Weekend Heller: The Limited (But Not in Talent) Editions Club

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I learned about George Macy’s legendary Limited Editions Club from the great wood engraver/illustrator Fritz Eichenberg. He illustrated many beautiful classics for his friend Macy. In 1929, the first book shipped during the week that the stock market collapsed.

The story of how The Limited Editions Club survived as a combination book club and fine press/publishing house over more than 80 years of ups and downs has not been properly told until now. Carol Grossman tells this story in her new book The Limited Editions Club in all its detail. Designed by Jerry Kelly, the book is published by Oak Knoll Press. In addition to presenting the deep history of the business and the people involved, Grossman examines the legacy and reputation of the books left to bibliophiles, scholars, booksellers and collectors.

Macy worked closely with such designers and printers as W. A. Dwiggins, Frederic Warde, the Grabhorns, William Kittredge, Bruce Rogers, Hans Mardersteig, Francis Meynell, T. M. Cleland, Fredric Goudy and D. B. Updike. Contributing to these books were the foremost illustrators of the day, as well as such artists as Picasso, Matisse, Rodin, George Grosz, Edward Steichen and Edward Weston.

After Macy’s death in 1956, his widow, Helen, continued to maintain the quality of the publications until she retired in 1971. After several changes of ownership and uncertain years, Wall Street financier Sid Shiff put the company back on its feet and revitalized The Limited Editions Club’s output, producing some of the most handsome livres d’artistes of the 20th and 21st centuries.

As noted above, these books were illustrated and designed by major artists. But the work of Eichenberg, a very close friend, means more to me than any others. The most precious in my collection is The Adventures of Simplicissimus by Grimmelhausen (the namesake for the important German satiric weekly that attacked the Kaiser in all his folly). I only wish there were more illustrations representing Eichenberg’s work. Still, the book is an important brick in the foundation of illustrated literature and book design.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →