Herman Melville‘s Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, a great work in the pantheon of American short stories, was first published anonymously in Putnam’s Monthly in November/December 1853. It was published in book form in 1856 as part of The Piazza Tales, a collection of short stories by Melville. It is considered antecedent of absurdist literature, and certainly leaves one wondering ‘huh?’. Endlessly debated, it is not clear exactly how one should interpret the story, nor what significance the sub-title of ‘A Story of Wall Street‘ holds, since outwardly the story has nothing to do with the machinations of Wall Street; only the location happens to be set there. Psychological in nature, the story focuses on Bartleby, a scrivener (one who writes legal documents) whose increasingly odd behavior is never explained (in today’s vernacular, he would be said to have “checked out”, but why?). It is apparent that he suffers from a deep and permanent depression; outright insanity being the only other explanation. Told in first person by Bartleby’s employer, some suggest that the story is less about the mystery of Bartleby, and more about the narrator and his response to Bartleby’s decline. Those who have read this short story forever have an aversion to someone responding to a request with “I would prefer not to.”
This edition of Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street was started by Wilber Schilling in the spring of 1993 as part of his MFA degree at the University of Arts, in Philidelphia. The work was eventually the first letterpress publication of Mr. Schilling’s Indulgence Press in 1995. Since then, Mr. Schilling has published a number of fine works, many of which have been exhibited internationally and can be found in over 100 collections including the New York Public Library, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Getty Center, the British Library, Auckland Central City Library, the Whitney Museum and the Library of Congress. Mr. Schilling pretty much does it all: artist, designer, printer, illustrator, bookbinder and publisher. Reflecting the true spirit of a fine private press, the mission of Indulgence Press is “to integrate form and content through the production of high quality art and craft while exploring and expanding on the history of the book.” His primary instrument for printing is a hand-fed Vandercook SP20 cylinder letterpress.
Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity to see first-hand other examples of Mr. Schilling’s work, but considering his fantastic edition of Bartleby was at the beginning of his career, I can only imagine! This edition sports a unique and stylish binding (see pictures below), hand-made MacGregor & Vinzani ochre colored end papers, Arches MBM mould made paper, sewn-boards binding, a frontispiece photograph from Mr. Schilling done as a Kallitype print exposed on Kitakata paper, and original hand lettering of Bartleby’s classic “I would prefer not to” statement in the period style of a 19th century legal script which first appears fully legible and becomes larger until it literally falls off the bottom of the final page. The colophon tells us this pattern was “used to represent the increasing abstractness of Bartleby’s character as the story progresses.” Quite clever and a nice touch! The typeface is 12 point Bulmer, with Mr. Schilling casting the lead type on a monotype keyboard and casting machine.
About the Edition
- Edited as according to its first printing, an anonymously published edition for Putnam’s Monthly (Vol. II No. XI, AMagazine of Literature, Science & Art), November 1853.
- Original hand lettering, by Suzanne Moore, of Bartleby’s classic “I would prefer not to” statement
- The frontispiece photograph is a Kallitype print by Wilber H. Schilling, exposed on Kitakata paper
- The ochre colored end papers were handmade by MacGregor & Vinzani
- The edition is printed on Arches MBM mould made paper and bound as a sewn-boards binding (there is a deluxe edition of 26 using handmade Blue Gray Ledger paper, by MacGregor & Vinzani)
- Printed using both lead type and polymer plates (polymer plates for the original hand lettering)
- Wilber H. Schilling cast the lead type on a monotype keyboard and casting machine, with help from Kent Kasuboske as the Clearing Press
- Typeface is 12 point Bulmer
- Text printed by Wilber H. Schilling, done at the Janus Press
- Sew-boards binding for the regular edition; the deluxe edition is quarter leather bound
- 56 pages, 12″ x 6″
- Limited to 100 copies
Pictures of the Edition
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