The great American short story writer/satirist Ambrose Bierce (1842–~1914) has only been highlighted once to date in Books and Vines, a travesty I have long been wanting to address. His contemporaries considered him a virtuoso of the English language and his work was very popular. His An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is considered one of the greatest of American short stories, and the collection it is contained within, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians, is certainly one of the greatest works concerning the American Civil War. Besides a number of other critically acclaimed and popular short stories, his The Devil’s Dictionary is one of the great satirical works of American literature.
Bierce was known as “Bitter Bierce” due to his misanthrope-ish view of human nature and his motto of “Nothing matters.” In my readings of Bierce, he sometimes seems a cross between the humor of Mark Twain, the grotesque of Edgar Allen Poe, the curmudgeon nature of H.L Mencken and the realism of Stephen Crane, though never quite consistently rising to the genius of these other great American writers. Bierce’s end is appropriately odd and mysterious. At 71 years of age, he went to Mexico joining Pancho Villa’s army as an observer (at least that is what many think). While in Mexico, he wrote a letter to a friend on December 26, 1913 stating that “I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.” He was never heard from or seen again. Even after 100 years, little clues as to Bierce’s final whereabouts and disappearance have ever come to light, making his end one of the great literary mysteries of all time.
While I have a number of works from Bierce from The Limited Editions Club and Grabhorn Press, I was thrilled to pick up a copy of The Ocean Wave, a collection of Bierce sea adventure short stories published in 2011 by The Press of Robert LoMascolo. From what I can tell, The Ocean Wave collection was first published in 1911 by the University of California in Volume 8 of The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (though the stories themselves were written much earlier). I have not had the opportunity of meeting or talking with Robert LoMascolo, nor I am familiar with his other work, but his website gives a brief biography, as follows:
The Press of Robert LoMascolo was established in 2005 by Robert LoMascolo while studying book arts at Wells College in Aurora, New York. Robert majored in fine art and minored in the book arts. He graduated cum laude winning prizes for art, book arts and book collecting. In 2011 Robert completed his MFA in the book arts at The University of Alabama. While at Alabama he was also recognized for his outstanding collection of works by the influential book designer, Bruce Rogers. Currently, Robert is working full time printing, designing, and binding for a varied array of clients. When he’s not printing, he might be found helping at The Press & Letterfoundry of Michael & Winifred Bixler, restoring an antique printing press, or maybe enjoying a good book.
There are a number of unique aspects of Mr. LoMascolo’s edition of The Ocean Wave, which make it of interest to fine press collectors. As Mr. LoMascolo mentions on his website, this edition utilizes hundreds of hand-set metal ornaments printed using gold thermography, as well as many hand-modified and carved ornaments and decorative capitals. The text is set in 16pt Lutetia Italic (designed by the great Jan Van Krimpen), which is currently unavailable in digital form, and utilizes the many swash characters available only in metal. The book is completely set from traditional metal type newly cast at The Press & Letterfoundry of Michael and Winifred Bixler. As Books and Vines readers know, the Bixler’s are a modern treasure for fine press lovers, and pretty much everything they are involved in turns out wonderfully. For a enlightening photo history of the creation of this book, see here.
In short, this edition by Mr. LoMascolo is very nicely done, especially the ornament work which is quite special. The presswork, especially the inking and impression of the type on the paper falls into the sweet spot of exactly what I prefer. I sometimes struggle with italics being used as the main type face, though here the stories are short enough to get away with it. Speaking of the stories (A Shipwreck Collection, The Captain of the Camel, The Man Overboard, A Cargo of Cat), these are not amongst my favorites of Bierce, but they certainly highlight his sometimes strange sense of dark humor. For fine press collectors, Ambrose Bierce fans, fans of sea adventures and/or mysterious, strange and somewhat macabre tales, do yourself a favor and pick up Mr. LoMascolo’s The Ocean Wave.
About the Edition
- Designed, typeset, cast, bound and letterpress printed by Robert LoMascolo
- Assistance from Michael and Winifred Bixler
- Multi section flatback with blue leather spine and printed paper covers
- Text face is 16 point Lutetia Italic (designed by Jan Van Krimpen)
- Open caps are Caslon that have been hand carved and modified with a graver, as have many of the ornaments
- The dolphins are a new cutting based loosely on an ornament designed by Bruce Rogers
- Dimensions are 9in by 12.5in when closed
- Limited to 60 copies
Pictures of the Edition
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