Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, Photographs by Edward Weston, Limited Editions Club (1942)

In what was arguably one of the greatest books, content wise, produced by the Limited Editions Club (LEC), the 1942 edition of Leaves of Grass often leaves the reader speechless. The combination of America’s greatest poet, one of America’s greatest photographers (Edward Weston), and twentieth century America’s pre-eminent publisher of fine press books results in a book for the ages.

Despite 1,500 copies having been made, this edition is extremely hard to find, especially in near fine or better condition.  Yet the effort, wait and value is well worth an extended search. The book exudes Americana, which perfectly reflects the spirit of Whitman. In turn, Weston’s photographs perfectly visualize the soul and spirit of Whitman’s masterpiece.  The photographs are truly mesmerizing, along with Whitman’s words pulls the reader deep into the beauty, character and history of this nation. The landscapes, the cities, the ordinary citizens in portrait…my, what a picture Weston paints! The quality of the print reproductions is as good as I have ever seen in an LEC, the type is fantastic, the design wonderfully thought out. The use of paper boards, instead of leather, would be my only criticism.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is one of America’s greatest writers, whose poetry and essays have left an indelible mark on America and its culture.  Along with Herman Melville‘s Moby Dick and Mark Twain‘s Huckleberry FinnLeaves of Grass forms the absolute center of the American literary canon. It is as central to the American character and to the definition of America itself as democracy, individualism, apple-pie and motherhood!  It is an American epic poem, praising nature and the individuals role in it. “I” is an important word, being the narrator in Song of Myself, and reflecting individualism and independence at the core of the American idea. Whitman incorporates transcendentalism and realism in his writings, and was very influential in his use of  free verse. He worked on Leaves of Grass from 1950 through his death, with many editions in between, each adding to and modifying the previous.

Edward Weston (1886-1958) was a (some would say “the”) great American photographer of the twentieth century, extremely influential across many different subjects (landscapes, still lifes, nudes, portraits, etc.).  His “Leaves of Grass” trip lasted almost 10 months, covering 24 states and nearly 25,000 miles.   I would encourage Books and Vines readers to visit the web site of the Weston family, here. The site highlights the work of Edward Weston, the work of his sons, famous photographers in their own right, Cole and Brett, along with the work of Cole’s son Kim and daughter Cara. This is one family that demonstrates talent can run from generation to generation!

About the Edition

  • Photographs by Edward Weston, from a tour across America in 1941/1942 that he took for this edition
  • Introduction by Mark Van Doren
  • Designed by George Macy
  • Made at the Aldus Printers in New York
  • Plates made by Pioneer-Moss
  • Paper made by Worthy
  • Binding done at Russell-Rutter
  • Full imitation vellum
  • Two volumes, 404 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies, mine is #1159
  • Signed by Edward Weston

Pictures

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Slipcase Spine
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Books in Slipcase
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Spines
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Spine
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Covers of Front Covers
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Front Cover
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Frontispiece and Title Page
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Title Page
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Invocation
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #2 (Contents)
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #3 (Author’s Preface)
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #4 (Info)
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #5
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Sample Text #5
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #6
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Sample Text #6
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #7
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Illustration #2
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Illustration #3
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Colophon
Leaves of Grass, Limited Editions Club (1942), Signature Macro

9 thoughts on “Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, Photographs by Edward Weston, Limited Editions Club (1942)

  1. I was able to get a cheap copy of the LEC Leaves of Grass, but of course it lacked a slipcase and the covers were loose. I was able to get both problems fixed by Jim Arner who did a truly great job. You can see a picture of the completed job on his website:

    http://www.wyomerc.com/bookboxes/slipcases.html

    The before and after of the repairs are here:

    http://www.wyomerc.com/bookrepair/bookrepairs.html

    Jim also made me a superb slipcase for my LEC Great Gatsby and is now working on a custom box for my LEC Main Street and another slipcase for the LEC Walden. I cannot recommend him more highly!

    Meanwhile lovers of Leaves of Grass would be interested to know that the Arion Press is planning an edition later this year. Can’t wait! Michael

  2. Reply to Don Floyd re: “Which is more important, the wine or the bottle it comes in?”

    This statement would be applicable to a book with a spectacular leather tooled binding or a highly unusual book design concept (e.g., the Arion Press editions of Flatland, Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror, etc.) but it is rarely applicable to any of the George Macy LEC publications. The Macy LEC books rarely had distinctive bindings or superlative letterpress work. The most highly valued of these LECs invariably reflect the quality and uniqueness of the illustrations or the fame of the illustrator.

    In this specific case the binding and boards of the 1942 Leaves of Grass contribute very little to the $1000 to $1200 price tag. Rather, the high asking price is a reflection of Edward Weston’s superlative photography, the generous number of photographs supplied, and his bold signature in the colophon. Simply put, the binding is not the issue here — it is the Edward Weston photography.

  3. You are right when you say this book is hard to find in any kind of condition. The problem I have had with it is that the sellers have overpriced their copies since considerable work would have to be done to replicate the binding. If I could find a copy for a reasonable price, I would try to replicate it using various computer technology. Usually, on ebay, the bidding starts at above $1000, To turn a much les than good copy into a Fine copy would take the better part of a second $1000,

    I am now restoring the 1929 LEC of Leaves of Grass. I found these copies to also be overpriced by sellers who overvalue their books. I finally found a copy for $147 which I can work with. The design of this one is not as good as the 1942 one so I wont try to replicate it as closely as I would the latter. The important thing to remember with these early LECs is that it is the inside of the book that realy counts, the illustrations and text, rather than the binding alone.

    After all Chris, which is the more important, the wine or the bottle it comes in.

  4. This is unquestionably one of the finest LEC publications and justifiably amongst its most famous. Unfortunately, as you have correctly stated, it is notoriously difficult to find in decent condition. I know, because I have tried for years without success 🙁 .
    One wonders what on Earth people do with their fine books, much less a classic such as this.

    The book design is flawless. Despite the fragility of the paper-covered boards, which have not stood the test of time well, I find the binding and boards perfect in their rusticity and simplicity with the leather labels on the spines a particularly nice touch. The typeface is bold and direct and the page design and layout flawless. The row of blowing grass used as a header for each chapter is ingenious. And the photographs?? As I have previously stated, I am a sucker for fine photography and the photographs from Edward Weston (and a very generous sampling at that) are stunning, perfectly capturing the spirit of Walt Whitman’s American classic. The time, thought and care he put into this project are obvious.

    As an aside, ‘Leaves of Grass’ is one of a handful of books that seem to lend themselves to repeatedly wonderful and imaginative private press editions. From the magnificent edition by the Grabhorn Press (their magnum opus) to numerous trade books, I have rarely seen a poor publication of this classic. Other books that also seem to have also prospered amongst fine press and private press publishers are : The Canterbury Tales, Hamlet, Walden, Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, The Golden Asse, the Poems and Sonnets of Wm. Shakespeare, the Holy Bible and biblical stories (e.g., Ecclesiastes, the Revelation of St. John the Divine, the Book of Genesis, the Psalms of David, etc.), and Malory’s ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’.

  5. Thanks for putting this on your site Chris.

    I love walt Whitman’s poetry and I have been interested in photography and great photographers since I was a teenager, with Edward Weston being one who’s images I have admired many times. I knew about this book, but had never seen a copy – it is a real treasure and placing Whitman’s words alongside Weston’s pictures in a beautifully produced book is inspired. Volumes to cherish!

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