The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press (1924); also Limited Editions Club (1977)

The Sermon on the Mount is the first of the Five Discourses of Matthew in the Gospel of Matthew. Containing the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount is the longest, most well-known, and important of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. It forms the basis of the ethics of Christianity with its message providing guidance towards the expected conduct of its believers. The Sermon on the Mount contains some of the most quoted words in all history, including:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

As one of the most influential texts in the history of mankind, it is no wonder that it has been published more times than one can count. This article looks at two fine press editions of the Sermon, one from the Grabhorn Press in 1924 followed by one from The Limited Editions Club (LEC) in 1977.

The Grabhorn Press Edition of The Sermon on the Mount

The more Grabhorn Press titles that I have got my hands on, the more impressed I am with their tremendous output (see here for a list of titles). Edwin and Robert Grabhorn were students of Bruce Rogers, and, along with John Henry Nash, became the greatest printers in the western United States, and amongst the greatest in the world. Beginning with their first publication in 1920, the press was the epicenter of fine printing in San Francisco through 1965 (with Robert Grabhorn continuing in partnership with Andrew Hoyem through 1973, after which Mr. Hoyem continued their great work with his renamed Arion Press).  The Grabhorn Press edition of Walt Whitman‘s Leaves of Grass is considered one of the all-time great fine press works, and The Travels of Sir John Mandeville would not be far behind (both done for Random House). Occasional production errors (Robert Grabhorn allowed that they were not exactly “finicky”) did not take away from the allure of their books. Often designed in a trial and error type iterative process, the skill in which they were ultimately published won the day.

The Grabhorn Press edition of The Sermon on the Mount, published in 1924, stands out for the beauty of its type and paper.  Thanks to Paul Julien, who provided me the colophon information, the type is handset Goudy New Style on Whitman paper. Just look at the pictures below, especially the macro of the text. Stunning. One can clearly see what printing scholar James Hart meant when he said of Edwin Grabhorn that he “he did not merely let the type kiss the [dampened handmade] paper lightly and discreetly but instead embedded tin a forceful embrace that could be felt by the fingers as well as seen by the eyes.” About all I do know about the edition is that  it was designed by American artist Charles Stafford Duncan. Duncan (1892–1952) made a name for himself doing portraits and murals, most famous of which is his mural in the basement women’s smoking lounge of the Paramount Theatre in Oakland.

After presenting some pictures of the Grabhorn edition of  The Sermon on the Mount, this article will look at an edition produced 53 years later by The Limited Editions Club (LEC). It is sort of ironic that I am combining these two in one article since, as many readers of Books and Vines know that the Grabhorn brothers did not exactly have a friendly relationship with the LEC’s George Macy as a result of their one collaboration (the 1930 LEC of Robinson Crusoe). It was reportedly not uncommon for Edwin Grabhorn to accuse clients of underpaying him, and that certainly came into play in his collaboration with Macy. Regardless of the truth (or not) of any of this sort of backstory, what is certainly true is the Grabhorn brothers produced some of the greatest fine press books of the twentieth century. This edition of The Sermon on the Mount, while not amongst their greats, is perfectly representative of their output. A fine book, beautifully done. In this instance, it certainly is superior to the LEC shown below.

About the Edition (Grabhorn Press)

  • Designed by Charles Stafford Duncan
  • Colored title page illustration and one lavender initial by Stafford Duncan
  • Type Goudy New Style, handset
  • Whatman paper
  • Bound in green boards with grey cloth back
  • Colored label with illustration identical to that on title page, on front cover
  • One hundred and ninety copies printed for complimentary distribution in February 1924

Pictures of the Edition (Grabhorn Press)

(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.)

{Thanks to Mark Post, Bookseller, for me being able to take some pictures of this edition. At last check, he has this very copy available. If interested, check in with him here.}

The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Spine and Covers
The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Spine and Covers
https://booksandvines.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/img_0735.jpg
The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Front Cover
The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Title Page
The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Title Page
The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Sample Text #1
The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Sample Text #1
The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Super-Macro of Sample Text #1
The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Super-Macro of Sample Text #1
The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Sample Text #2
The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press, Sample Text #2

 

The Limited Editions Club Edition of The Sermon on the Mount

I am not sure what my main issue with this Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition is. On its own, I love the binding. Its Cockerell handmade marbled paper sides and quarter black morocco spine is quite handsome, though perhaps not really a great match for the content.  I am normally a fan of Abbey Mills paper, though in this case it just strikes me as too glossy and non-textured for the work being displayed (though I do like its light cream color). The black endpapers, while nicely matching the binding, again seem inappropriate for the work. The presswork is okay, though no match for what you saw above in the Grabhorn edition. I like Bruce Rogers‘ Centaur type in about anything, so that is fine. The additional content of the LEC held promise as it contains an introduction, parallel texts, and commentaries by Dr. Rowan A. Greer of the Yale Divinity School. Unfortunately, to my taste, this additional context missed the mark a bit, as I think it too surface level and would have preferred a deeper analysis of this important text. In short, while this is a reasonably fine edition that I am glad to own, there is no question to me in that it misses the mark. It leaves me wishing that George Macy himself would have tackled this in the classic style in which LEC was producing works in the 1930’s or that Sidney Shiff would have produced this in his ‘no expense spared’ livre d’artiste style from the 1990’s.

