was part of a series entitled “Meisterwerke der Weltliteratur mit Original-Graphik”  (Masterworks of World Literature with Original Artwork) which publisher Julius Schroder began in the early 1920’s. Each edition featured a different artist.  I know that there were two other plays of Shakespeare (‘The Tempest’  and ‘Antony and Cleopatra’) that were included in this series and these editions also had this deluxe treatment with regard to vellum  binding and tooling.

Sepp Frank (1889 – 1969) was born in Miesbach, Austria, as Frank Joseph August. When he moved to Munich to pursue his professional training and complete his arts degree he changed his name to Sepp Frank. Frank’s works were part of the avant-garde movement during the transitional period from late art Nouveau into the early Art Deco period. His work in etching and lithography is known and admired for its extraordinary technical skill which features precise detail and bold dramatic scenes and atmosphere. Technically speaking, his work is both complicated and decorative with sharp contrasts, precisely drawn characters and a  haunting, terrifying style that is very Germanic and was a continuation of the Expressionist style begun a decade earlier by  the artists associated with the Der Blaue Reiter and Die Brucke. To my eye his work is very reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley’s work, minus the eroticism. Frank was also a leading designer of ex-libris book plates and it is estimated that he created 300 works of miniature art in this regard. They are considered masterworks and his fame in this genre somewhat eclipsed his reputation as an artist and illustrator.

Sepp Frank traveled widely in Spain, Italy and later in the United States.  His work was recognized and honored with a one-man exhibit of his etchings organized by the Renaissance Society at  the University of Chicago during the summer of 1949.


Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Front board, full thick vellum, with vellum straps or hinges at spine
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Elaborately tooled spine and boards with gilt lettering
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Large image stretching across inside cover and frontispiece
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Haunting image on introductory page just prior to title page
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Title Page
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Cast of Characters
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Introductory page to Scene One
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Sample page
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Sample page with macabre figure at border
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Sample page with Text and Illustration
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Sample Page
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Second Sample Page with Text and Illustration
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Third Sample Page with Text and Illustration
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Large scene stretching across final page and inner aspect of rear board
Hamlet, publisher Julius Schroder, Colophon

6 thoughts on “Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, 1920 Edition Published by Julius Schroder

  1. These illustrations are awesome, although I must say the Introduction page image also made me think of Frankenstein. What a great book. Interesting to have the text in English and the Colophon in German. I’m not sure why that would be done.

  2. By coincidence, I just sent out my copy of the LEC Hamlet designed by Eric Gill to my binder for its new clothes. Your Hamlet is a very interesting book and overshadows the Gill Hamlet. The LEC published two Shakespeare plays outside of their gigantic issuance in 1939 of the 37 plays: the Gill Hamlet and the Olivier Henry V. I’m not impressed by the Gill Hamlet, but he did it near the end of his life, and perhaps he was not at his best.The blind stamping of Hamlet’s father on the cover is like a stick figure, not like Gill at all.

    Thanks for presenting a unique approach to Shakespeare.

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