Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, Limited Editions Club (1930)

{Ed Note: I would like to thank Librarything User Django6924 for providing the account of Macy’s and Grabhorn’s relationship that you will see discussed below. Also, subscriber Donald Floyd sent a picture of his 1930 LEC edition that he had beautifully rebound.  See the picture of this at the end of the LEC pictures below, immediately prior to the Easton press pictures.}

There are few stories so well known in the world of literature as Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. For hundreds of years now schoolboys have dreamt of themselves as Crusoe and thinking adults have pondered such an existence. Speaking personally, sometimes in the daily grind of the rat race, Crusoe’s existence seems somewhat idyllic!

Robinson Crusoe was first published in 1719. It was immediately a huge success and has remained popular ever since. Few books have been published more often, or translated into as many languages, as Robinson Crusoe. It’s influence is substantial, marking the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre. Interpretational debates have raged for years on it’s moral, religious, colonial and economic meanings.  To all overly concerned with such interpretations, I say chill out and just enjoy it for the fantastic yarn it is!

As an aside, the full title of Robinson Crusoe is The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un‐inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely delivered by Pirates. I remain grateful that Defoe’s writing itself is much more condensed than that of the title itself!

Daniel Defoe (~1660-1731) is seriously under-appreciated today for the quality, quantity and variety of his work. He wrote over 500 books, pamphlets and journals on a slew of topics including economics, politics, religion, crime, psychology and the supernatural. Defoe is credited with being one of the main founders of the English novel. Works like Robinson CrusoeA Journal of the Plague Year and Moll Flanders are some of the greatest works of the Western Canon, but also show the incredible literary range of Defoe. Topic wise, those novels could not be more different, yet each nears the pinnacle of the genre they represent.

The Robinson Crusoe Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition was voted by club members, in 1930, as the best book produced in the first year of the LEC.  This result occurred despite the fact that Edwin Grabhorn (who produced the book) and George Macy did not have a grand time working together.  The LEC would never use the Grabhorn Press again, despite it being a preeminent press in the United States at the time.  The following is taken from Macy’s account of the publication of the LEC Robinson Crusoe in his 1940 survey Ten Years and William Shakespeare:

When the Limited Editions Club sent out its first announcement, there was violent opposition from some quarters. One printer, because of the extent of his influence at that time, actively sought to do his best to keep me from carrying through the plans of the Club. One action he took was to attempt to dissuade Edwin Grabhorn from proceeding with his contract with me, to print this book Robinson Crusoe. In the light of a mellowing perspective, I believe the printer honestly thought me incapable of carrying through the Clubs plans and considered it his ‘duty to the graphic arts’ to prevent my colleagues and me from wrecking the institution-of-the-book; and I believe that I might have found Edwin Grabhorn more amiable and more reliable if this dissuasion had not been exerted upon him. At any rate, this book is one of the most beautiful that we have published because Edwin Grabhorn, while not the best of American printers, is certainly among the most inventive of American designers of books; yet the business altercations which surrounded the production and completion of the book were such that I have shrunk away from every suggestion that another of this Club’s books should be made in the Grabhorn printery.–G.M.

Grabhorn remembered things in this way:

I got into a terrible fight with the Limited Editions Club. When they first started in business, they wrote to me and wanted me to print Robinson Crusoe. They offered me $15,000 for 1500 copies. The fellow’s name was Macy. He was going to furnish me all the illustrations by a well-known illustrator. He sent the cuts out to me and claimed they cost him $1500. And I wrote back and said he was a liar.

Then he took the $1500 off the price he was paying me for the books. He was to pay me $15,000. The final check was around $700 or $800. He sent the cuts out to me by mail and put $25 postage stamps on them and asked me to send the stamps back to him because his boy was collecting stamps. I sent the stamps back. Then he charged me the $25 for the postage. One letter led to another and we got into a terrible fight. My final check on that–when the job was finished–was about $500 or $600, after he subtracted all the money he could. I got so mad. They wanted me to print some more books, and I wouldn’t print anything. I said No.

About the Limited Editions Club Edition

  • Introduction by Ford Madox Ford
  • Line illustrations in five colors by Edward A. Wilson, who also signs the edition
  • Designed, printed and bound at the Grabhorn Press, 1930 (the only LEC book done by Grabhorn)
  • Bound in flexible green Venetian sail-cloth, gold stamped with red leather label
  • Set in Centaur type on rag sheet made by the Pannekoek Mills of Haarlem (Holland)
  • 7 1/4″ x 10 1/2″, 404 pages
  • Limited to 1,500 copies

Pictures of the Limited Editions Club Edition

{Ed. Note: Sorry for the lighting, these pictures were taken in a bookstore, and not with my good camera!}

Robinson Crusoe, LEC, Book in Slipcase
Robinson Crusoe, LEC, Slipcase Spine
Robinson Crusoe, LEC, Cover and Spine
Robinson Crusoe, LEC, Title Page
Robinson Crusoe, LEC, Full Title
Robinson Crusoe, LEC, Sample Illustration with Text #1
Robinson Crusoe, LEC, Sample Illustration with Text #2
Robinson Crusoe, LEC, Sample Illustration with Text #3
Robinson Crusoe, LEC, Colophon
Robinson Crusoe, Cover and Spine, Donald Floyd Re-Binding of 1930 LEC edition; Re-bound with bright green Nigerian goatskin with a maroon goatskin label. The boards are covered in a hand-marbled paper with the green goatskin used as corner protectors. Matching endpages were used and the top page ends were gilded.

7 thoughts on “Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, Limited Editions Club (1930)

  1. Just out of curiosity, would anyone care to debate the merits of the various illustrators of Robinson Crusoe? For example, would you rate Wilson’s work compared to N.C.Wyeth’s? To Lynd Ward’s?

      1. I grew up with an old Scribner’s Illustrated Classics edition with N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations, and for me they just seem right for Robinson Crusoe–probably because I associated them with the story from the first. I also very much like Lynd Ward’s, which are very much in the style of his Technicolor illustrations for “The Innocent Voyage.”

  2. Don Floyd,

    Mid-green with a red label and marbled paper – very tasteful, very attractive!

    You must have a lot of fun planning the materials and look for each book.

    Neil

  3. Hello Chris – I received a copy of Robinson Crusoe for Christmas of 1942 when I was in the second grade. I didn’t understand all the words, but I read the book anyway. I didn;t read it again until the1960s when I got the LEC edition. In 2010, It was the first LEC I rebound. By that time, the green sailcloth binding was faded to to light tan, but the text and illustrations were Fine. I never liked the flexible bindings Macy used on the earlier LECs, so I was prompted to make RC my first venture into book binding. I replicated the label and bound the book in 1/2 Nigerian bright green goatskin with boards covered in hand marbled paper with the same paper used as endpages.

    Robinson Crusoe always reminds me of oneof the narrators in Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone who relied on Robinson Crusoe as a handbook of sorts, always looking up what RC might do in a particular situation.

    I think I have a picture of my rebound Crusoe, and if I can find it, I will email it to you and you can use it as you see fit.
    Just call it a preview of my restored LEC collection.

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