Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll, Illustrations by John Tenniel, Limited Editions Club (1932, 1935)

There is no question that the three most desirable titles, from a collectors standpoint, of the George Macy Limited Editions Club (LEC) era are the Picasso illustrated and signed Lysistrata from Aristophanes, James Joyce‘s Ulysses with illustrations and signature of Henri Matisse (some with Joyce’s signature also) and the Lewis Carroll ‘set’ of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The desirability of these titles have less to do with the inherent quality of these editions and more to do with the simple fact that they contain a famous signature. Signatures of Picasso, James Joyce and Matisse are sure to command a premium on any work they appear on, LEC editions included. For Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass it is the signature of ‘the original Alice’, i.e., Alice Hargreaves, that commands the premium on the editions she signed.

Mrs. Hargreaves (Alice Liddel as a child) inspired her uncle Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) to write Alice in Wonderland when she asked him to tell her and her sisters a story as they were boating at a picnic in 1862 (Alice was 10 at the time). He spun a marvelous tale, not unlike one he had told them before, but this time Alice asked him to write it down. In late 1864, Carroll presented it as a manuscript to Alice, titled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. He went on to have it published as Alice in Wonderland for general circulation in 1865, the same edition including the now famous illustrations by John Tenniel.

Tenniel’s illustrations were an immediate hit, and have since come to reflect what most people imagine when they think of Alice and her adventures. While Alice Liddel (Hargreaves) was the inspiration for the story, a young lady named Mary Babcock has long been thought as the one Tenniel based his illustrations on. Interestingly, both Carroll and Tenniel were aghast at the poor quality of the illustration reproductions when the book was first published. The original illustrations were drawn to be reproduced from wood blocks, but instead were cast into moulds and printed from electrotypes. Subsequent editions saw some improvements, but for whatever reason still did not reproduce directly from the wood. To George Macy’s credit, besides enticing Alice Hargreaves to sign the edition, he also had Tenniel’s illustrations re-engraved by the German artist Bruno Rollitz, and so this 1932 LEC is the first printing of Alice in Wonderland in wood, as was originally intended by Carroll and Tenniel.

A sequel named Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There was published in 1871, also with Tenniel illustrations. It also was hugely successful and remains extremely popular. Like the LEC Alice edition, Macy had the Tenniel illustrations re-engraved in wood for his 1935 publication of Through the Looking Glass, this time by Frederic Warde, who also designed both editions. Warde was one of the great American book designers of the twentieth century, and is no stranger to collectors of LEC’s (as he designed many). Macy remarked that Warde’s printing is “full of manners and void of mannerisms,” with his work displaying a “chastity, a simplicity, an honesty.”  Warde was Director of Princeton University Press and was associated with Bruce Rogers at the Printing House of William Edwin Rudge (of which he eventually became head of typographic design). Warde also spent some time helping Hans Mardersteig at Officina Bodoni. In short, Warde was an excellent choice to design these books, and he did a superb job. The books complement the works, they do not overwhelm them. The binding design is especially worth calling out. Warde had the volumes bound by George McKibbin & Son in French levant morocco, Alice in a deep wine color, Looking Glass in blue, both with ornaments and designs in pure gold, with all three sides also stained in gold. Warde composed the design on the covers using type ornaments, and used the same on the spine intertwined with Tenniel’s drawings. As Macy remarked, the result displays “beauty and precision.”

For both editions, Warde choose the use of Caslon type (done here by Lanston Monotype Company). William Caslon was the first great English type founder. Macy describes the Caslon types as “pleasant and friendly, homely and charming.”  He goes on to accurately state that “if you look at one of the letters, you will find there is no mechanical perfection in the design; each letter is imperfect; but, astonishingly enough, these letters when assembled into the mass of a type page seem to approach evenness, sturdiness, perfection.”  The paper from Hurlbut Paper Company, as specified by Warde, has a high rag content and is “dull and mellow in color,” with a “simple but smooth surface.” The volumes are both 5 3/4″ x 8 3/4″, a very comfortable size for reading.

As you can see, Macy did not rest on the ‘Alice’ signature laurels for this edition. Being the first to print Tenniel’s illustrations as originally intended from wood was an excellent addition to the Alice oeuvre. Utilizing the services of one of America’s greatest book designers, as well as one of America’s greatest printing houses, deserves some call out also. Wade’s use of type ornaments for the cover design had a wonderful outcome. As Macy wrote:

When our book appears for sale in the resale market, or in the auction rooms, a copy of Alice in Wonderland, signed by the original Alice, usually fetches the highest of all prices. I think this is because Fred Warde made an exquisite book of it; because the illustrations were badly printed in the early editions, and we were wise to have them re-engraved in wood so they were printed properly in our edition, for the first time; and because of the signature of the original Alice has so good an association value.

Having talked up Warde’s contribution and the wood based illustrations, and despite the fact that you really should not discount those, there is no question that the ‘Alice’ signature is what makes these editions special…and costly. While the edition without Alice’s signature can be found in near fine or better condition for well under $1,000, near fine or better editions with her signature typically go for $2,000-4,000.

