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© Bill R Majure, Bookseller, 2005 - 2012
This webpage was first put online in 2005.
Updated Last On: Sept 9, 2012.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF
THE LIMITED EDITIONS CLUB


The Limited Editions Club was founded in 1929 by George Macy (1900-1956) to publish finely made and finely illustrated limited editions of the classics of literature - and of a few carefully selected contemporary titles, such as The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Most of the books were beautifully illustrated with original artwork by leading book illustrators. In most cases, the illustrators handsigned each copy of the books that they illustrated for the LEC. Some books were published without that signature due to the unexpected death of the artist before publication, as happened with the The Arabian Nights illustrated by Arthur Szyk, Comus illustrated by Edmund Dulac, and the Arthur Rackham illustrated Wind In The Willows.

George Macy also commissioned some major fine art artists to illustrate LEC books with original finely printed etchings, lithographs, and engravings, which were bound into the books; including artists such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Marie Laurencin and other members of the Paris School of Art. He also commissioned a number of American masters of that period, largely from the Social Realism and American Regionalism schools of art. Included were Reginald Marsh, Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry. In addition, he commissioned major photographers, including Edward Weston and Edward Steichen, to illustrate LEC books. Those artists and photographers handsigned all copies of the books that they illustrated.

Some LEC books were signed not only by the artist, but also by famous book designers and by the authors, such as The Complete Poems of Robert Frost (1950), which was signed by the poet, Robert Frost; the book-designer, Bruce Rogers; and the artist/illustrator, Thomas Nason. And most copies of the books, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, were signed by Alice Hargreaves, the original Alice, who inspired the story.

A small number of LEC books were issued unillustrated, in which case they were usually signed by the book-designer and/or the printer.

The two most sought after (and valuable) LEC books published under Macy's leadership are Lysistrata, illustrated and signed by Pablo Picasso, 1934; and Ulysses, illustrated and signed by Henri Matisse, 1935. 250 copies of the 1500 copy limited edition of Ulysses were also signed by the author, James Joyce.

The LEC issued up to twelve books each year to a small group of subscribers. During ownership by the Macy family, LEC books were usually limited to 1500 copies, but with several exceptions. The original subscription price in 1929 of an LEC book was $10, discounted by 10% if the subscriber paid a year in advance.

After George Macy's death in 1956, his wife, Helen (1904-1978), took over and directed the operations of the LEC until 1968. From 1968 until 1970, the club was operated by her son, Jonathan Macy, and other family members. In 1970, the LEC (together with The Heritage Press and The Heritage Club), was sold to Boise Cascade Corporation. Boise Cascade sold it to Ziff-Davis Publishing Company. Ziff-Davis sold it to Cardavon Press. Cardavon operated the LEC with limited success for most of the 1970's, finally putting it on the block for sale.

Cardavon had raised the limitation to 2000 copies, and had sold The Heritage Press & The Heritage Club to The Danbury Mint (a sister company to The Easton Press) to generate needed cash. The Heritage Press and The Heritage Club were, respectively, the publisher and distributor of inexpensive, unlimited, and unsigned reprint editions of books which had previously been published by the Limited Editions Club. And as a result of that sale, today The Easton Press has the reprint publishing rights for those LEC titles. A great many of the Easton Press leather books are reprints of the great Limited Editions Club editions.

Sidney Shiff (1924-2010) acquired the LEC from Cardavon in 1978. Over the next decade, Mr. Shiff gradually changed the focus of the club, and eventually began producing only Livres d'Artiste illustrated with original artwork by major "fine art" artists, rather than by major illustrators and graphic artists. And he also gradually reduced the number of copies printed. As of 2004, the limitation per edition was 300 copies, and the annual subscription rate was $5,000.

The books from the later Shiff years are for serious collectors of fine art, as well as for collectors of fine literature published in fine press editions.

The artists commissioned by Mr. Shiff include such lofty names as Jacob Lawrence, Balthus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elizabeth Catlett, Francesco Clemente, Ellsworth Kelly, Sean Scully, Alice Neel, and others.

The Limited Editions Club has not published any books since the 2010 publication of The Declaration of Independence, which was illustrated with a single frontispiece photogravure by Robert Frank.

After Sidney Shiff's passing on March 18, 2010, his wife, Jeanne Shiff, became president of the publishing company.

At this time (March 2012), there has been no indication of future books in the publisher's pipeline. Our sense of things is that the LEC will not be publishing any books in the foreseeable future.

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For a Checklist of all books published by the Limited Editions Club from its inception, please click on this link.

To View My Inventory of Limited Editions Club Books For Sale, Please Click Here.

NOTICE: This website is not affiliated with the Limited Editions Club in any way. My inventory of Limited Editions Club books consists of collections and individual volumes purchased from original subscribers, executors of estates, heirs, other individuals, and at auctions.

The current address and telephone number for the Limited Editions Club is:

Telephone 212-737-7600 and 800-701-8870
Address: 790 Madison Ave., Room 606, New York, NY 10065.
Website: http://www.limitededitionsclub.com


References:

Limited Editions Club Staff, Prospectus For the First Twelve Books, New York: Limited Editions Club, 1929.

Staff Writer. "Books: De Luxe". Time Magazine (December 19, 1938).

Macy, Helen. Susan Thompson, Interviewer. Reminiscences of Helen Macy. New York: Columbia University Oral History Research Office, 1974. (A Recorded Oral History - Transcript: 605 leaves, Tape: 16 reels and 1 cassette)

Burton, William. "The Decline And Fall Of The Limited Editions Club". American Book Collector (July/August 1980).

Limited Editions Club Staff, Bibliography of the Fine Books Published by The Limited Editions Club 1929-1985. New York: Limited Editions Club, 1985.

Fleming, Margaret W. "Limited Editions Club." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 46: American Literary Publishing Houses, 1900-1980. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986.

Lacey, Peter. "CEO at Leisure; Artists Books as Collectibles." Chief Executive U.S. (July/August 1992)

Grossman, Carol. "East Side Story: Two Faces of the Limited Editions Club". Biblio (March 1999).



© Bill R Majure, Bookseller, 2005 - 2012