Auctions | February 2, 2012

Oustanding Private Press Collection Coming Up at Swann's

New York—On Thursday, February 23 Swann Galleries will conduct an auction of Private Press & Illustrated Books that features highly desirable press books from two fine American collections.

The top lot in the sale is the Kelmscott Press masterpiece The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer now newly imprinted, first edition, Hammersmith, 1896 (estimate: $30,000 to $50,000). Master craftsman William Morris only printed 425 copies of this extraordinarily influential book—he had to refuse orders for hundreds more due to time constraints—and upon his death later the same year the woodcuts were given to the British Museum and the fonts to the University Press, Cambridge, so no further copies could be printed.

Other Kelmscott examples of note include a first edition of the first book they printed, The Story of the Glittering Plain, 1891 ($3,000 to $4,000); a copy of The Poems of William Shakespeare, inscribed by Morris to English critic and poet Theodore Watts-Dunton in the year of its publication, 1893 ($4,000 to $6,000); and a rare edition of Syr Ysambrace, one of only eight on vellum and in the original binding, 1897 ($5,000 to $7,500).

Kelmscott’s influence led to the creation of several other English presses, many of which are also represented in the sale. From the Ashendene Press is Cervantes’s Don Quixote, London, 1927-28, which was Ashendene’s largest work ($1,200 to $1,800); and an association copy of Edmund Spencer’s Minor Poems, warmly inscribed by publisher Charles Henry St. John Hornby to engraver Emery Walker of Doves Press, Chelsea 1925 ($2,000 to $3,000). A handful of works by Doves Press are also in the sale.

A wonderful example by Eragny Press is a dedication copy of Songs by Ben Jonson, one of only 10 copies on vellum, with a colored frontispiece, border and initials by Lucien Pissarro, the press’s founder and son of Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, inscribed by Lucien and Esther Pissarro to J.M. Andreini, London, 1906 ($1,500 to $2,500).

A run of works by the celebrated Golden Cockerel Press features Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Waltham St. Lawrence, 1928-31 ($4,000 to $6,000); Troilus and Criseyde, 1927 ($2,000 to $3,500); and The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ, 1931 ($4,000 to $6,000).

Eric Gill, who designed typefaces and illustrated several works for Golden Cockerel, also collaborated on one of the most beautiful illustrated books of the 20th century: the Cranach Press’s The Tragedie of Hamlet Prince of Denmark, with a title page designed by Gill, one of 300 in deluxe red morocco binding, Weimar, 1930 ($3,500 to $5,000).

From the same era are a wonderful association copy of Merrymount Press’s printing of the controversial protestant Episcopal revision of The Book of Common Prayer by the General Convention of 1928, ex-collections J.P. Morgan and C.H. St. John Hornby, Boston, 1928-30 ($3,000 to $4,000); an unusually nice copy of Grabhorn Press’s edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, New York, 1930 ($2,000 to $3,000); Shakespeare Head Press’s Odes of Victory; The Nemean and Isthmian Odes by Pindar, one of seven on vellum, Oxford, 1930 ($4,000 to $6,000); and one of the most impressive books by the Gregynog Press, The History of Saint Louis by John, Lord of Joinville Seneschal of Champagne, 1937 ($1,200 to $1,800).

A rich assortment of titles from contemporary and modern American presses includes Arion Press’s Moby-Dick, or, The Whale, one of 250 copies of the first trade edition designed by Andrew Hoyem, San Francisco, 1979 ($5,000 to $7,500), and a deluxe edition of The Great Gatsby, signed by and with two original drawings by Michael Graves, who illustrated the book, 1984 ($4,000 to $6,000); Janus Press’s scarce Aura by Hayden Carruth with an accordion folded multi-color paper pulp landscape, from an edition of 50, West Burke, Vermont, 1977 ($2,000 to $3,000), and The Circus of Doctor Lao, by Charles G. Finney, signed by the author and illustrator Claire Van Vliet, 1984 ($2,500 to $3,500); and Pennyroyal Press’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, one of 50 deluxe copies for patrons signed by Barry Moser, 1982 ($2,500 to $3,500), and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, signed by Moser and with an additional suite of prints, 1985 ($1,500 to $2,500).

Examples of collectible Limited Editions Club books are signed copies of John Hersey’s Hiroshima, with a poem by Robert Penn Warren, and illustrated by Jacob Lawrence, New York, 1983 ($1,200 to $1,800); Duane Michaels’s A Tribute to Cavafy: A Selection of Poems with Photogravures, 2003 ($2,000 to $3,000); and Junichiro Tanizaki’s A Portrait of Shunkin, illustrated with Eikoh Hosoe photographs, 2000 ($1,200 to $1,800).

From the modern British Parvenu Press is Judith Kazantzis’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, one of 12 signed copies, London, 2003 ($2,000 to $3,000).

Rounding out the press books are editions from Aquarius Press, Bird & Pull Press, Cheloniidae Press, Essex House press, Grabhorn Press, Nonesuch Press, Officina Bodoni, Tideline Press and more.

Illustrated books of note include Michael Mazur’s collaboration with Robert Pinsky on a new illustrated translation of The Inferno of Dante, first deluxe edition, signed by Mazur, New York, 2002 ($5,000 to $7,500).

The auction will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 23. The books will be on public exhibition Friday, February 17, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tuesday, February 21 and Wednesday, February 22, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Thursday, February 23, from 10 a.m. to noon.

An illustrated catalogue, with information on bidding by mail or fax, is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at

For further information, and to make advance arrangements to bid by telephone during the auction, please contact Christine von der Linn at (212) 254-4710, extension 20, or via e-mail at

Live online bidding is available via Artfact. Click on the Artfact link on the homepage.
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