Affordable Treasures and Pleasures, No. 1: Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson (New York Graphic Society, 1980)

{Ed. Note: This is the first part of what will be an on-going series looking at finely done books that are actually affordable! The idea for this series, and this article, is by Books and Vines contributor DlphcOracl.}

Many of the books featured on Books and Vines have two features in common: (1) they represent the pinnacle of private press imagination, craftsmanship and typographical excellence, and (2) they have become ungodly expensive. The latter is most unfortunate because it renders much of Books and Vines an internet form of ‘eye candy’, a website to admire extraordinary books from afar without eliciting a more personal involvement.  Few readers can afford to collect books which now routinely sell for four-figure sums and, for many, a book costing one or two hundred dollars is also a rare luxury. This article will be the first of several which highlight affordable books that are within the financial reach of all Books and Vines readers yet maintain the high standards of far more expensive private press books.  These books are what I classify as ‘fine press’ (as opposed to private press), i.e., trade publications printed without stated limitation, printed without using letterpress technique or rare handmade papers.

The classic example of the current disparity between cost and quality of many finely crafted books is the Limited Edition Club (LEC) series.  Excluding the highly sought after LEC editions with illustrations from famous illustrators or photographers, or those of the Shiff era, the remainder are astonishingly inexpensive, with many titles available for less than fifty dollars on AbeBooks or eBay.  Undoubtedly this is a by-product of the e-reader, the desire and craze to read a great work of literature by squinting at a small screen akin to viewing ‘The Honeymooners’ or ‘I Love Lucy’ on a television screen in the 1950’s. These technological “marvels” have devalued books in print, making many fine LEC titles available for little more than the cost of a new, generic hardcover trade publication.  The Kindles and Nooks have inadvertently proven to be a boon to book lovers and collectors.  So……., when you see someone fumbling or squinting at an e-reader do not be shy about expressing your gratitude for their role in inadvertently providing us with a largesse of affordable fine press and private press books.

Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson is an homage to Emily Dickinson by Jane Langton (editor) and Nancy Ekholm Burkert (illustrator).  As stated inside the dustcover: “It is a book for all ages and for all levels of Dickinson readers. Designed and printed to the highest standards of bookmaking it is a book to own, to share, and to cherish for years to come.”   This is not hyperbole, this is a folio-size book with a linen-like cloth over boards and an intaglio of the large blossoming flower on the dust cover embedded into the front board.

A thick, high quality paper (Mohawk Superfine) is used for the text and an original set of ten full color paintings for illustration and numerous line drawings in sepia have been commissioned and provided by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. An Appreciation of forty pages by Langton serves as a long, valuable introduction to Emily Dickinson, her world, her influences, her thoughts, all liberally interspersed and illustrated with excerpts from her poems.  Eighty poems selected by Langton, spanning a wide range of Dickinson’s work, follow her heartfelt Appreciation.

A brief search on AbeBooks.com shows that a hardcover first edition of this book in fine or near-fine condition can easily by purchased for under twenty-five dollars.   For a high-quality, thoughtfully designed book of poetry from one of the two great American poets of the nineteenth century (the other, of course, is Walt Whitman) this is indeed an affordable treasure.

About the Edition

  • Typeset in Dante (text) and Centaur (display) by Michael & Winifred Bixler
  • Printed by Princeton Polychrome Press
  • Color separations by Offset Separations
  • Text paper (Mohawk Superfine) supplied by Mohawk Paper Mills;  insert paper (LOE Dull) supplied by S.D. Warren Paper Company
  • Bound by A. Horowitz and Son

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.)

Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Dust Cover
Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Front board with intaglio design of flower taken from dust cover
Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Macro view of intaglio flower dew sign, front board
Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Book spine
Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Opening page of book
Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Title Page
Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Portrait of Emily Dickinson – page opposite ‘An Appreciation’
Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Title page of ‘Emily Dickinson – An Appreciation’
Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Poem #1
Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Poem #2
Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Poem #3
Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Sample illustration #1
Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson, New York Graphic Society, Poem #4

7 thoughts on “Affordable Treasures and Pleasures, No. 1: Acts of Light: Emily Dickinson (New York Graphic Society, 1980)

  1. Neil:

    Your comment regarding the high standards of many publishers involved in art and photography is spot on and entirely applicable in this case. The New York Graphic Society (NYGS) is first and foremost a publisher of world class modern art and photography with a rich 75 year history. Their Ansel Adams photography books (especially Taos Pueblo) and in depth studies of Van Gogh, Cezanne, Dali, etc., are all considered landmark publications of their type. When they venture away from this core and publish books in literature and poetry they do indeed bring their high standards to the project — it is in their publishing DNA.

    This book of Emily Dickinson poetry is a wonderful example of the creative and artistic spillover and for under $25 it is a steal.

  2. Good idea for a series of articles and a nice book to start !

    It is not unusual to find letterpress printed and private press books that have low production standards and suffer from poor typography. There are also many ‘trade’ books that are produced with care, designed with skill, and exhibit the highest typographical standards.

    The price of a book isn’t always a guide to its physical excellence or the value of its text. The Folio Society and the Heritage Press are good examples of books that are designed to private press standards without using the materials or production methods that would attach private press prices to them.

    Amongst other countless examples are many art, photography, design and typography books that, by definition, require good design to portray their subjects with credibility.

    This series will add to Books & Vines and make a great site even more interesting.

  3. Hi wholohan, thanks for commenting! It is amazing to me the dichotomy that ebooks are driving; as most people go electronic, I really believe that those left that want ‘real’ books will gravitate more and more to nice editions, be it Easton, FS or eventually more expensive Fine Press books. I actually think, for a time, prices for these ‘real books’ may decline some due to ebooks (especially Eastons and FS’s), but in the long run will increase as demand for them will rise as fine editions of classics in physical format will become more desirable as collector items.

    Don, agree completely that the ‘innards’ of LEC’s are special, and putting a good binding on them immediately make them a wonderful investment (and I mean that from a value and beauty standpoint, not from a selling them standpoint).

  4. Hey Chris, great post as usual. I have been collecting (slowly) for a little while now, mainly Easton Press books and I’ve seen a nice decline in prices as e-readers have become more popular. But thanks for these posts they’ve introduced me to a bunch of different publishers and manufacturers even if most are only to ogle at.

  5. Hello Chris-
    It’s interesting that you are stating that some of the decline in LEC pricing is due to non-physical books taking precedence over the many LECs published from 1929 through 1985. I’ve seen it go both ways. After looking for about a year, I had to pay $300 for an unsigned Alice in Wonderland with part of the spine missing. I’ve also come across some real deals with Tales of Soldiers and Civilians going for $40 and Dickens’ Great Expectations going for $60. Of course, to rebind these books runs from $300 to $400 per book, and only if the book is a single volume. In any event it has proven to be an excellent hobby for me and has saved many an LEC from the trash bin. By the end of this year, I will have saved 32 LECs. All of these Macy classics were Fine on the inside, but suffered extreme stress becauseof their binding problems.

    Since all the Macy books were printed letterpress and many with hand-set type, in the long run restoring these books to their original granduer, is economically feasible since you can turn a $40 to $50 LEC into a $700 to $1000 book with a little investment.

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