Four Historic Editions of Ulysses at Heritage Auctions

Additional firsts and scarce Joyce works also feature in June sale
Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

One of the illustrations by Matisse in this special copy of Ulysses

Few books have endured such a chequered history as James Joyce’s Ulysses. As we head towards Bloomsday on June 16 and the 101st anniversary of the book’s publication, Heritage Auctions will offer four different editions of this iconic text, all in excellent condition, at its June 8-9 Rare Books Signature auction. They represent a potted history of its contentious journey into print.

Ulysses first partly appeared in print in The Little Review from 1918-1921 before it ran foul of obscenity laws and was banned. Consequently, the honor of publishing the first edition fell to Sylvia Beach and her Shakespeare and Company bookselling-publishing operation in Paris. She managed to get it out on Joyce’s 40th birthday on February 2, 1922, and one of the 750 copies on handmade paper, in the original blue wrappers and housed in a custom clamshell box, is included in the Heritage Auctions sale.

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Some copies of this first edition made it through to the US and England, but when detected by customs officers were confiscated and often burnt. It was more than a decade before US courts determined in United States v. One Book Called Ulysses (1933) that the book was acceptable as the controversial elements served an important artistic purpose, namely Joyce’s use of stream of consciousness.

This paved the way for a most intriguing edition. In 1935, the Limited Editions Club of New York brought it out with illustrations by French artist Henri Matisse. Matisse’s six etchings are all the more remarkable since he never actually read the book. Instead, he went back to the inspirational source and provided depictions of the Cyclops, Nausicaa, Calypso, Ithaca, Aeolus, and Circe incidents from Homer’s Odyssey.

The edition was ultimately published in a run of 1,000 copies. Heritage Auctions will offer one of only 250 copies signed by both Matisse and Joyce, in the original publisher’s slipcase.

Shortly thereafter, in 1936, The Bodley Head in London brought out the first authorized English edition, a sumptuous book printed on mould-made paper and bound in calf vellum with a Homeric bow binding design by Eric Gill. Heritage Auctions has one of just 100 copies signed by the author and in the original publisher’s slipcase.

Though the publishers claimed this as the “final and definitive” edition, Joyce continued to find errors and make corrections. This brings us to the fourth edition in the Heritage Auctions sale, the monumental 1988 Arion Press printing, bound in white pigskin over white-flecked blue cloth with etchings by American abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell, a Joyce enthusiast. Again, it comes in the original publisher’s slipcase, one of 150 copies for sale, and is signed by Motherwell to the limitation page.

In addition to the four Ulysses editions above, the auction will also feature a first edition of Dubliners, a presentation copy to Raymonde Linossier of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the scarce first edition of Chamber Music, and a first edition of Finnegans Wake in jacket, among many others.