Carol Porter Grossman. The History of the Limited Editions Club. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2017. xi, 268 p. ill. ISBN 978-1-58456-3655. US$125.00.
Every publisher deserves a historian like Carol Porter Grossman. This absorbing book recounts the remarkable story of the Limited Editions Club (LEC) and its offshoots, as well as that of the Club’s indefatigable and imaginative founder, George Macy, and those who kept the LEC going after his untimely death in 1956. Drawing on extensive archives at the Harry Ransom Center, Columbia University, the Newberry Library, and the Grolier Club, as well as private archives and several important oral histories, Grossman is able to reconstruct in great and fascinating detail the eight decades of fine book production by the LEC.
George Macy envisioned the Limited Editions Club as a subscription service which would ship a fine-press book—expertly designed, printed, and illustrated—each month to 1,500 subscribers. Announced in the spring of 1929, with the first title shipped later that year in the same week as the crash of the U.S. stock market, it took a serious feat of ingenuity plus a good measure of sheer bloodymindedness to keep the LEC going through years of economic depression and war. Macy was up to the task, and Grossman ably chronicles his unceasing efforts to promote and advertise the Club, and documents the extremely complex and far-flung logistics involved in the production of LEC titles—all without the benefits of email, of course!
As if the Limited Editions Club weren’t enough for Macy, he also undertook various side ventures and special projects, treated by Grossman in her sixth chapter. Among these were the Heritage Press and Heritage Club, the Nonesuch Dickens, the Bruce Rogers Shakespeare, and the Readers Club, which offered inexpensive reprints of books unfairly ignored when they were originally published.
Following George Macy’s death from kidney cancer, his wife Helen undertook management of the LEC until her retirement in 1971, when the Club was sold to the Communications Research Machines division of Boise Cascade. It was sold again in late 1972 to Cardavon Press, and once more to longtime Club members Francis Decker and Paul M. Poster in 1978. To their great credit, they brought in financier Sidney Shiff, who took over the Club’s operations and shifted the business model over the course of the 1980s toward the production of more limited (and more expensive) fine books and livres d’artistes, carrying on Macy’s tradition of creating exceptional books to very high standards.
Fittingly, the volume itself is a beautiful one. Jerry Kelly’s design skills are on full display, and the text is set in Matthew Carter’s Galliard types, first used in the 1979 LEC edition of The Lyrical Poems of François Villon. More than ninety full-color illustrations are excellently integrated into the design. My only quibble—and it is exceedingly minor indeed—is the treatment of the 1,255 thorough and very useful notes, which are given at the end of each chapter but numbered continuously: by the final chapter the four-digit superscripted endnote indicators get to be a bit obtrusive. Restarting the numbering for each chapter would have obviated this tiniest of infelicities, but no real matter.
Grossman’s book, sure to stand as the definitive history of the Limited Editions Club, would do George Macy proud. It deserves a place on the shelves of all bibliophiles with an interest in twentieth-century publishing history and fine book production.
Jeremy B. Dibbell, Rare Book School