December 2009 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Thoreau for Christmas

As some of our readers already know, Henry D. Thoreau is quite possibly my all-time favorite writer. Apparently Santa knows this too. Under my tree this year was a two-volume edition of Thoreau's Cape Cod. No, it was not the first edition! (Perhaps someday...) It is a Riverside Press reprint from Houghton Mifflin published in 1896. One of the reasons this edition is so lovely is that it was designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman, one of the first female book designers. She worked for HM in the late nineteenth century, promoting an Arts and Crafts aesthetic. She often designed for friends Sarah Orne Jewett and Oliver Wendell Holmes. One of her innovations was to take the book's cover design and carry in over to the spine and the back cover. So on the Cape Cod, we see gold-embossed beach flowers on the front cover, which repeat on the spine, and become blind-embossed flowers on the back. (You can read more about SWW at the University of Rochester Library.)

Another reason this edition was particularly perfect this Christmas? On Dec. 25, 1896, someone named Annie inscribed it to Frank. There's a strange kinship-like feeling that goes along with opening this book and seeing the penciled inscription 113 years to the day that Frank did.