The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Arion Press (1984); also the Limited Editions Club (1980)

F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s (1896-1940) The Great Gatsby is one of the greatest and most widely read of all twentieth century American novels. While it received some critical praise when first released in 1925 (for instance, T.S. Eliot told Fitzgerald it was “the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James“), sales failed to follow and within a few years the book was largely forgotten. However, after Fitzgerald’s death in 1940, the book experienced a revival and has remained popular, selling in the millions (nearly thirty million), ever since. Critical acclaim has also become nearly unanimous (e.g., the Modern Library editorial board voted it the 20th century’s best American novel and second best English-language novel).

The Great Gatsby’s backdrop of decadence and excess has become an iconic portrait of the Jazz Age. The Limited Editions Club (LEC) Monthly Letter (ML) says:

…the novel is “a penetrating analysis of the failure of the Jazz Age to produce significant or lasting values. Jay Gatsby symbolizes America enslaved, as Fitzgerald writes, in ‘the service of  a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.’ In Gatsby’s pitiable disillusion and defeat, Fitzgerald illustrates the fever that burns away the spiritual strength of so many Americans.”

While indelibly linked with the Roaring Twenties, the excess and ills associated with the era that Gatsby illustrates connects with generations across time. One can easily picture the same caricature being painted onto today’s ludicrous axis of Wall Street and Washington insiders whose lives are as disconnected from reality as was Gatsby’s.  The novel also has a strong undercurrent reflecting the constant change in the economic, social and cultural world within the American landscape. This dynamism, and the impossibility of resisting it, also strikes a chord with the American reader.

Some critics, at least in Gatsby‘s early days, felt that Fitzgerald’s depth of characterization was a bit limited. The ML responds to such, saying:

It has been said by severe critics that Fitzgerald’s acute sensibility was devoted to an understanding of the results of human action, rather than an understanding of the reasons for human actions. But if his view of character was limited, it may be because his over-all comprehension of society was so positive.

To this reader, there is no question that the strength of Fitzgerald goes well beyond spinning a good yarn. His writing is simply masterful. From the same ML:

The Great Gatsby is “a triumph of mood and tone. Character, symbol, and image blend uniformly to produce a quality of lyric sadness that pervades the whole work.” For its moral criticism and technical artistry, it emerges, as Malcolm Cowley has observed, as “a fable of the 1920s that will survive as legend for other times.”

Very well said. The mood of the story permeates into the mind of the reader laying the way for the embedding of imagery that Fitzgerald so masterfully weaves. While there is no question that in Gatsby Fitzgerald’s style and capability were at their peak resulting in a wonderfully readable, enjoyable and thought-provoking work, I actually have to say I still find his This Side of Paradise (reviewed here), his first novel published in 1920 when he was a mere 23, the more enjoyable book to read!  Tender is the Night (reviewed here)Fitzgerald’s subsequent novel published nine years later in 1934, which oozes with the disillusionment and pain in Fitzgerald’s own life, is also outstanding. Fitzgerald’s only other completed novel was 1922’s The Beautiful and Damned, while another, The Last Tycoon remained unfinished at his death and was published posthumously (completed in 1941 by  Edmund Wilson, many critics consider it Fitzgerald’s greatest work).

This article takes a look at two outstanding limited fine/private press editions of The Great Gatsby: A 1984 edition from the Arion Press with illustrations by the accomplished architect Michael Graves and a 1980 edition from the Limited Editions Club (LEC) with illustrations by American artist Fred Meyer.

Arion Press: ‘The Great Gatsby’ (1984)

The Great Gatsby was the fifteenth publication of Andrew Hoyem‘s Arion Press.  The prospectus for this edition mentions that Hoyem:

…invited the collaboration of leading  post modernist architect Michael Graves for illustrations that would reflect the period of the novel while expressing his vivid imagination of a post-dated commission for a grand estate on Long Island. Likewise, the typography was to have the flavor of the mid-twenties through the use of types current at the time designed by F.W. Goudy and A. Piehler, arranged in a manner intended to be dated, in the best sense of that term. Even the binding was styled to echo the editions deluxe of Gatsby’s era. For the color scheme Hoyem chose inks, papers and fabric in a range that, while they might have been chosen then, are identified now with Graves’ office. Hoyem and Graves intend to honor Fitzgerald and his greatest novel with a treatment both timeless and timely.

