The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club (1938)

One of my favorite works from Limited Editions Club (LEC) is their spectacular and under-rated The Song of Roland, published in 1938. First, The Song of Roland is a book that belongs in everyone’s library as one of the great classics and great chanson de geste (“song of heroic deeds”of all time; not to mention the oldest surviving major work of French literature. Unlike some Pre-Medieval and Medieval manuscripts it  easy to read, with lots of action, moves at a fast pace, and has an exciting storyline. Second, this edition from the Limited Editions Club is a marvel.

Before describing this marvelous edition, a bit about The Song of Roland. Transmitted orally for some time prior to it being written, the poem is estimated to have been written between 1040 and 1115 by a poet named Turold (perhaps!).  There are nine extant manuscripts of the Song of Roland in Old French, the oldest of which written in Anglo-Norman dating from 1140 to 1170 and is held at the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

The action in the story takes place when Charlemagne‘s army is fighting the Muslims in SpainRoland is one of Charlemagne’s key military leaders. His step-father, Ganelon, ends up being treacherous, telling the Saracens to attack the rear guard of Charlemagne’s army, led by Roland, which will be greatly out-numbered. Despite absolute heroics, Roland’s men and Roland himself are killed. Roland is an actual historical figure of which little is known, except his death in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in August of 778. It is this battle that is transformed into the romantic account of The Song of Roland, which resulted in Roland’s iconic status in medieval times.

Let’s take a quick look at this fantastic LEC. Printed by Edward B. Thompson at Hawthorn House in hand-set 14 point Caslon Type on an all-rag, dull-white, fabulous feel paper called Marken from the Pannekoek Mills, Holland, this edition was intended by Mr. Thompson to have “the lines of poetry on the page to take upon themselves a noble majesty” suitable for this great story. He certainly succeeds — even before considering the best part of the edition; the extensive hand-illustrations and hand-illumination done by artist Valenti Angelo which run throughout the book. Each drawing was first done and printed in black ink. Mr. Angelo proceeded to then hand color each drawing in oranges, reds and blues (stylistically reflecting medieval manuscripts), finally illuminating each drawing with pure gold. If that was not enough, Mr. Angelo also hand-colored and hand-illuminated the initial letters of each chapter! Yet, there is more…this edition is bound with a back of genuine parchment stamped with a design in pure gold and with sides done with a brilliant blue rag pepper upon which a design by Mr. Angelo appears…you guessed it, also colored by hand by Mr. Angelo. It is ridiculous that this can still be found in near fine or better for $100-$200. If you do find it at such price, you would be remiss to pass on it.

About the Edition

  • Translation by Charles Scott Moncrieff
  • Introduction by Hamish Miles
  • Illustrated and Hand-Illuminated by Valenti Angelo
  • Printed by Edward B. Thompson at Hawthorn House, Windham, Connecticut
  • 14 point Caslon Type, set by hand
  • All rag paper called Marken from the Pannekoek Mills, Holland by Gerald Proost, dried between two felts
  • Bound with a back of genuine parchment stamped with a design in pure gold; sides done with a brilliant blue rag pepper upon which a design by Angelo appears, colored by hand by Angelo
  • 6 3/4″ x 10 1/2″, 160 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies, signed by Valenti Angelo

Pictures of the Edition

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The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Slipcase
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Cover and Spine
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Cover and Spine
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Cover
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Cover
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover #1
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover #1
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover #2
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover #2
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro Side View
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro Side View
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Cover Page
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Cover Page
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover Page
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover Page
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text Page #1 (Introduction)
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text Page #1 (Introduction)
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text Page #1 (Introduction)
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text Page #1 (Introduction)
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with text
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with text
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Illustration #1
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Illustration #1
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Initial Lettering
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Initial Lettering
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with text
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with text
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text Page #2
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text Page #2
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #4 with text
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 with text
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #7 with text
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #4 with text
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Illustration #7
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Illustration #4
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Colophon Decoration
The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Colophon Decoration

3 thoughts on “The Song of Roland, Limited Editions Club (1938)

  1. Excellent article and choice of book, Chris. This book is an early LEC treasure, published toward the end of George Macy’s first decade. The article could have simply started by stating: “hand-illuminated illustrations and initial letters by Valenti Angelo” and that is all an astute private press book collector would need to know that this indeed something special. The book design is sympathetic to ‘Song of Roland, quality of materials is absolutely top-notch, and this instantly qualifies as an “Affordable Treasure”.

    Amazingly, collectible copies of this book varying from VG ++ to fine condition can be easily found on Abebooks for between $50 to $75 dollars. While Neil (Celtic), Chris and I often delight in writing articles about very rare and expensive private press books from the likes of Arion Press, Golden Cockerel Press, etc., this book is proof positive that nearly anyone can afford a wonderful collection of private press books without incurring financial hardship. The internet and the World Wide Web are truly a book collector’s best friend.

  2. Great review and a great book. Though the average price for this gem isn’t correct. I got my in a very good condition for about $50 of ebay. Then again, this was some 2 years ago…the prices might have spiked.

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