Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, King James Translation, The Spiral Press (1965); Also, The Thistle Press (1968)

Joseph Blumenthal was one of the great fine press personages of the twentieth century in America. His Spiral Press did important work for a large number of clients such as Robert Frost and President Franklin Roosevelt, publishing houses such as Henry Holt & Co. and Random House, as well as for The Limited Editions Club (LEC) of George Macy. Readers of Books and Vines are likely well familiar with much of the work he did for the LEC over a forty year time period, including The Lyrics of Francois Villan (1933), Sister Carrie (1939), The Pilgrim’s Progress (1941), Spoon River Anthology (1942), Fathers and Sons (1951), Sense and Sensibility (1957), The Living Talmud (1960), Resurrection (1963), Hard Times (1966), Jude, The Obscure (1969), All Quiet on the Western Front (1969), The Short Stories of Charles Dickens (1971), and Childhood, Boyhood, Youth (1972). The American Institute of Graphic Arts honored more than fifty of Blumenthal’s book designs as one of their Fifty Books of the Year over this time period.

Besides designing and printing fine press works, Blumenthal also did the typography for larger publishers and trade editions. He dabbled in typeface design, creating the Emerson typeface, which you can see in the pictures of the edition being reviewed below (it was named Emerson since its first use, recut by Stanley Morison for the Monotype Corporation, was for a private-press edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s essay Nature). Finally, Blumenthal was also a historian of the book, writing Art of the Printed Book 1455-1955: Masterpieces of Typography through Five Centuries and The Printed Book in America.

Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher is an excellent example of the quality of Blumenthal’s work. All aspects were designed by him. The title page and frontispiece are especially nice, its use of two colors, right justification, spacing and use of all capitals seem just about perfect for this edition. While the Emerson type does not provide hints of Hebrew or Greek design often used in biblical books, its classic renaissance-like characteristics result in an easy to read, handsome layout, especially with the generous spacing. The binding is simple, but attractive. The vellum used in this book, a particular subset called “hairy vellum”, has natural and normal variation in color and shading, not too mention deep and obvious pores. Combined with the propensity for vellum to soil, this edition is tough to find in fine condition, as even sometimes when it truly is fine, to most it may not look so!

Ecclesiastes is one of 24 books of the Hebrew bible and is one of the canonical Wisdom Books in the Old Testament. It is one of the strangest and least likely books to find in the Bible in its lack of direct relationship with Judaism and its religious ambiguity. Likely composed in the third century B.C., it ponders the meaning of life and how one should seek to live the best life. The eponymous Preacher can fairly be called a skeptic in philosophy in terms of not seeing a divinely moral order and in semantics often implying the meaningless, or even hopelessness, of life (Kenneth Rexroth perfectly sums up the Preacher’s words as “life is a puzzle bounded by all sides by oblivion“). The first paragraph of Ecclesiastes also gives a pretty adequate feel for the Preacher’s philosophy:

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh : but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also arisith, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north ; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea ; yet the sea is not full ; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. All things are full of labour ; man cannot utter it : the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing that hath been done, it is that which shall be ; and that which is done is that which shall be done : and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things ; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

It certainly leaves one wondering the point of life. However, by the final words of the book, the Preacher is very specific on what man must do to live the life he should:

Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgement, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

While a ‘Wisdom Book’, much of it shows the futility of wisdom since the power of humans to understand such is so limited. For instance:

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

And:

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

And:

The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all. Then I said in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this is also vanity. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten, And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.

What men should embrace is each day, and the simple gifts given to him by God.

So there is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. 

Some good words of advice that probably all reading this have broken!

When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

And more advice, for the young (in some ways, reminding me of Conrad’s Youth):

Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let they heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of tine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.

Lastly, Ecclesiastes is an excellent source of remembrance of the equality to which we all ultimately return.

As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand.

And:

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, not yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.

And:

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was,
And the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

In short, Ecclesiastes seems to boil down to understanding that wisdom is essentially keeping counsel with God’s commandments. Regardless of someone’s belief in religion, certainly the text of Ecclesiastes in the King James version is simply beautiful, amongst the pinnacle of written English.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, ad a time together stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose,
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

Because of the major influence this book of the Bible has had on Western culture, its influence in Western literature is tremendous and it has been a favorite for fine press producers to tackle over the decades. Vale Press, Golden Cockerel Press, Gwasg Gregynog, Trianon Press, Limited Editions Club (done by The Thistle Press, which you will see at the bottom of this article), The Ballantyne Press and others have tried their hand at an edition of Ecclesiastes, but for now let’s look at the edition from The Spiral Press.

About the Edition (The Spiral Press)

  • Designed by Joseph Blumenthal of The Spiral Press
  • Drawings by Ben Shahn
  • Drawings engraved in wood by Stefan Martin and printed from the original blocks
  • Calligraphy by David Sosensky
  • Set in Emerson type
  • Bound in half vellum black cloth boards
  • Gilt gold titling on spine
  • Comes in a chemise and slipcase
  • Limited to 285 copies
  • Signed by Ben Shahn, Stefan Martin, Joseph Blumenthal & David Sosensky

Pictures of the Edition (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.)

