A number of comments concerning the recently reviewed ‘original ‘Alice’ Limited Editions Club (LEC) version of Alice in Wonderland mentioned the great Pennyroyal Press edition of Alice, and so…here it is. ‘Great’ may be an over-used descriptor, especially coming from someone like myself who tends to effusively praise fine press books. However, the Pennyroyal Alice is certainly one case where ‘great’ is an understatement. What you will see pictures of below is, simply put, one of the greatest fine press publications of the past century.
Barry Moser‘s Pennyroyal Press has produced scores of books since 1970, the most elaborate and well known of which include Alice in Wonderland as well as four other folio sized works, similar in scope and beauty as Alice: Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and what Alice Found There in 1982; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus in 1983; Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1985; and L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, also in 1985. Topping all of these in size and scope, in 1999 The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible was published. At 16″ by 11.5″ and with 232 illustrations by Mr. Moser, including illustrations for every book of the Old and New Testaments (the only twentieth century Bible so adorned), this is one GREAT Bible (there is that word again!). Mr. Moser has also done illustrations for other fine press publishers, most famously of which is the 1979 Arion Press Moby Dick (another edition on just about everyone’s list of greatest fine press works of the twentieth century). Mr. Moser is the illustrator in a very exciting new publication coming in 2015 from Nawakum Press titled Encheiresin Naturae,”One heroic crown of sonnets” by Pulitzer Prize winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon. Mr. Moser provides fifteen abstract engravings, a return to his early days when he was trained as an abstract painter.
Mr. Moser is a printer, painter, printmaker, designer, author, essayist, and teacher that has designed and/or illustrated nearly three hundred books. His work can be found in the The National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Metropolitan Museum, The British Museum, The Library of Congress, The National Library of Australia, The London College of Printing, The Pierpont Morgan Library, The Vatican Library, Harvard University, Yale University, Dartmouth College, Cambridge University, the Israel Museum and Princeton University and many more. He is a national treasure!
Back to Alice, specifically the Pennyroyal edition. The book is folio size, 11 1/2 x 16 3/4″ with around 75 wood engravings from Mr. Moser, including one of the most appropriate, dreamy, thoughtful, classic and beautiful opening page illustrations in my memory (see sample illustration #5 below) and a stunning, modern, ‘break the mold’ image of Alice (see sample illustration #16 below). While John Tenniel‘s Alice illustrations are engrained in the consciousness of all literature lovers, Mr. Moser better captures the fantastical, dreamy nature of the story while weaving them with a realism (such as the aforementioned Alice portrait) that results in a rare congruence of the author’s mind and reader’s imagination; the illustrator fusing such into nearly perfect imagery.
Mr. Moser’s illustrations, great as they are, are not the only things that make this production one for the ages. The printing by Harold McGrath (whose excellent craftsmanship was behind Leonard Baskin‘s Gehenna Press, prior to his work for Pennyroyal) is excellent. The type, Monotype Bembo and Bembo Italic, with Alfred Fairbanks’ Condensed Italic and John Peters’ Castellar, is nicely chosen for this work and format. The type was composed and cast at the type foundry of Michael and Winifred Bixler; with considerable hand composition being done entirely by Arthur Larson at the Press. The type and blocks blend perfectly with the special made paper called Pulegium, made by Strathmore Paper Company. What I like most about the presswork and design is that nearly every page has color, usually in the form of margin notes printed in red. The coloring is just enough to add beauty to the page, while not being distracting. The combination of type, color, decorations and illustrations is visual nirvana when done with the expertise and design artistry on display in these pages.
There is yet more…Just look at the opening page (sample illustration #5 below). The initial lettering here provides a perfect flair for the story that follows — and a wonderful counterpart to the illustration above the text, with the ‘A’ engraved and hand-colored by Barry Moser. There is striking and elegant calligraphy on the title page (see the Frontispiece and Title Page below), done by noted calligrapher G.G. Lauren. There is a second portfolio included with each of the illustrations, each signed by Barry Moser. The binding, done by Gray Parrot in half purple morocco lettered in gold, with stunning purple marbled boards, wraps up the edition with eye-catching flair.
There is one more attribute of the book worth mentioning. Selwyn H. Goodacre, a world-recognized figure in scholarship on Lewis Carroll, edited the Pennyroyal Alice, using the 1867 edition but incorporating all of Lewis’ so-called corrections (Lewis has made many small changes in the manuscript from edition to edition). An afterword from Mr. Goodacre about the text has been included in this edition.
In short, this is one amazing publication, one of the best in my collection — and one of the best in any collection that it sits within. For you oenophiles out there, think of it as a 1947 Cheval Blanc, a wine that is in every top three list of ‘greatest wines of the twentieth century,’ despite the fact that almost all agree that it is flawed with residual sugar and high volatile acidity (VA) due to a hot vintage and ‘stuck’ fermentation. Despite such ‘flaw,’ the end result is a perfect, magical wine. What is the correlation with Alice? From the letter by Mr. Moser within Alice:
When the last pages of Alice were lifted from the delivery of our old No. 2 Kelly, we discovered, to our collective shock and dismay, that many of the blocks had begun to crack…I was baffled and heartbroken. Seeing an object that has taken such effort to fabricate self-destruct in front of my eyes caused unmitigated pain and anger…The warped blocks cracked ferociously when they were passed under the weight of the eight thousand pound Kelly for the second time. This was late in the fall. Time did not allow me to recut the images. Since, as Jacob Landau remarked, cracks in the block are “part of the medium,” I decided to leave them as they were and to print the additional suites from the original wood in its unhappy condition.
So, mostly just in the additional suites included with the book, “tiny white cracks” exist. To me, this “VA”(!) is a wonderful part of an inherently man-made craft…if you want perfect — with no soul, go buy a mass produced Alice!
About the Edition
- Illustrated by Barry Moser with 75 wood engravings
- Type is Monotype Bembo and Bembo Italic, with Alfred Fairbanks’ Condensed Italic and John Peters’ Castellar
- Composed and Cast at the type foundry of Michael and Winifred Bixler; with considerable hand composition being done entirely by Arthur Larson at the Press
- Calligraphy on the Title Page is the work of G.G. Lauren, as is the ‘A’ of the first chapter opening, which was engraved and hand-colored by Barry Moser
- Harold McGrath printed the text (in red and black) and blocks on Pulegium, an archival paper especially made for Pennyroyal by Strathmore Paper Company, the first to bear the Pennyroyal watermark
- Bound by Gray Parrot in half purple morocco lettered in gold, with leather hinges, sewn head and tail bands, printed end papers and marbled boards
- Contains the complete extra suite of plates, which are inside the quarter leather clamshell box in their own portfolio; Each wood engraving from the book is reprinted on its own, and each is signed by Moser
- Additional page with explanation of damage to the printing blocks, which has also been signed by Moser
- New preface by James Kincaid
- Folio sized at 11″ x 17″, 146 pages
- Limited to 350 copies, signed by Barry Moser
Pictures of the Edition
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