The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, Limited Editions Club (1933 and 1942 editions)

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 – 1910), better known as Mark Twain, is one of the greatest of all American novelists/writers (perhaps only Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne come close to being in the same league critically, none come close in terms of popularity) and is certainly the most quintessentially American. Twain is synonymous with the American Heartland in the latter 1800’s. The image most American’s have of the Mississippi River regions of the midwest are based, whether they consciously realize it or not, on Twain’s depictions of such. Both Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are characters indelibly imprinted in the American psyche, probably more so then any other characters in American literature. Huckleberry Finn itself is, along with Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter, the greatest of all American novels.

Twain was extremely famous in his time, beginning with the publication of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County in 1865. This was followed by the success of The Innocents Abroad in 1869, a set of Twain’s travel letters from a recent trip to the Mediterranean. Twain was extremely prolific, including such well known works as  Roughing It (1872), A Tramp Abroad (1880), The Prince and the Pauper  (1881), Life on the Mississippi (1883), Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894) and  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). Twain’s humor and wit are famously infinite, but his narrative style (including his masterful use of colloquial speech) and insightfulness into the human condition of his times is remarkable. I will not waste my time delving into the politically correct insanity and complete idiocy of the book banning crowd which Twain has often been a target of, but suffice to say he was a strong supporter of both the abolition of slavery and for women’s suffrage.

As for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, George Macy remarks:

The man or women who does not read ‘Huckleberry Finn’ once in each seven years is neglecting one of the rich rewards of reading; the man or woman who lacks a copy in his or her library knows a sad lack indeed.

This article takes a look at two editions, both from the Limited Editions Club (LEC). The first, from 1933, is most famous for containing the original 174 illustrations of E.W. Kemble, first done in the 1882 serial publication of Huckleberry Finn in Century Magazine. Here, these illustrations are reproduced via new line plates made of the original drawings. In the Monthly Letter (ML), Macy remarks:

The Kemble drawings are Huck Finn, to leave them out of a new edition would seem insanity, to substitute new drawings for them would seem sacrilege.

Importantly, fifty years after these original illustrations, Macy got Kemble to do an all new drawing for this edition, placing it on the title page (and shown below, allowing you to compare the new 1932 drawing on the title page with an 1882 drawing on the Frontispiece). In the Quarto-Millenary, Macy tells us:

…it was only when the book was nearing completion that I discovered that E.W. Kemble was still alive, and living within one mile of my home in Connecticut. How pleased he was, to know that The Limited Editions Club was planning to produce, fifty years after he made them, a book containing his illustrations! With what gusto he made a new illustration for the title-page: as well drawn, as charming, as the illustrations he made fifty years earlier!

This edition is nicely done and nicely printed. As the ML tells us, the all rag Worthy Text paper:

…has a warm and mellow, almost yellowish tinge; it is thin but amazingly opaque; and it is soft and limp, inviting the ink from the press and giving delight to the fingers and to the eyes. Its mellow appearance suggests that it is in period, it is just the kind of paper which should have been used to dress Huck up in 1884.

The Monotype Bell used is fine, and quite readable (though is there a witty, yet serious American font that could have been used?). The ML states:

John Bell derived much of his inspiration from the French types he knew. So you will find a touch of fancy in the design of the letters, a curlicue here and a fillip there, as witness the lower case’s k, the upper case’s C. But his the is essentially English in character…it is sturdy, honest-looking, a superb and conservative type face for the composition of books. It looks large, round and inviting.

The book was bound in full green linen by Boston Bookbinding Company. The linen has a striped pattern woven into it, with a border design stamped in green on both sides of the cover. In the center of the front cover a medallion of Huck Finn is stamped in gold, as is the title on the spine. The top of the book is gilded. All nice features. However, this linen has been very prone to sunning, and it is rare to find a copy without the spine being at least moderately sunned, usually worse. I gave up looking, and bought a copy with a sunned spine (you will see below). I then re-backed it (via Starr Bookworks) in a vegetable died English calf skin from Hewitt tannery. I also replaced the cheaply made original green slipcase with a similarly colored green cloth slipcase using the original label.

In short, the 1933 LEC edition of Huckleberry Finn is an excellent edition to own. It is not amazing or eye-popping, but does provide a finely made edition that fits the feel of the era of the story and is, importantly, made to be read. Most copies, when available, tend to run at least $100, often much more, usually dependent on the amount of sunning and/or other flaws. The 1942 LEC edition, which we will look at below, after the pictures of the 1933 edition, is the more collectible of the LEC’s.  However, do not discount this edition, it is a fine one to own and read.

About the Edition (1933 LEC)

  • Designed by Carl Purington Rollins
  • Introduction by Booth Tarkington
  • The original illustrations from E.W. Kemble reproduced (via new line plates made of the original drawings) with new drawings by Mr. Kemble
  • Set in 12 point Monotype Bell (originally designed and cut by John Bell in 1788, here a new cutting by The Langston Monotype Company)
  • Title in Bell Ornamented
  • Worthy Text Paper made completely of rags
  • Printed by the Printing Office of the Yale University Press
  • Bound by Boston Bookbinding Company in full green linen with a striped pattern woven into it, with a border design stamped in green on both sides of the cover; in the center of the front cover a medallion of Huck Finn is stamped in gold, as is the title on the spine; the top of the book is gilded
  • Note in the pictures below, I have re-backed the book in a vegetable died English calf skin from Hewitt tannery; also have replaced the original green slipcase with a similarly colored green cloth slipcase using the original label
  • 6 1/4″ x 9 1/2″, 504 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies, signed by Carl P. Rollins

Pictures of the Edition (1933 LEC)

(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 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Original Spine and Slipcase
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Original Spine and Slipcase
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Re-backed Spine and Slipcase
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Re-backed Spine and Slipcase
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Side View
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Side View
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Front Cover
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Front Cover
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Macro of Front Cover
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Macro of Front Cover
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Macro of Side View
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Macro of Side View
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Frontispiece and Title Page
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Frontispiece and Title Page
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Macro of Title Page
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Macro of Title Page
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Text #1
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Text #1
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Text #2
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Text #2
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Text #3
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Text #3
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Macro of Sample Text #3
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Macro of Sample Text #3
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Illustration #4 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Illustration #5 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Illustrations #7 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Sample Illustrations #4 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Colophon
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1933), Colophon

As mentioned above, in 1933 George Macy told LEC subscribers that

The Kemble drawings are Huck Finn, to leave them out of a new edition would seem insanity, to substitute new drawings for them would seem sacrilege.

