The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, by Edgar Allan Poe, Limited Editions Club (1929)

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), as one of the greatest and most influential of American writers, needs little introduction.  His influence on Romanticism and within the  Gothicmysterydetective and science fiction literary genres, is tremendous. During his lifetime, he was nearly as famous for being a sharp and biting literary critic (especially his dis-like for  transcendentalism) as for being an author. He became tremendously popular in Europe in the 19th century, especially in France due to Charles Baudelaire‘s translations of Poe’s work. His status has never waned, remaining tremendously popular on both side of the Atlantic to this day. Hugely apropos for Poe, his death at the young age of 40 remains a mystery. Despite many theories (some certainly feasible and even likely), the cause of his death is unknown and all medical records, including his death certificate, have been lost.

In 1929 the Limited Editions Club (LEC) published, as their fifth publication, Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Written in 1838, it is the only complete novel from Poe. A stowaway on the whaling ship Grampus, Arthur Gordon Pym experiences a multitude of hazardous experiences, including  shipwreck, mutiny, and cannibalism. Poe intended for the work to be realistic, basing it on supposedly real-life stories of the sea that he was aware of (such as those of Jeremiah N. ReynoldsBenjamin Morrell and even Captain James Cook). Reality or not, as the LEC Monthly Letter (ML) states, “A brooding horror lies over the book, and it is full of Poe’s macabre ingenuity. [there is] alarums and excursions and excitement.” Some critics have found it silly, others ingenious. Some see racism in it, others lament what they see as excessive violence. In any case, on release, it was generally a critical and financial failure. Ultimately, it found praise from writers such as Jules VerneCharles BaudelaireH.G. Wells and, later, writers such as  H. P. Lovecraft and Jorge Luis Borges. As such, the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a serious reassessment of the work and a large surge of popularity (it is now one of Poe’s most translated works).

This LEC edition was designed by Fred Anthoensen of what was then called The Southworth Press (later becoming The Southworth-Anthoensen Press and eventually, in 1944, becoming The Anthoensen Press). Anthoensen was “nationally known as an exemplary craftsman in the field of typography and the graphic arts” and was no stranger to LEC collectors (see here for his work on LEC’s Droll Stories from Balzac). For this work, Anthoensen choose to set the work in linotype Scotch Roman on a Poe-esque ‘Dead’ white Aurelian paper made for this edition by Worthy Paper Company, watermarked with the signature “A.G. Pym”. George Macy tells us in the ML that Scotch Roman was “probably” designed by S.N. Dickinson of Philadelphia in 1837. So while it was chosen by Anthoensen for its ‘modern’ look, it certainly seems to have been born about the same time as this story of Poe, so perhaps that was its destiny! Macy goes on to tell us, concerning Scotch Roman, that D.B. Updike referred to it having a “bald” quality, for an extreme legibility and a firm crispness. In the use of it in this edition, Macy says:

…the lines of type are opened wide on the page by considerable “leading” between the lines. The arrangement of the type, and the arrangement of the chapter headings, both spring from a modern feeling of unusual strength.

The choice of paper and this type was really driven by the illustrations that were provided by René Clarke. Clarke, who was art director for Calkins and Holden advertising agency in New York at the time, “made a whole series of designs, with pen, in solid blacks above thin white lines.” Such drove the black and white modern design of the edition. The ML makes that point:

All of Mr. Clarke’s work is directed toward a modern feeling. His pictures, for instance, could obviously be done only by an artist in the year 1929. The printer was therefore asked to construct a book in the same forceful mood.

Why did Macy choose an art director of an advertising agency to illustrate this book?  Macy, in the Quarto-Millenary said:

I was, and am, harried by the conviction that there was, and is, more art in the advertising pages of America’s magazines than in the pages of America’s illustrated books. That is why I have several times approached the practitioners of advertising art, to ask them to bend their talents to the illustration of our books. René Clarke, who is now the president of one of our best advertising agencies, was then its art director and a practicing artist. His pictures for this book bear me out, I think, in their splendid drawing and fiercely imaginative quality. I think he let me down later, with ‘Faust’.

