Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, Limited Editions Club (1929) and Peter Pauper Press (1950)

{Ed. Note: This post has been updated to include some pictures, thanks to Books and Vines contributor DlphcOrcl, of the 1940 Doubleday Doran edition mentioned in the article below. These newly added pictures are at the bottom of the article.}

Books and Vines has shown a lot of love to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and I want to continue that one more time! The very desirable and hard to find in fine condition 1942 Limited Editions Club (LEC) version, with wonderful photographs by the great Edward Weston, was highlighted here. It was designed by George Macy himself and made at Aldus Printers in New York. Books and Vines also has taken a look at two editions of Leaves of Grass that are sublime; the 1930 Grabhorn Press/Random House edition, which is one of the greatest fine press works of the twentieth century, and the 2014 Arion Press edition, which takes its place as one of the great fine press works so far of the twentieth century. There are two other editions that you should be aware of, both also done in fine press fashion; one being the undervalued 1929 Limited Editions Club (LEC) version and the other a 1950 edition from Peter Pauper Press, a press whose work in the middle part of last century should get much more attention.

{Ed. Note:  We will first look at the 1929 LEC. The Peter Pauper Press edition will follow, at the lower portion of this post.}

Leaves of Grass is the second book published by the LEC. Like most early LEC’s, the publication involved many of the greats of the American fine press movement from the early 1900’s. The 1929 edition was designed in every detail by Frederic Warde (1894—1939), one of the great book designers in American history. Warde worked with Bruce Rogers at the printers William Edwin Rudge from 1920-1922, then became the printer for Princeton University from 1922-1924. Next, he spent time in Europe studying typography, where Stanley Morison offered Ward work designing and writing for The Fleuron and the Monotype Recorder.  After that, he worked with Giovanni Mardersteig’s Officina Bodoni. Finally, Warde returned to America where he again took up at William Edwin Rudge from 1927 to 1932 where he designed and printed books for a number of private presses, including the Limited Editions Club. After 1932, Warde focused on publishing The Dolphin, a Journal of the Making of Books, which the LEC later printed in book form. Not a bad resume!

The Printing House of William Edwin Rudge was one of the premier printing establishments in the United States throughout the 1920’s and early 1930’s.  Bruce Rogers played a large part in the firms reputation as he designed eighty books for the firm up to 1931. The firm also worked with designers/typographers such as Frederic Goudy and W. A. Dwiggins, in addition to the aforementioned role of Frederic Warde.

The type used in the 1929 LEC edition, called Estiennes, was designed by George W. Jones and this edition was its first use in America. The accompanying Monthly Letter (ML) tells us that the type “makes the type page light and airy, and inviting to the eye.” When you see the pictures below, I think you will agree. Bruce Rogers referred to George W. Jones as the “Master of Master Printers” reflecting the very high regard in which he was held in the early twentieth century by printers and typographic designers on both sides of the Atlantic. Books and Vines readers may be familiar with Jones’ work on The Canterbury Tales (1934) and Troilus and Cressida (1939) published at his ‘At the Sign of the Dolphin’ press for the LEC. There is an excellent article on George W. Jones by Lawrence Wallis here.

The introduction of the edition is by Carolyn Wells (1862 – 1942), herself an accomplished American author and poet.

While people pay upwards of $1,000 (or more) for the 1942 LEC with Edward Weston photographs, the 1929 edition can be found in near fine or fine condition as low as $100-300. Setting aside the fact that the 1929 edition, like the Arion Press edition, uses the text from the first edition of Leaves of Grass, while the 1942 edition uses the last edition published before Whitman’s death, and while admitting that I like the photographs from Weston immensely, I have to say that in many ways I find the 1929 edition an equal. It is cleaner, lighter and easier on the eyes (in this instance, I like the generous spacing both between the words and between the sentences, though perhaps it is too much?). The ML states:

We break down and confess that we like out edition of Leaves of Grass a lot. We are even a little excited over it, despite the fact that it is not the sort of book over which one usually gets excited. There are no illustrations at all upon which to feast the eye; it is not jam full of color printing; it is not bound in a sensually gorgeous pigskin.  It is a fine book, a fine book delicately, almost chastely done, a book actually giving off an aura of liveliness.

