A new exhibit in the Msgr. William Noé Field Archives and Special Collections Center, Literature as Art, will be available through September 15th. Volumes of world literature published by the Limited Editions Club founded in 1929 by George Macy were beautifully bound and illustrated by artists of the day, in limited number to subscribers.
Attention was paid to the covers, the dust covers as well as to the works and their illustrations. Some are leather bound with embossed designs related to the content. For instance, Daphnis and Chloe by Longus has a golden boss very like a Greek coin with the profiles of the title characters. The Man without a Country by Edward Everett Hale sports an embossed outline of the map of North America while Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage depicts a Union and a Confederate soldier contending over a flag. Other interesting cover concepts include the water silk cover of Samuel Butler’s Erewohn and the bold red and black theme exemplifying Stendhal’s The Red and the Black. The Coverley Papers taken from Addison and Steele’s The Spectator of 1711-1712 is clothed in flowered chintz while Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights wears illustrations of her famous characters, Heathcliff and Cathy, and her own portrait.
Sometimes themes from the book have been used in the cover and dust cover designs as the running penguin motif imprinted on Anatole France’s Penguin Island. In the case of Gargantua & Pantagruel by Rabelais, a mural takes shape across the bindings of the five volumes when they are beside each other in the dust cover. Another period binding technique is the use of marbleized paper. Often used to line the inside cover of a volume, it was used on the dust cover for William Makespeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring and on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables.
Illustrations take the form of pen and ink drawings, wood cut block prints, lithographs or watercolor paintings. Not only do these limited editions provide the subscriber with hours of reading from the canon of Western Literature, they preserve work of regional, period artists and craftsmanship in the production of books rarely seen today in an age when books are often published electronically without any physical form at all. These sumptuous volumes can be seen on the ground floor of Walsh Library, opposite Walsh Gallery whenever the Library is open.