The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett, Arion Press, 1983

A few months back, in a review of The Big Sleep from Arion Press, I mentioned that Raymond Chandler’s classic helped me get over my snobby belief that, besides Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, works within the detective genre could not possibly rise to the level of classic literature. With my new found respect for the genre, I was looking forward to reading The Maltese Falcon from Dashiell Hammett, long a favorite film of mine. Even more exciting to me was the edition I was to read — that being from Arion Press, published in 1983.

The Arion Press edition of The Maltese Falcon is well sought after, and for good reason. The book is everything a classic book should be, with deluxe treatment that makes it very special indeed. The period photographs are fantastic, truly immersing you into the setting of the story. The printing of the photographs is done with marvelous quality. The text composition is perfect for the story, the binding is stunning (just look at that bird in the pictures below!).  The overall impression is excellence, the overall design is top notch.

The Maltese Falcon was originally published in 1930. The main character, Sam Spade, with his cold detachment, sardonic personality, analytical mind, amoral-ness (perhaps?), determination, and out and out manliness has been enormously influential on the entire detective genre. What the characters do and what they say is what drives the book. There is no exploration of their inner thoughts or motives; such is left for the reader to determine.

Lucky for readers of Books and Vines, I will avoid my normal long and rambling reviews as it relates to the story itself!  More than any other genre, saying anything about the plot or meaning of this type of story can result in a plot spoiler for those yet to have read it. It is enough to know there are murders, a classic femme fatale, and many secrets and surprises, all surrounding the pursuit of a figurine of a black bird! You will have to read the story to determine why that figurine is so special!

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) was an American author best known for his hard-boiled detective novels, with The Maltese Falcon being the most famous. It has been ranked as one of the top 100 English language novels of the twentieth century. In 1941, Humphrey Bogart starred in a film version, which is considered one the great film noir classics in Hollywood history.

The Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade is, after Sherlock Holmes, arguable the most famous detective to ever come out of literature (perhaps along with Chandler’s Philip Marlowe). Hammett’s other famous books include The Thin Man and Red Harvest. In the 1950’s Hammett spent time in prison for contempt, and was blacklisted, for actions centering around his role with the Civil Rights Congress, which had been designated as a Communist front group by the Attorney General in 1947.

About the Edition

  • Published in 1983 by the Arion Press, their eleventh publication
  • Illustrated with 46 period photographs of sites in the novel (photographs found mainly in old newspaper morgues and library archives, taken in the late 1920s, of the actual streets and buildings where Sam Spade solved the mystery; contemporary views were photographed by Edmund Shea)
  • Photographs printed by offset lithography (by Phelps-Schaefer) on dull-coated stock
  • Composed in Monotype Bodoni semi-bold and handset Corvinus medium, with spade ornaments, printed by letterpress on Byron Weston Linen Record
  • Monotype composition by Mackenzie-Harris
  • Bound, by Schuberth Bookbindery, with bonded black leather spine and foil-stamped falcons inset on grey cloth covers, in grey cloth slipcase
  • Preface by the publisher
  • Including an appreciation by private investigator David Fechheimer
  • Appendix with notes on the photographs by Glenn Todd
  • 10 by 8 inches, 304 numbered pages, 44 pages and a 4-page fold-out, unnumbered, for illustrations
  • Edition of 400 copies


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The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Prospectus
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Slipcase Spine
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Book in Slipcase
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Spine and Covers
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Detail of Spine Stamping
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Front Cover
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Detail of Cover
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Macro Detail of Falcon Head
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, End Pages
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Macro Detail of End Pages
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Title Page
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Detail of Title Page
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Photograph #1 (Hammett in 1927)
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Sample Text #1 (Preface)
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Sample Photograph #2 (4 page fold out panoramic view of the city from the Bay)
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Sample Text #2 (Chapter 1)
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Macro Detail of Sample Text #2 (Chapter 1)
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Sample Photograph #3 with Text (Hotel St. Francis, “St Mark”)
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Sample Text #3
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Sample Photograph #4 with Text (Market Street, looking down Third Street)
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Sample Photograph #5 (Burritt Street, The commemorative plaque)
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Sample Text #4 (from ‘On the Photographs’)
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Sample Text #5 (from ‘On the Photographs’)
The Maltese Falcon, Arion Press, Colophon

8 thoughts on “The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett, Arion Press, 1983

  1. Maybe it’s because I’m from the UK, but this book (I like the book and film), screams AMERICAN NOIR to me. The binding, typography and images look perfect for this novel. It’s one of the books featured on Books & Vines that I loved the moment I saw it.