I completely agree! Having said that, George Macy had second thoughts. In the Quarto-Millenary he states:

I made two serious mistakes in the planning of this book. The first was that I prepared an inadequate text; utterly ignorant of the bibliography of Walt Whitman, I welcomed a Whitmaniac’s suggestion that we reprint the rare first edition: now I wonder what service we rendered to anybody, in reprinting a text which contains so little  of Leaves of Grass. The second was that I asked Frederic Warde to design the book; and now I know that Fred was not the man to translate Walt into type: the binding and the pages of type are very very pretty, and that is the trouble, that the barbaric yawp of Walt Whitman is hushed by the meticulous, delicate, charming and inappropriate typography of Fred Warde.

I must admit I am more in tune with the ML in terms of the merits of the edition, but I do get the criticism in the Quarto-Millenary. I think Macy overly harsh on the merits of the first edition; while it omits a large litany of later significant and must-have additions, it has a raw exuberance and represents the text as it was when it made such a splash in the world. It is Whitman as Whitman first flowed his thoughts from pen to paper, unsullied by over-thinking or tinkering. On the other hand, there is no question that Warde designed a “very very pretty” book, and whether that was appropriate for the raw Leaves of Grass is a legitimate question which history seems to have decided against him. I am not sure I would agree that Whitman is ‘hushed’ by Warde’s design, though it does lack the rugged manliness that you will see in the Peter Pauper Press edition below. In any case, any edition with contributions by Warde, Jones and Rudge cannot help but have many positive attributes and should not be overlooked!

About the Edition (1929 Limited Editions Club edition)

  • Designed by Frederic Warde
  • Printed at the Printing House of William Edwin Rudge
  • Introduction by Carolyn Wells
  • The type, linotype Estiennes, is based upon the types used in early days in France by the Estiennes, was designed by George W. Jones and was the first use in America
  • Vidalon Vergé paper made in France by Canson and Montgolfier (who has been making paper for six centuries!)
  • Bound by George McKibbin & Son, New York, in plain green linen, with a printed design in four colors, by the offset printing process, in order that the design  might appear to be on the cloth, instead of stamped into the cloth; gold-stamped
  • 7 1/2″ x 11″, 212 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies, signed by Frederic Warde

Pictures of the Edition (1929 Limited Editions Club edition)

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. 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 or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Side View
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Side View
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Contents
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Contents
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Facsimile of Whitman's own edition
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Facsimile of cover of Whitman’s own edition
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2 (Preface)
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2 (Preface)
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #2 (Preface)
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #2 (Preface)
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #3
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #3
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #4
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #4
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #5
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #5
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #6
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #6
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Colophon
Leaves of Grass, 1929 Limited Editions Club, Colophon

 

Many consider the 1950 edition of Leaves of Grass from Peter Pauper Press the ‘next best’ twentieth century edition after the Grabhorn (others have mentioned to me a 1940 Doubleday Doran issue with green burlap binding with illustrations in the style of the American Regionalists of the WPA years by Lewis Daniel, but I have not seen a copy).

This volume from Peter Pauper Press contains the complete poems of Walt Whitman, which follow the general order in which they were printed in the 1891-1892 edition, as with the 1942 LEC previously mentioned.  In reading about the history of Peter Pauper Press, it turns out to have a tie-in to some of the same people just mentioned associated with the 1929 LEC edition. From Peter Pauper Press:

In 1928, after studying with famed book and type designer Frederic W. Goudy, printer William Edwin Rudge, and Melbert B. Cary, 22-year-old Peter Beilenson set up a small press in the basement of his father’s home in Larchmont, New York, and designed and printed about 200 copies of J. M. Synge’s With Petrarch. The entire print run was purchased by a New York bookseller, and the volume was lauded as one of the American Institute of Graphic Arts’ “50 Books of the Year.” This was the auspicious beginning of the Peter Pauper Press.

