Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, Pennyroyal Press (1983)

Barry Moser‘s Pennyroyal Press has produced scores of books since 1970, the most elaborate and well known of which include 5 amazingly designed and executed folio sized works all produced in the early to mid-1980’s.  This amazing set of folio’s began with the 1982 publications of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (reviewed on Books and Vines here) and Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and what Alice Found There, and ended in 1985 with Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (reviewed on Books and Vines here) and L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In between was their fantastic 1983 edition of Frankenstein, which will be looked at in this article.

First, a bit more on Barry Moser for those who have not read previous articles in Books and Vines of his work. 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.

Besides the works already mentioned, Mr. Moser was also the driving force behind the 1999 publication of The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible. 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 private/fine press works of the twentieth century).  Recently, Mr. Moser is the illustrator of the 2015 publication from Nawakum Press titled Encheiresin Naturae,”One heroic crown of sonnets” by Pulitzer Prize winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon, for which Mr. Moser provided fifteen abstract engravings, a return to his early days when he was trained as an abstract painter.

Mr. Moser’s fifty two illustrations in the Pennyroyal Frankenstein are stunning. You will see a cross section of examples below, showing, as mentioned in the Huckleberry Finn review, his absolute mastery of stills, portraiture, landscapes and action. To this, one can safely add his mastery of dramatic tension. I particularly like his partially obfuscated portrayals of the monster Frankenstein. Horrific enough, with more than a hint of the menacing deformity,  but also allowing for imagination to fill in the blanks.

Mr. Moser’s illustrations are not the only thing making this edition special. The printing by Harold McGrath is excellent. The paper, Pulegium archival specially manufactured for this edition by Strathmore Paper Mills in Massachusetts, containing the Pennyroyal watermark, has a fantastic textural feel to it. It is perfect for the Poliphilus and Blado type, as well as the Wilhelm Klingsporschrift type (the last of which gives an authentic ‘setting’ flair). The type was composed and cast at the type foundry of Michael and Winifred Bixler, with considerable hand composition done at the Press by Arthur Larson and Chase Twichell. The binding in quarter leather by Sam Ellenport and the Harcourt Bindery in Boston is nicely done, though not as special as that for AliceLooking Glass or Huckleberry. ‘Frankenstein’ titling is done in calligraphy on the spine of the book by Yvette Rutledge. At 10″ x 13.5″ in size, it gives a good size canvass for Mr. Moser’s illustrations. Lastly, there are four thoughtful critical essays from William St. ClairEmily SunsteinJoyce Carol Oates and Ruth Mortimer included after the story itself.  The text of the Pennyroyal Frankenstein is based on the copy of the 1818 edition in the Smith College Library. The 1818 edition, which was published anonymously, is the first edition. It was printed in 3 volumes. A later 1831 edition apparently is more widely read, but the original 1818 first edition is preferred by many scholars.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) was a remarkable women, surrounded by a pretty remarkable family. Her father, William Godwin, was a famous political philosopher.  Her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, herself a famous and accomplished writer and early advocate for women’s rights.  Mary Shelley married Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the greatest lyric poets in all of English history.  The story of their ‘romance’ is itself a story for the ages, born of scandal and controversy.

The story of Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein is pretty well known.  In 1816, on vacation at Lake Geneva, Mary Wollstonecraft {Shelley}, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, John Polidori and a couple others were sitting around a log fire reading German ghost stories, when Byron suggested they each write a supernatural tale of horror. From this competition, Frankenstein was born, a creature first seen within a dream of 18 year old Mary Wollstonecraft {Shelley}.  Part Gothic, part Romantic, part science fiction, with its warnings of man’s progress outpacing his ability to control impacts of that progress, along with its questioning of the morality of unimpeded science, Frankenstein remains hugely influential and relevant today.  The Greek mythology of Prometheus is referred to in the subtitle, with Shelley’s Prometheus (Victor Frankenstein) punished for his creation, just as Prometheus, the creator of man in some Greek mythology, is punished for bringing fire to man against Zeus’ wishes. Shelley is essentially questioning the “gifts” of the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution, both of which offered much hope to mankind, but also much to fear.