This edition was designed by John Dreyfus (1918-2002). Mr. Dreyfus was the typographic advisor to Cambridge University Press, as well as to the British Monotype Corporation (succeeding Stanley Morison), President of the Association Typographique Internationale, President of the Printing Historical Society in Britain, and served as European consultant to the LEC from 1956 to 1977. In these roles and others, Mr. Dreyfus played a significant role in postwar European type and book design. He also wrote some well thought of works, including a work on Jan Van Krimpen (a type designer well familiar to LEC collectors), a history of the Nonesuch Press, and the story of the Golden Cockerel Press edition of The Four Gospels.

The South African born Leo Wyatt provided wood-engraved title panels to the edition, Wyatt did not take up wood engraving until when many people think of retiring!  As told here:

In his late fifties, challenged by the assertion that famed English wood engraver Reynolds Stone was seemingly “the sole practitioner of the Chancery Cursive letter in engraved form today” he began to engrave lettterheads and bookplates on wood utilizing this classic letter form. He also created separate alphabets and engraved quotations, bringing samples with him on two trips to America, in 1977 and 1978 where he found a new popularity and market for his work, although suites of his engravings, such as those offered here, remain extremely rare. He died in 1981

In ny case, the involvement of John Dreyfus and the wood-engravings of Leo Wyatt are not enough to raise this edition into the realm of being special. Consider it a missed opportunity by the LEC. It can be found in fine condition for around $50, including at the time of this writing by Mark Post, Bookseller, who also has the Grabhorn edition.

About the Edition (Limited Editions Club)

  • Designed by John Dreyfus 
  • Introduction, parallel texts, and commentaries by Dr. Rowan A. Greer of the Yale Divinity School
  • Wood-engraved title panels by Leo Wyatt printed in red
  • Bruce Rogers‘ Centaur type in a specially-cut size
  • Abbey Mills wove paper, made by Grosvenor Chater at their mill in North Wales, folded double in the Japanese style
  • Printed by the Oxford University Press under the direction of Vivian Ridler, Printer to the University
  • Bound by Tapley-Rutter Co. in quarter black morocco with Cockerell handmade marbled paper in black, red, and cream covered sides; top edge gilt
  • 8-3/4″ x 12″, 98 pages
  • Limited to 1600 copies, issued unsigned

Pictures of the Edition (Limited Editions Club)

(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.)

The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Spine Macro
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Spine Macro
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover Macro
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover Macro
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Side View Macro
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Side View Macro
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Title Page
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Title Page
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Title Page Macro
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Title Page Macro
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Contents
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Contents
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text and Decoration #1 - Introduction
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text and Decoration #1 – Introduction
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text and Decoration #1 - Introduction
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1 – Introduction
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text and Decoration # 2
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text and Decoration # 2
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text # 2
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text # 2
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #4
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #4
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #5
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #5
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #6
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #6
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text and Decoration # 6
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text and Decoration # 6
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text and Decoration # 7
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text and Decoration # 7
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
The Sermon on the Mount, Limited Editions Club, Colophon

3 thoughts on “The Sermon on the Mount, Grabhorn Press (1924); also Limited Editions Club (1977)

  1. From the 1975 reprint of the Grabhorn Bibliography by Alan Wofsy Fine Arts:

    63. THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

    15″ x 9-3/4″. Two blank leaves; pp. (i/ii); pp. (1-8); one blank leaf: consisting of title p.(i), verso blank, text pp. (1-7), p.(8) blank, colophon on last page of text.

    Colored title page illustration and one lavender initial by Stafford Duncan. Type Goudy New Style, handset; paper Whatman. Bound in green boards with grey cloth back; colored label with illustration identical to that on title page, on front cover. One hundred and ninety copies printed for complimentary distribution in February 1924.

  2. Chris, was this LEC done under the aegis of Shiff, but scheduled as one of those done in the last days of the LEC directors. I’ve pulled my copy, but I can find no mention of ”Shiff”. The leather spine sort of indicates that Shiff may have had a hand in the production. The spine is morrocan in that it is finished in a pebbley surface, but in actuality, the the spine leather is cowhide. Also, it looks as if the titling was done with a heated font which was not used on most LEC offerings. The titling bites into the leather nicely, and the sheepskin used on many LECs was not used in this issue.

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