The Faerie Queen, by Edmund Spenser, Limited Editions Club from 1953, along with Folio Society Limited Edition

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, published in the late 16th century, is an examination of virtues, told through allegorical tales with Arthurian knights in a mythical “Faerieland”. Aristotle is the source for Spenser’s virtues, with influence from Saint Thomas Aquinas.  Written in praise of Queen Elizabeth I, Spenser’s presentation of the Tudor dynasty makes The Faerie Queen similar in nature to Virgil‘s treatment of Augustus Caesar’s Rome in his Aeneid.

The Faerie Queen is one of the longest poems in the English language, quite a feat when one considers it was never completed!  Spenser planned at least twelve books as part of this epic. He completed six with a total of 35,000 lines.  This length, along with its use of Middle English and many references to classical material, can make The Faerie Queen tough going for the modern reader. However, like many works that have some level of difficulty to them, significant benefits await those who take the time to read the work. The Faerie Queen remains a popular work and is solidly entrenched as a classic in the Western Canon.

Edmund Spenser (1552-1559) was the most highly regarded poet in English in his lifetime, and remains on the short list of greatest English poets in history. He influenced some of the greatest English poets in history; Milton, Shakespeare, Shelley, Wordsworth, Byron, Tennyson and Keats. It is in The Faerie Queen where the ‘Spenserian stanza‘ was created.

Walter Crane’s illustrated 1897 publication of The Faerie Queen is one of the great accomplishments in the history of fine books and is a pinnacle of the late-19th century Arts and Crafts Movement (see the Kelmscott Chaucer for another example of the heights this movement attained).  For the book, Crane produced 88 large illustrations and 135 illustrative head and tailpieces. Both Folio Society (FS) and Easton Press (EP) currently offer very nice facsimiles of this 1897 Crane illustrated edition. Those with the funds undoubtably should look hard at the FS Limited Edition; it is arguably the handsomer of the two, made with all top of the line materials. While perhaps just slightly below the level of the FS edition in terms of raw materials, the EP edition is also extremely nice. At under half the cost of the FS edition, the EP edition is a great choice for those who want an excellent facsimile of this great work at a more affordable cost.

While pictures of the FS and EP versions are below, I first want to highlight the Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition of The Faerie Queen from 1953. This is a superb LEC, and rather than being a facsimile of the Crane edition, it is an original edition with typographic plans and decorations from John Austen (1886-1948) and a plethora of full page engravings in wood by Agnes Miller Parker (1895-1980). While nobody will mistake this for an edition equal in historical importance to Crane’s, it is very nicely done and dare I say more readable than the Crane facsimiles. Fans of Parker will adore her many illustrations, which seem brilliant to me.

Beings that one can pick this LEC for about the price of the EP edition, it does present a pleasant predicament to those in the market for The Faerie Queen. Those looking for an original edition, an edition to actually read, or one done using letterpress and brilliant woodcuts should look no further than the LEC. Those wanting a facsimile of the historic Crane edition cannot go wrong with either the FS or EP edition, with the choice mostly coming down to how much you want to spend for the extra ‘nicety’ of the FS limited edition.

{Ed Note: I own the LEC edition, so have many pictures of it below, taken by myself. I do not own the FS edition, so do not have nearly the same amount of pictures. Those I do have are courtesy of LibraryThing members Quicksilver66 (for the FS pictures).

About the Limited Editions Club Edition

  • Introduction by John Hayward
  • Typographic plans and decorations by John Austen
  • Full page engravings in wood by Agnes Miller Parker
  • Two volumes, each 7 1/2″ by 11 1/4″, with 1088 pages
  • Composition, printing and binding done under the supervision of Charles Batey, Printer to the University of Oxford
  • Type is 16 point monotype Garamond
  • Paper is all-rag sheet made especially for tho book at William Nash’s mills in Oxfordhsire
  • Binding of heavy boards covered with green buckram and decorated with designs by Agnes Parker blocked in gold
  • Decorative end papers, decorations on the slipcase, and designs on the slip jackets also by Agnes Parker
  • Limited to 1500 copies, mine is #361

{Ed Note: After publishing his article, Carol Grossman clarified for me that Austen actually did a few of the wood engravings before he died; so of the below pictures, the ones for the introduction, table of contents, list of illustrations, and book introduction pages are all Austen’s work. The engravings on the dust jackets and the full page illustrations are by Parker.}

Pictures of the Limited Editions Club Edition
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Slipcase Spine
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Books in Slipcase
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Protective Wrappers of Both Volumes
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Cover and Spine
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Detail on Cover
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Side View
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Monthly Letter
The Faerie Queen, LEC, End Papers
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Title Page of Vol 1
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Text (Introduction)
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Contents Page
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample List of Illustrations Page
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Page with Text and Illustration #1
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Detail 
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Full Page Illustration #1
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Pages of Text
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Pages of Text and Illustration #2
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Page of Text #2
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Page of Text #3 (detail)
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Pages of Text and Illustration #3
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Full Page Illustration #4
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Title Page of Vol 2
The Faerie Queen, LEC, The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample List of Illustrations Page Vol 2
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Pages of Text and Illustration #5
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Pages of Text and Illustration #6
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Pages of Text and Illustration #7
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Sample Page of Text and Illustration #8
The Faerie Queen, LEC, Colophon

About the Folio Society Edition 

  • Bound in Wassa goatskin, blocked in gold
  • Ribbon markers
  • Gilded top edges
  • Printed on watermarked laid paper
  • Presented in a wooden slipcase covered in Toile Vendôme, with a sliding tray in the base for ease of use
  • Limited to 1,000 copies
  • 1,712 pages in total
  • Book size: 10¾” x 8½”

Pictures of the Folio Society Limited Edition (photos courtesy of LibraryThing user Quicksilver66; if someone has more, please send for me to add to the below)

Faerie Queen, FS LE, Books in Slipcase
Faerie Queen, FS LE, Cover and Spine #1
Faerie Queen, FS LE, Cover and Spine #2
Faerie Queen, FS LE, Title Page
Faerie Queen, FS LE, Sample Page with Text and Illustration

4 thoughts on “The Faerie Queen, by Edmund Spenser, Limited Editions Club from 1953, along with Folio Society Limited Edition

  1. I covered the Heritage edition on my blog, but this LEC looks like it’s the easy winner here. This is quite a lovely set of books! I love Parker’s work, so it’s on my to-buy list.

  2. You must have some good booksellers in Arizona to find so many Fine LECs. this one I looked nearly a decade for …. before finding one in what I would consider in Mint condition. The slipcase is in Fine conditon and the dustcovers are also Fine. but there was no Monthly letter. The dust covers I will put aside since using them is like putting seat covers on a Merceds. I keep them only on the offchance I might sell the book later.

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