I happen to agree with Macy on this. I enjoy Clarke’s work in Pym, while not so much in Faust. In Pym, the work is solid, stark, appropriately narrative-based, and very reflective of the time it was created (although I do not think here that has drawings convey enough of the sense of dread that should overhang the story). If you look at some of the pictures below, I do think the combination of these drawings with the paper and type work quite well as a unit. Having said that, I am not so sure I actually like it as a package for this work. The line spacing, while again ‘looking’ okay with the page and illustrations, is distracting. Similarly, the binding, half-charing vellum with shining black leather sides, by George McKibbin and Son of Brooklyn, is nice, eye-catching and a very nice fit with the tone of the production, but…Something about the whole thing just seems a bit off.  Am I the only one? Do not get me wrong, this is a nice LEC edition to have, it is a high quality production, and I enjoy the uniqueness of it. Strangely enough, I actually really like the slipcase of all things (never a strong point for the Macy-era LEC’s).

In any case, early LEC subscribers appeared to have liked it. The ML says:

After our subscribers had received The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, such letters began to pour in. So far as we can see, not one subscriber was displeased…As a result, we have this month no complaints to print.

Yet, in the subscriber’s poll after the first year of books had been published, it finished 7th of 12 in the first series (Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels and Undine were ranked first through third, Two Medieval Tales last). So perhaps those initial subscribers were like me, no huge complaints but relatively not a home run either.

In an interesting aside from the ML, Macy says:

It was our intention to have ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym’ printed by John Henry Nash of San Francisco. But Mr. Nash expressed an unwillingness to prepare a volume printed on the dead white paper required by the character of Mr. Clarke’s illustrations. The Southworth Press was therefore engaged to print…Instead the LEC made arrangements with Nash to print ‘The Trial of The Wine-Brewers’, written by Joseph Addison.

I cannot help but ponder what Nash would have done with Pym (see here for his work on the LEC’s Religio Medici). Opportunities missed! I also cannot help but wonder what happened to the plan to print Addison’s The Trial of The Wine-Brewers, though cannot argue that it does not seem a great match for the LEC canon.

About the Edition

  • Designed by Fred Anthoensen
  • Line-drawings by Rene Clarke
  • Introduction by Joseph Wood Crutch
  • Printed by The Southworth Press, managed by Fred Anthoensen, of Portland, Maine
  • Set in linotype Scotch Roman
  • ‘Dead’ white Aurelian paper made for this edition by Worthy Paper Company, watermarked with the signature “A.G. Pym”
  • Bound in in half-charing vellum with shining black leather imported from England (for the sides), by George McKibbin and Son of Brooklyn; slipcased with a design by Rene Clarke
  • 288 pages, 7 1/2″ x 11″
  • Limited to 1500 copies, signed by Rene Clarke

Pictures of the Edition

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The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Book in Original Slipcase
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Book in Original Slipcase
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Spine (sunned) and Covers
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Spine (sunned) and Covers
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Front Cover
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Front Cover
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Title Page
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Title Page
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Contents)
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Contents)
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2 (Introduction)
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2 (Introduction)
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #2 (Introduction)
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #2 (Introduction)
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Full Title Page
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Full Title Page
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Full Title Page
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Full Title Page
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #4
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #4
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Illustration #1
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Illustration #1
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #6 with Text
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #7 with Text
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #5
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #8 with Text
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #5
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #5
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Limited Editions Club, Colophon

6 thoughts on “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, by Edgar Allan Poe, Limited Editions Club (1929)

  1. Hello Chris, a tiny error in the text. You mentioned year 1929, but it appeared only in 1930.
    Skyschaker

  2. I can’t help but think my rebinding of Pym and it’s solander box come closer to Clarke’s illustrations than those of the original binding.. Still looking for a photographer.

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