A mere nine years later, Macy decided to do the insane thing, and sinned the sacrilege of substituting new drawings for Huckleberry Finn!  Thank goodness he did, and that he had the good sense of doing so by using the great American artist, Thomas Hart Benton. By doing do, the 1942 LEC edition combines the quintessentially American author Mark Twain, the quintessentially American character/novel, Huckleberry Finn, and the quintessentially American artist Thomas Hart Benton resulting in, you guessed it, the quintessential American edition of this novel! Both Twain and Benton exude the mid-west, and pairing their work is natural and genius.

Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) is one of America’s greatest twentieth century artists.  He was a leader in the Regionalism, also known as American scene painting, rejecting European ‘School of Paris’ influences and focusing on academic realism using American urban and rural scenes (LEC fans can also see this style in works by Reginald MarshJohn Steuart Curry and Grant Wood). Benton referred to himself as an “enemy of modernism” and looked to Spanish artist El Greco as an influence.  Looking through the various LEC books which Benton illustrated, one can sense his sympathy for the desperation and melancholy of the downtrodden in rural America, while also marveling at his ability to evoke images of Americana that are indelibly marked in the collective conscience of rural America. I am a fan of his work for Huckleberry Finn, which I think reflects the spirit of the work, and perfectly matches the feel of the setting.

Like the 1933 LEC edition, this one is designed by Carl Purington Rollins and was printed by the Printing Office of the Yale University Press. This edition is set in Monotype Janson on Hurlbut special paper. Like the 1933 edition, ignoring the illustrations a moment, it is nicely done, very competent, though certainly not spectacular. Like the 1933 edition, the binding on the 1942 edition has been problematic. It was bound by Russell-Rutter Company in full butternut natural cloth with green and black labels. It is quite rare to find in fine condition, with sunning usually being the main culprit. I rebound my edition using Russell‘s Oasis Nigerian goat with Kennet cloth sides. I used the same cloth to cover the new slipcase which uses the original paper label.

Because of the signature of Benton, this edition typically goes for $500 or more, even with the typical sunning.  None-the-less, it is well worth saving up. Alternatively, seek one out in poor condition with fine insides and re-bind.

About the Edition (1942 LEC)

  • Designed by Carl Purington Rollins
  • Edited, with an introduction, by Bernard DeVoto
  • Illustrated with line and wash drawings by Thomas Hart Benton
  • Illustrations printed in offset lithography by Crafton Graphic Company of New York
  • Set in Monotype Janson
  • Hurlbut special paper
  • Printed by the Printing Office of the Yale University Press
  • Bound by Russell-Rutter Company in full butternut natural cloth with green and black labels (the pictures you see below are of my rebound copy, which I used Russell’s Oasis Nigerian goat with Kennet cloth sides; the same cloth covers the new slipcase which used the original paper label)
  • 6 1/8″ x 9 3/8″, 478 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies, signed by Thomas Hart Benton

Pictures of the Edition (1942 LEC)

(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 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Slipcase
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Slipcase
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Book in Slipcase
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Book in Slipcase
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Spine and Covers (rebound)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Spine and Covers (rebound)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Spine
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Spine
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Front Cover
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Front Cover
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Front Cover
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Front Cover
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Side View
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Side View
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), End Papers
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), End Papers
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Title Page
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Title Page
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #1 (Contents)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #1 (Contents)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #2 (Illustrations)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #2 (Illustrations)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #3 (Contents)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #3
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Sample Text #3
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Sample Text #3
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #4
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Text #4
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Sample Illustration #1
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Macro of Sample Illustration #1
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Illustration #8 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Colophon
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Limited Editions Club (1942), Colophon

4 thoughts on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, Limited Editions Club (1933 and 1942 editions)

  1. The Benton Huck Finn is the first LEC I had rebound. I used a version of the original butter nut book cloth on the book and slipcase. the paper label was replaced by a linen one. The end pages were a plain red, the same red as can be found on the title page.

    I recently rebound the Kemble Huck Finn in 1/2 bright green Harmatan goatskin. two simple gold riules adorn the head and the tail. I followed the Shiff example by only including the title on the spine, dispensing with all the other nonsense. Of course the title was embedded in gold with a high temp font.

    The boards are covered in a tan linen. Again, IMO, the gilded portrait of Huck on the cover is only exceeded in ugliness by the fish on Baron Munchausen. I’m glad to see it gone. The green goatskin is used as corner protectors. Still mulling over the slipcase.

    The end pages are a hand-marbled paper with greens raging from pale green to dark green. The top edges are regilded. the side and bottom page edges are trimmed and smoothed. No dirty, uncut edges for me.

  2. Actually, it was only 7 years before Macy transgressed against the holy Kemble drawings, when the Heritage Press published Huck Finn in 1940 with Norman Rockwell’s illustrations. (That was one of the Heritage editions with no corresponding LEC production.)

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