Ecc, The Spiral Press, Slipcase and Chemise
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Slipcase and Chemise
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Spine and Cover
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Spine and Cover. Note that the vellum spine on this copy and all copies will not be uniform in color and will not be bright white. This is because the vellum used in this book is a particular subset called “hairy vellum” and it has natural and normal variation in color and shading.
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Spine
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Spine
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Cover
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Cover
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Cover
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Cover
Ecc, The Spiral Press, Slipcase and Chemise Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Slipcase and Chemise Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Spine and Cover Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Spine and Cover Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Spine Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Spine Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Cover Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Cover Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Cover Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Cover Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Design of Title Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Design of Title Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Frontispiece and Title Page Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Frontispiece and Title Page Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Frontispiece Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Frontispiece Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of the Title Page Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of the Title Page Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Half-Title Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, The Start Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Sample Text #1 Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Sample Text #1 Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Sample Text #1 Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Sample Text #1 Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Colophon Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Side View
Ecc, The Spiral Press, The Spiral Press, Macro of Side View
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Design of Title
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Design of Title
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Frontispiece
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Frontispiece
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of the Title Page
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of the Title Page
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Half-Title
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, The Start
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Sample Text #1
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Sample Text #1
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Colophon
Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, The Spiral Press, Colophon

 

The Limited Editions Club (LEC) also produced a version of Ecclesiastes, published in 1968 by The Thistle Press. This edition also made good use of two colors in the text presentation. In this case, the original Hebrew was printed in sanguine en face of the English, done in black. Because Hebrew is read from right to left, while English left to right and because Hebrew is more economical in words and spelling than English, the Monthly Letter (ML) that came with this edition tells us that “after many experiments it was decided not to attempt to strike an optical balance between the economical Hebrew and the corresponding wordy English on the facing page.”  Both facing pages find their even edges at the inner margins which does leave some amount of optical imbalance to this reader. Yet, the spacing and use of color helps make the reading pleasurable, as does the typeface selection of Monotype Bembo for the English and especially the Monotype Peninim for Hebrew which at least gives some credence of trying to look a decent artistic match to the Bembo. The ML tells us that besides reading pleasure these design choices were done to “enhance the dignity of the typographic presentation.” I will leave it to you, when looking at the examples below, to form your own conclusion if they succeeded at such.

The illustrations by Edgar Miller, seven tempera paintings, have perhaps a bit too much of a late 1960’s/early 1970’s feel to them for my taste, and stylistically for Ecclesiastes I prefer those of Ben Shahn in the edition from The Spiral Press. Still, they do reflect and tell the story in their own way. (As an aside, looking at some other works by Miller via internet search, I really like his sketches). The ML tells us that with the deep blacks and bright contrasting colors, that they “trace the state of mind of the preacher as a wealthy man of property who eventually finds the courage to face death. In the course of his vivid visual accompaniment to the Biblical text, the artist illustrates scores of the most trenchant and poignant passages, concluding the series with a painting in which a butterfly (“the symbol of the soul at liberty”) hovers over the body of the deceased.”  The fine introduction to this LEC edition was provided by accomplished American poet Kenneth Rexroth.  This LEC edition was done in full lambskin, which though feeling great, is notoriously difficult to keep in fine condition.  In very good, or near-fine condition, it usually can be found in the $100-200 range.

About the Edition (The Thistle Press for The Limited Editions Club)

  • Designed and printed by David Way of The Thistle Press
  • Seven tempera paintings by Edgar Miller: a frontispiece and six double page spreads, reproduced by Rainbows, Inc., and the Holyoke Lithographing Company
  • Introduction by Kenneth Rexroth
  • Revised King James version with the original Hebrew en face
  • Monotype Bembo printed in black for the English, and Monotype Peninim printed in sanguine (crimson) for the Hebrew
  • Printed on a heavyweight deckle-edge white wove rag paper specially made for this edition by the Curtis Paper Company
  • Bound in full natural lambskin with an overall scroll pattern worked into the front and back covers, with the title stamped in pure gold leaf on the shelf back
  • 8 1/2″ x 11 3/8″, 96 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies
  • Signed by Edgar Miller

Pictures of the Edition (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.)

Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Cover
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Cover
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Cover
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #2
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #2
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text, Chapter 7
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text, Chapter 7
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #4
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #4
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
Ecclesiastes, Limited Editions Club, Colophon

2 thoughts on “Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher, King James Translation, The Spiral Press (1965); Also, The Thistle Press (1968)

  1. There was an earlier version of Emerson, called Spiral. It was in use at The Wells College Press, and can be seen in The Three-Cornered Hat by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, H. Bittner & Company, New York, 1944, with woodcuts by Fritz Kredel, printed by Victor Hammer. Also in The Clouds, Aigeltinger, Russia, &c. by William Carlos Williams, published jointly by The Wells College Press and The Cummington Press, 1948, printed by Harry Duncan and Paul Wightman Williams in April and May of that year, as Victor Hammer was packing for his move to Kentucky. / A handsome, self-confident face; too bad it was shoved out of the nest by Emerson, which possibly had qualities which made it more widely useful. Maybe the mats exist somewhere and an independent minded type caster will someday—hopefully during our lifetime—revive it.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out. I had actually stumbled upon The Three-Cornered Hat edition you mention some number of months ago, and in the two minutes I had to flip through it found it very charming — I wish I would have paid more attention to the type and realized what I was looking at. Hopefully someone will revive it.

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