How did George Macy manage to entice Alice Hargreaves into signing his edition, when she had previously always refused to sign copies of Alice? Macy wrote:

When I heard that Mrs. Alice Hargreaves had accepted the invitation of Columbia University to come to the Lewis Carroll celebration which the University was planning, I wrote to her at her home in England, to ask whether she would autograph the copies of our edition of Alice in Wonderland while here. I got a letter from her son in which he said that his mother had never autographed copies of the book, but that the suggestion appealed to her, now that she was at so advanced an age, to sign the copies of our edition before her God took her to His bosom. He therefore agreed that his mother would do this job when she came to New York….He then stipulated the payment of a stiff fee for each signature.

Since our budget did not permit the payment of this fee by us, I sent a letter to the members of the Club, making the offer that Mrs. Hargreaves would autograph each copy for which the member paid the fee. She was a charming lady and, at that time, an aged lady. She signed nearly 1200 copies, at considerable effort to herself. The check in payment could not have displeased her or her son.

Members had the option of paying an extra $1.50 to have Mrs. Hargreaves sign it.  Looking back, that $1.50 was a pretty good investment for anyone who took it (it is the equivalent of about $24 in today’s dollars)!  It is hard to imagine passing on this at the time. In any case, it is certainly not the greatest of LEC’s, but it is nicely done and a good example of what Macy tried to bring to his club members at a reasonable price throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s.

About the Edition (Alice in Wonderland)

  • Illustrations by John Tenniel re-engraved by Bruno Rollitz
  • Typography and binding by Frederic Warde
  • Introduction by Henry Seidel Canby
  • Type is 14 point Caslon (done for this edition by Lanston Monotype Company)
  • Paper from Hurlbut Paper Company made to Frederic Warde’s specification
  • Printing by the Printing House of William Edwin Rudge
  • Bound by George McKibbin & Son in French levant morocco, stained a deep wine color, with ornaments and designs in pure gold, with all three sides also stained in gold; all in a blue cloth stamped with a similar design as the book
  • 5 3/4″ x 8 3/4″, 208 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies, about 1200 signed by Alice Hargreaves (the “original Alice”) and Frederic Warde

About the Edition (Though the Looking Glass)

  • Designed by Frederic Warde
  • Illustrations by John Tenniel re-engraved by Frederic Warde
  • Introduction by Carl Van Doren
  • Type is 14 point Caslon (done for this edition by Lanston Monotype Company)
  • Paper from Hurlbut Paper Company made to Frederic Warde’s specification
  • Printing by the Printing House of William Edwin Rudge
  • Bound by George McKibbin & Son in full blue morocco, gold-stamped with Fleuron design of Frederic Warde; all in a red cloth stamped with a similar design as the book
  • 5 3/4″ x 8 3/4″, 236 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies, many signed by Alice Hargreaves (the “original Alice”)

Pictures of the Editions

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Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Slipcase Spines in Custom Outer Slipcase
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Slipcase Spines in Custom Outer Slipcase
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Book Spines
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Book Spines
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spines
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spines
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Book Covers
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Book Covers
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Side View
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Side View
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, 'Alice' Signature
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, ‘Alice’ Signature
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2 (Contents)
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2 (Contents)
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Illustration #1
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Illustration #1
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3 - down the rabbit hole!
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3 – down the rabbit hole!
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #5 with Text
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
Alice in Wonderland, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, 'The Chess Problem.
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, ‘The Chess Problem.
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Preface)
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Preface)
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Text
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Text
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Alice
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Alice
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Colophon and 'original Alice' Signature
Through the Looking Glass, Limited Editions Club, Colophon and ‘original Alice’ Signature

6 thoughts on “Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll, Illustrations by John Tenniel, Limited Editions Club (1932, 1935)

  1. I agree with you about the Tenniel illustrations, but disagree abot buying an LEC graced (?) with the signature of the long dead original Alice.. Her signature does nothing to enhance the book other than provide exra monies to booksellers. Also, I believe the cover binding with its gingerbread scrollwork is not how recent books should be decorated. To buy both Alice books with the Tenniel illsustrations and rebind them in full scarlet goatskin (Alice in Wonderland) and royal blue ( Thru the Looking Glass) cost only about $700, and I believe they are handsomer than the originals.

  2. kermaier:

    Agree. The Pennyroyal Press set with the Barry Moser wood-engravings is in a class by itself – especially his work in ‘Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There’.

  3. Quite possibly, one of the most flawless and imaginative set of illustrations ever created for a work of literature. It is difficult to imagine Carroll’s works without John Tenniel’s illustrations. Kudos to George Macy for having the original illustrations recreated into wood-engravings, as they were originally intended, by the German master craftsman Bruno Rollitz.

    1. As indispensable as the Tenniel illustrations are to my own childhood memories of Alice and TLG, I must say that Barry Moser’s take on the works is in a different class — at least to my tastes.

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