  2. Hi All, different takes are what makes thing interesting! As for myself, when I first got ‘The Big Sleep’ I was quite uncertain whether I liked the photo’s….as I read the book, I ended up liking them very much. I think in my case, I had preconceived notions of what photos should look like tainted by the movie….as I read, and the characters starting fitting those used in the photo’s, it made a huge difference to me. Having said that, I can see the points from both of you!

  3. First, I don’t find difficulty with the photographer of the “stills” for The Big Sleep, but I think the model chosen for Philip Marlowe was totally inappropriate. He looked more like a hairdresser than a tough, hard-boiled detective. We are fortunate that Bogart, the perfect choice, was selected for both roles, Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

    The Maltese Falcon, while I have never seen it in person, looks like a great book. I have the Folio copy, and it looks more like a comic book than a pulp mystery. I would give ten LECs for a copy of the Maltese Falcon.

    In my opinion, Raymond Chandler was a better writer than Dashiell Hammett. But Hammett was number 2 for this genre and would likely place equally with a few of Chandler’s best if they were compared to Hammet’s classic Maltese Falcon.

    For those uninitiated with Hammett work, see the movie and read the book. Bogart as Sam Spade is inimitable, and Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaugnnesey is not bad. The rest of the cast is one of the best ever cast: Sydney Greenstreet as Gutman, Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, and Elijah Cook Jr. as the Gunsel.

    For me, seeing the movie first just increased my enjoyment of the book. For those who wish to delve deeper into Hammet’s iife, I would recommend reading Pentimento (sp?), the biography of Lillian Hellman, playwrite and long-time mistress of Hammett.

  4. I could not disagree more with Robert Bailey’s assessment of Lou Stoumen’s photographic illustrations for ‘The Big Sleep’. The staged, carefully posed and choreographed photos and the photographic finishing process employed are deliberately tongue-in-cheek and over the top, not “an attempt to recreate the film noir look”, and are perfectly appropriate for a high-class pulp fiction work from Raymond Chandler. They were hardly the work of something approaching a “student filmmaker”.

    Lou Stoumen was a two-time Academy Award winner and was one of the 20th century’s superb photographers before he arrived upon the Hollywood and film-making scene. His photographs successfully captured the energy of a changing world and varied cultures and were filled with a sense of awe, wonder and excitement about the world about him. His published anthology: “Times Square: 45 Years of Photographs” is a classic.

    1. Disagreements are what makes a horse race. If his intent was to be ” deliberately tongue-in-cheek and over the top, not ‘an attempt to recreate the film noir look’” then he certainly succeeded. I would be very surprised if such an approach would have pleased Raymond Chandler, who took his writing seriously, and who bristled at the suggestion of “camp.”

      (Incidentally, I have been a fan of Louis Stoumen’s work since I saw “The Naked Eye,” 50+ years ago–his documentaries are first-rate, but I think his approach to this assignment undercuts the attempt Chandler made to write something more than “high class pulp.” I think Chandler would have happier with something more in the style of Weegee.)

  5. I was not a fan of the illustrations for “The Big Sleep,” which to me looked like something a student filmmaker would do trying to recreate the film noir look. But these illustrations are perfect! It’s not easy to tell from the pictures here how well they are reproduced by offset, and whether the reproductions are from original negatives or from photographic prints. Some of them would seem to be from the latter as they lack grayscale range, but this may be due to the limited range of the original. Photojournalists back then often overexposed and underdeveloped knowing the printing presses back then could only produced a limited range of grayscale values.

    Great book! It would be interesting to compare this to an entirely different treatment of this classic work–the Folio Society’s edition which utilized the approach of designing the book to look like an edition of the old pulp magazines like “The Black Mask” for which Hammet often wrote.

  6. This is one of the best and most successful of the nearly one-hundred Arion Press publications. The typeface, selection of vintage photographs of San Francisco, use of an old SF street map map as end papers, and the marvelous binding and covers decorated with an embossed ‘Maltese Falcon’ are flawless. As with the other Arion Press publication from the hard-boiled detective genre, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, these books represent imaginative fine press design and craftsmanship at its finest.

    Interestingly, both books are illustrated with photographs and, for me, Andrew Hoyem has been far more successful in this regard than he has been in selecting artists and commissioning original artwork for his publications. There have been some spectacular misses in this regard with John Baldessari’s strange and inappropriate photo-collages for ‘Tristram Shandy’ sticking first and foremost in my mind. Michael Graves’ sterile architectural sketches for ‘The Great Gatsby’ deserve an honorable mention in this regard as well.

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