Having last week highlighted two impressive editions of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the Limited Editions Club (LEC), I am now pleased to show you the most impressive Huck Finn edition of all! In 1985, Barry Moser‘s Pennyroyal Press published a centennial edition of Huckleberry Finn, with a newly updated authoritative text from the experts at the Mark Twain Papers of the The Bancroft Library at the University of California. Over a period of seven years, these experts “painstakingly compared Twain’s manuscript to the first edition of the text, correcting errors in wording, spelling, and punctuation and restoring an omitted passage to Chapter XVI.” The end result being a 1985 edition of Huckleberry Finn reflecting how Mark Twain originally intended it to appear in 1885. The effort reflected in treating the text with the perfection it deserves is well appreciated, as anything less than that would not be worthy of the gorgeous Pennyroyal Press edition that it is packaged within.
Readers of Books and Vines know I am a huge fan of the great American artist Barry Moser, having previously highlighted his amazing edition of Alice in Wonderland as well as his stunning, almost mythological illustrations for Barry Lopez’s Outside, from Nawakum Press. 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. As I have written before, he is a national treasure!
Mr. Moser’s Pennyroyal Press has produced scores of books since 1970, the most elaborate and well known of which include the aforementioned 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; L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1985, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn reviewed here. 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. 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 of a very exciting new publication, recently released this year, 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. I am desperately saving for a copy of this, as well as his Through the Looking Glass, which I have long longed for!
Mr. Moser’s forty nine illustrations in the Pennyroyal Huck Finn are simply brilliant. You will see a cross section of examples below, showing his absolute mastery of stills, portraiture, landscapes and action. The woodcuts in this edition have been described as eerie, probably especially so since they present a more mature vision of the characters and setting than the more adolescent images most people have indelibly printed in their minds. As such, the images can be shocking at first, until one realizes the equally mature dramatics and atmospherics that come straight from Twain’s masterpiece. Mr. Moser’s visualizations allows one to read and enjoy an old favorite with an entirely new mindset. It is a brilliant and courageous approach. As such, they can be controversial and hard for some to reconcile with their existing mental image, especially for those who grew up on E.W. Kemble’s classic illustrations.
As for this Pennyroyal Press edition of Huckleberry Finn, its wealth of treasures goes beyond the woodcuts from Barry Moser and the updated definitive text from the University of California. For starters, the binding from Gray Parrot is simply luxurious and beautiful. He binds it in dark green crushed morocco, bordered by four gilt fillets, with a gilt medallion containing the interlinked dates “1885” and “1985” on the upper front cover, and with a flat spine with gilt titling. Mr. Parrot’s work in the private press world is second to none, and his work here certainly shows him at the top of his craft. The title page has calligraphy by Yvette Rutledge, which provides a very nice touch. The printing by Harold McGrath (whose excellent craftsmanship was behind Leonard Baskin‘s Gehenna Press, prior to his work for Pennyroyal) is excellent as always. Here he uses Centaur and Arrighi type (set in Monotype by MacKenzie & Harris) on Mohawk Letterpress archival paper. There is a thoughtful foreword by scholar Henry Nash Smith, who was the curator of the Mark Twain Papers at the time. The book is large, 10.25 x 13 inches, but still quite easily readable. The edition was limited to 350 copies and is signed by Barry Moser. The edition is not inexpensive, usually going for $3000 and up in fine condition. For the great edition of the Great American novel, it is worth every penny!
About the Edition
- Two volumes (one being the portfolio of prints)
- With 49 woodcuts by Barry Moser and with an additional suite of plates in the portfolio
- Foreword by Henry Nash Smith
- Publisher’s dark green crushed morocco by Gray Parrot, covers bordered by four gilt fillets, upper cover with gilt medallion containing the interlinked dates “1885” and “1985,” flat spine with gilt titling
- Calligraphy by Yvette Rutledge
- Printed by Harold McGrath
- Centaur and Arrighi type (set in Monotype by MacKenzie & Harris)
- Mohawk Letterpress archival paper
- 10.25 x 13 inches
- Limited to 350 copies, signed by Moser
Pictures of the Edition
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