Frankenstein is truly one of the great works of the Western Canon, and this edition is up to the challenge of presenting such a great work in a fitting manner. The release price in 1983 was $1,000, ($1600 for the deluxe). Today it typically goes for at least $3000 for near fine or better condition, and twice that for the deluxe.

About the Edition

  • The text is the Pennyroyal Frankenstein is based on the copy of the 1818 edition in the Smith College Library
  • Printed by Harold McGrath
  • 52 wood-engravings by Barry Moser, five printed from two or more blocks, and one heightened by hand
  • Four critical essays from William St. Clair, Emily Sunstein, Joyce Carol Oates and Ruth Mortimer
  • Printed on Pulegium archival, especially manufactured for this edition by Strathmore Paper Mills in Massachusetts, containing the Pennyroyal watermark
  • The types are Poliphilus and Blado with Wilhelm Klingsporschrift, composed and cast at the type foundry of Michael and Winifred Bixler, with considerable hand composition done at the Press by Arthur Larson and Chase Twichell
  • The calligraphy on the spine of the book done by Yvette Rutledge
  • Bound in quarter leather by Sam Ellenport and the Harcourt Bindery in Boston; the deluxe features a quarter leather slipcase embellished with a bronze medallion struck from an original design by Barry Moser
  • The book, with an additional set of prints, slipcased
  • 10 x 13.5″
  • Originally $1,000 on release ($1600 for the deluxe)
  • Limited to 350 copies, 50 of which specially bound with an original drawing laid in, all signed by Barry Moser

Pictures of the Edition

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Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Books in Slipcase
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Books in Slipcase
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Spine and Covers
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Spine and Covers (left leather lighter is just lighting artifact)
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Spine Macro
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Spine Macro
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Cover Macro
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Cover Macro
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Edition Title Page
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Edition Frontispiece and Title Page
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro Edition Title Page
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro Edition Title Page
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Contents
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Contents
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Illustrations
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Illustrations
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Frontispiece and Title Page of Volume I
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Frontispiece and Title Page of Volume I
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #1
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #1
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #2 with Decoration
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #2 with Decoration
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #3
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #3
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro of Sample Text #3
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro of Sample Text #3
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #4 with Decoration
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #4 with Decoration
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro of Decoration
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro of Decoration
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #5
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #5
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro of Sample Text #5
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro of Sample Text #5
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #6
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #6
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #7 with Decoration
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #7 with Decoration
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Frontispiece and Title Page for Vol II
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Frontispiece and Title Page for Vol II
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #8
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #8
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro of Sample Text #8
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro of Sample Text #8
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Illustration #6 with Text
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Frontispiece and Title Page for Vol III
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Frontispiece and Title Page for Vol III
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #9
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #9
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro of Sample Text #9
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Macro of Sample Text #9
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Illustration #12 with Text
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Illustration #13 with Text
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Illustration #5 with Text
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #10 -Essay Title Page
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #10 -Essay Title Page
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #11 -Essay Title Page
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #11 -Essay Title Page
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #12
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample Text #12
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Colophon
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Colophon
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Prospectus and Portfolio of Prints
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Prospectus and Portfolio of Prints
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample from Portfolio of Prints
Frankenstein, Pennyroyal Press, Sample from Portfolio of Prints

One thought on “Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, Pennyroyal Press (1983)

  1. The Pennyroyal Press ‘Frankenstein’ is one of the books cited in the classic Grolier Club publication ‘A Century for the Century: Fine Printed Books 1900-1999’ by Martin Hutner and Jerry Kelly and justifiably so. Barry Moser’s illustrations are amongst his best work and the page design and choice of types are flawless. Often overlooked in the folio-sized Pennyroyal Press books is the superb work by pressman Harold McGrath, one of the twentieth century’s finest with exemplary work at both Leonard Baskin’s Gehenna Press and the Pennyroyal Press.

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