Michael Graves (1934-2015) was an extremely well-known and highly awarded architect (winner of the National Medal of Arts in 1999, the AIA Gold Medal in 2001 and many more) who has had significant influence on Postmodern architecture as well as New Urbanism and New Classical Architecture. The prospectus tells us that Graves:

…was invited by the publisher to draw the buildings and grounds, the furniture, fixtures, landscaping, automobiles, telephones, and cocktail glasses of East and West Egg and New York, the gas station and pool where the characters met their ends, but not Jay, Tom, Daisy, or the narrator, who are left to the reader’s imagination.

The Arion Press Bibliography includes a humorous story about Graves and this Gatsby edition. Andrew Hoyem and Diana Ketcham were under the mistaken belief that Gatsby was Graves‘ favorite book. When they went to Princeton to meet him, they realized they had Graves mixed up with his architectural rival Robert A. M. Sterns (whose favorite book it really was)! They went with Graves anyway, who was thrilled to do the illustrations (ultimately providing 97 of them!).

The French mouldmade Rives buff paper used here is simply delicious, and is perfect for the type choice of Monotype Goudy Light (12 point) with Piehler capitals and figures for display. The printing was done on a Miller two-color cylinder press, using black ink for the type, terra-cotta for the illustrations, and blue-green for the titling and chapter number. The edition was bound at the Schubert Bookbindery in a blue-green cloth spine and corners, with printed grey paper over boards with drawings by the artist, in slipcase with cloth edges and paper sides. The standard edition (seen below) was limited to 350 copies, all signed by the artist. The edition was $400 on release, and now typically sells for $1000 or more for fine copies when such can be found (rarely) on the secondary market. There was a deluxe edition of 50 copies made that came with a green cloth box with lid recessed for cast sculptural relief, designed by Michael Graves, of a three-dimensional site plan of the Gatsby estate, containing a limitation sheet, the book, and two matted original drawings for the book, signed by the artist.

About the Edition (Arion Press)

  • Designed at the Arion Press under direction from Andrew Hoyem
  • Illustrated with 97 drawings by Michael Graves
  • Photo-engravings done by Bauer Engraving Co.
  • Printing done on a Miller two-color cylinder press, using black ink for the type, terra-cotta for the illustrations, and blue-green for the titling and chapter numbers
  • Text is composed in Monotype Goudy Light (12 point) with Piehler capitals and figures for display
  • Paper is French mouldmade Rives buff
  • Bound at the Schubert Bookbindery in a blue-green cloth spine and corners, with printed grey paper over boards with drawings by the artist, in slipcase with cloth edges and paper sides
  • 10 by 6-1/2 inches, 182 pages
  • Limited to 350 copies, signed by the artist (original cost $400)
  • There is deluxe edition of 50 copies with a green cloth box with lid recessed for cast sculptural relief, designed by Michael Graves, of a three-dimensional site plan of the Gatsby estate, containing a limitation sheet, the book, and two matted original drawings for the book, signed by the artist (original cost $1750)

Pictures of the Edition (Arion Press)

(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 Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Slipcase Spine
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Slipcase Spine
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Spine and Covers
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Spine and Covers
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Macro of Spine
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Macro of Spine
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Endpapers
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Endpapers
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Title Page
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Title Page
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Macro of Title Page
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Macro of Title Page
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Sample Text #1
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Sample Illustrations #1 with Text
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Sample Illustrations #1 with Text
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Sample Text #2
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Sample Text #2
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Sample Illustrations #4 with Text
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Sample Illustrations #2 with Text
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Sample Illustrations #7 with Text
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Sample Illustrations #3 with Text
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Sample Illustration #8 Macro
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Sample Illustration #4 Macro
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Colophon
The Great Gatsby, Arion Press, Colophon

Limited Editions Club: ‘The Great Gatsby’ (1980)

The LEC’s 1980 edition of The Great Gatsby is one of their better productions in that time period, arguably just on the cusp of the quality uptick that was to come in the following years. The edition is nicely designed and nicely executed. With the participation of people such as private press master Roderick D. Stinehour, publishing magnate Charles Scribner III, and artist Fred Meyer the end result is a very desirable edition of Gatsby.