The next year, Edmund B. Thompson joined Beilenson as a partner in the Walpole Printing Office, a limited-editions press named for 18th-century author and private press owner Horace Walpole. Beilenson also began a third imprint for less respectable offerings, entitled “At the Sign of the Blue-Behinded Ape.” After three years, Thompson left the business, and Peter’s wife, Edna Beilenson, became partner. In 1935, they moved Peter Pauper Press to Mount Vernon, New York, where Peter printed special edition books for publishers such as Random House, New Directions, and the Limited Editions Club.

Peter’s son, Nick, in a 1998 New York Times interview, remembered his father as “a very intense, quiet art designer.” His more extroverted mother enjoyed her involvement in the company’s general operations and sales; in 1968, she was named “Who’s Who of American Women” Outstanding Business Woman of the Year.

From the 1930s through the 1950s, Peter Pauper Press produced handsome, finely bound letterpress volumes of prose and poetry, including works by John Donne (which are thought to have sparked new interest in the Jacobean poet), Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, and hundreds more.

The books were sold at “prices even a pauper could afford,” according to Nick, though many included slipcovers, handmade paper, one- or two-color printing, and illustrations, woodcuts, and graphics by some of the 20th century’s most acclaimed artists, including Valenti Angelo, Fritz Kredel, Lynd Ward, Fritz Eichenberg, Raymond Lufkin, and Richard Floethe.

Edna Beilenson also started a cookbook series in the 1950s; she once said it covered everything “from abalone to zabaglione.” She also initiated the use of decorative bindings for smaller gift books. The couple published 10 to 12 new titles each year until Peter’s death in 1962 at the age of 56.

Edna then took over the business, which thrived until the late 1970s. In a magazine interview at that time, she said, “My career at the Peter Pauper Press has been a lifelong romance.” In addition to her duties at the press, she was also the first woman president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, among the first women elected to the Grolier Club, a president and chairman of the Board of the Goudy Society, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Today, the Beilensons’ fine press and gift book editions are sought-after collectibles, and a number of rare book libraries have held exhibitions of their work. Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder of the University of Exeter, in the U.K., founding members of the Information Society Network, consider these titles “culturally notable artifacts” that served as “guidebooks to a mobile, articulate, cultured life.” According to Borgerson and Schroeder, “These little books made belles-lettres authors, exotic ingredients, and foreign figures available to mainstream U.S. consumers. . . . Peter Pauper Press’s attractive books contributed small signals of success in the quest for adventurous dining, broader horizons, and cultural capital.”

Peter Pauper’s presses kept running until Edna’s death in 1981; after her passing, they almost stopped for good. But her son, Nick Beilenson, a lawyer, and his wife, Evelyn Beilenson, an interior decorator, chose not to let that happen; both changed careers and re-launched the business, moving it to White Plains, New York.

Currently, Evelyn remains Publisher of Peter Pauper Press, Nick has retired, and a third generation is very much involved. Nick and Evelyn’s son, Laurence Beilenson, is now Chief Executive Officer, and his wife, Esther, is Director of Special Sales. Another Beilenson son, John, is a free-lance Peter Pauper author, as is daughter Suzanne.

Celebrating its 85th anniversary, Peter Pauper Press is prospering with a customer-pleasing line of children’s books, activity books, stationery, journals, holiday cards, engagement calendars, travel guides, gift books, and vibrant new and backlist bestsellers. 

Unfortunately, my copy has quite a bit of offsetting of the illustrations, as you will see below. However, the quality still shines through. The 15 wood-engravings by Boyd Hanna have a heavy, almost ‘manly’ style to them, probably better capturing the spirit of Whitman’s poems that Macy felt was lacking from his 1929 edition. The attractive binding is quarter brown morocco leather with decorative paper over boards. I am getting the spine cleaned up next month at which point the externals seen below will be fine. The mould-made paper by Hurlbut Paper Company is fantastic, a smooth egg shell like texture, with large Waverley and Lydian types at a scale making it easy to read; though the large size of the book itself, 14.5″ x 10″ with 400 pages, makes it heavy to hold and read. None-the-less, this book is quite impressive; you have to see and feel it to fully grasp how good it is, and how effective the design comes together. Any lover of Leaves of Grass and/or fine press editions should have this on their wants list.

About the Edition (1950 Peter Pauper Press edition)

  • Illustrated with 15 wood-engravings, in 2 colors, by Boyd Hanna
  • Woodcuts by Boyd Hanna printed directly from the block
  • Quarter brown morocco leather with decorative paper over boards; binding done by the Russell Rutter Co.
  • Gilted top edge, ornamentation and title
  • Set in Waverley and Lydian types and printed on mould-made paper by Hurlbut Paper Company
  • 14.5″ x 10″, 400 pages
  • Special Edition limited to 1100 copes

Pictures of the Edition  (1950 Peter Pauper Press edition)

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. 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 or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Book in Slipcase
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Book in Slipcase
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Macro of Spine
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Macro of Spine
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Front Cover
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Front Cover
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Macro of Front Cover
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Macro of Front Cover
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Macro of Side View
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Macro of Side View
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Macro of Title Page
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Macro of Title Page
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Contents
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Contents
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Text #1
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Text #1
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Text #2
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Text #2
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Text #3
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Text #3
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Text #4
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Text #4
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Text #5
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Text #5
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Illustration #5
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Illustration #3
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Illustration #6 with Text
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Sample Text #6
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Colophon
Leaves of Grass, Peter Pauper Press, Colophon

 

About the Edition (1940 Doubleday Doran & Co. edition)

  • Green burlap material, paper label on spine
  • Illustrated in color & black & white by Lewis C. Daniel
  • Introduction by Christopher Morley
  • 9¾ – 12″ tall, 317pp.

Pictures of the 1940 Doubleday Doran edition

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. 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 or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Spine and Cover
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Spine and Cover
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Cover
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Cover
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Title Page
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Title Page
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Text #1
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Text #1
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Illustration #1
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Illustration #1
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Illustration #2
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Illustration #2
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Text #2
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Text #2
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Text #3
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Text #3
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Illustration #3
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Illustration #3
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Illustration #4
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Sample Illustration #4
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Copyright Page
Leaves of Grass, Doubleday Doran, Copyright Page

5 thoughts on “Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, Limited Editions Club (1929) and Peter Pauper Press (1950)

  1. It maybe universal, but it is still a flaw. It is usually caused by not having driers added to the ink before printing. Most older books were slipsheeted between pages so that any offsetting was produced on the tissue used in the slipsheeting. Driers to prevent this were not available in early printing. Offsetting on LEC books occured when heavy ink coverage was used or when illustrations were hand colored. The LECs with objectionable offsetting include The School for Scandal (hand colored illustrations) and The 1930s Villon (heavy ink coverage.

  2. The offsetting or “bleeding” from the colors of the illustrations, capital letters, and chapter headings in the Peter Pauper ‘Leaves of Grass’ is a universal phenomenon resulting from the particular ink used. Every copy of this book I have seen has this, so much so that it cannot be considered a “defect” or flaw. This should be kept in mind by anyone wishing to acquire a copy of this book.

  3. I would agree with Macy’s criticism of the LEC’s use of the 1st edition text (in this instance, less is less), but I am not bothered by the airy typography — it works for me. The Peter Pauper edition, however, while beautiful, seems too massive to be a convenient reading copy, for all but the most formal perusal of Whitman’s poems.

    I think there’s one more edition of Leaves of Grass you might mention, with some connection to the two LEC editions you’ve already noted: The 1936/1937 edition from The Heritage Press, with Rockwell Kent’s illustrations. I don’t have a lot of info about it, but it seems to be one of those HP productions with no LEC equivalent. And, if I’m not mistaken, there was a 1936 issue in a limited edition of 1000 copies, bound in full green Morocco and signed by Kent, followed by a 1937 regular issue in full green cloth. I don’t know if there were differences other than the binding and signature to distinguish the two.

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