The American sculpture and painter Fred Meyer (1922-1986) was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and received his art education at Cranbrook Academy of Art and the universities of Wisconsin and Notre Dame. He taught at the Kansas City Art Institute, Wayne University, Rochester Institute of Technology (whose School of American Crafts Meyer taught at for 35 years, it is one is the oldest craft schools in the U.S. and is recognized as a leader in the field of arts and crafts), the School of Art and Design and the School for American Craftsmen. He is represented in the collections of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Everson Museum, Little Rock Museum of Fine Art, and many private collections. Meyer was also known as an author, playwright, cinematographer, and art historian. The 14 illustrations Meyer provided for this edition of Gatsby were executed in Gouache. The ML informs us that:

Gouache is a water-based paint that is rendered opaque by mixing white pigment with pigments that would otherwise be transparent. The advantage of the mixture is that it offers the spontaneity of water color and the covering power of tempera.

There is no question the illustrations here are evocative of the time period of Gatsby.  The reproduction is nicely done by Meriden Gravure Company of Meriden, Connecticut from color plates made by Rainbows, Inc., of Hazardville, Connecticut. The composition, printing and binding of this edition was done by Roderick D. Stinehour, of the Stinehour Press in Lunenburg, Vermont. It is composed in 11 point size of Monotype Bell, which the ML tells us is:

…a transitional face designed by Richard Austin, a copperplate engraver. Issued in 1788 by Bell’s letter foundry in London, it was named for John Bell, the proprietor, who was also prominent as a bookseller, publisher, and printer. It is called a transitional face because, though its sharply contrasted shading and vertical stress would classify Bell among the moderns, it retains such old-style characteristics as the bracketed serifs, serifs that are connected to the stems by a slight curve. The original punches of the face are in the possession of the Stephenson and Blake Foundry in England. By arrangement the type was reproduced by the English Monotype organization n 1931. It is a typeface that is generously rounded, crisp and brilliant in cut, and of cull color.

The binding of this LEC edition is a highlight of the publication (as you will see below). While the full grey buckram is nice enough (though pretty standard), the stamped cover design by Deborah M. Evetts (graduate of London’s Central School of Art and binding conservator at the Pierpont Morgan Library) is marvelous. When opened, the stamped design flows from the back cover, through the spine, to the front cover showing the front half of a car such as that one would associate with Gatsby. Clever and well-executed.

I should also mention that the introduction for this edition, written by Charles Scribner III (whose great great grandfather founded the publishing firm that bears his name), is excellent. The ML mentioning of the introductory essay:

It is a remarkable essay because it takes the reader behind the scenes of the book’s genesis, development, and publication. It reveals –partly through extensive quotations from letters — the tender nursing, the tactful encouragement, that the great editor Maxwell Perkins gave to the sensitive author.

The high limitation of 2000 reflects its inclusion in the low period of the LEC as a business, but the quality of this edition means a fairly large price in the secondary market despite the limitation (as of this writing $325 is the lowest cost for a near fine edition on Abe’s).

About the Edition (Limited Editions Club)

  • Introduction by Charles Scribner III
  • Composition, printing and binding by Roderick D. Stinehour, of the Stinehour Press in Lunenburg, Vermont
  • 14 illustrations by Fred Meyer in gouache
  • Meyer’s illustrations printed by Meriden Gravure Company of Meriden, Connecticut from color plates made by Rainbows, Inc., of Hazardville, Connecticut
  • Composed in 11 point size of Monotype Bell, and Bauer Bodoni italics for headings
  • Soft white paper, with an egg shell finish, specially made at the Mohawk Mill in Cohoes, New York
  • Bound in full grey buckram stamped with a cover design by Deborah M. Evetts in a style that harmonizes with the period illustrations
  • 6 3/4″ x 8 5/8″, 224 pages
  • Limited to 2000 copies, signed by Fred Meyer

Pictures of the Edition (Limited Editions Club)

(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 Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Slipcase Spine
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Slipcase Spine
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Spine
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
he Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1
he Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2 (Illustration List)
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #2 (Illustration List)
he Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #3
he Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #3
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #3
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #4
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #4
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #5
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #5
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #6 with Text
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
The Great Gatsby, Limited Editions Club, Colophon

2 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Arion Press (1984); also the Limited Editions Club (1980)

  1. And I just finished reading it. It’s been 30 years since my last ready of “Gatsby”, and it’s so much better than I remembered! I think that great works of literature reward re-reading, at different stages of life, with different revelations. Now, onward to “Tender is the Night” in the LEC edition….

  2. Interesting — the 1968 Folio Society edition has a similar cover design to the LEC edition….

    I just found a fine copy of the Arion Press edition for a nearly-reasonable price, so I’m a very happy camper right now. Thanks for reminding me to keep looking for one!

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