Sunday, September 15, 2019

Collecting Vathek by William Beckford. 4 Special Editions In My Library

Cover Illustration Vathek. Centipede Press, David Whitlam

I often collect clusters of books.  While I do accidentally purchase duplicates, for example, an impulse purchase at a Book Fair where the joy of handling a desired book object overwhelms my rationality and, instead of quickly checking my LibraryThing catalog, I just do the deal and once home I discover I had a copy, now two!  While that is a frustrating start of a cluster, I generally put more thought into clusters.  Over time, I fine tuned my acquisition practices and now tend to focus on a specific title and cluster acquisition around First Edition/First Printing, First Illustrated, First Edition/First Printing Trade edition, and Fine Press editions of a beloved title.  Sometimes I go down a rabbit hole that combines interest in a specific title and the possibility of expanding my collection to include examples from specific publishing houses. My cluster of Vathek by William Beckford was a purposefully acquired collection of four editions, Nonesuch Press (1929), The Limited Editions Club (1945), The Folio Society (1958) and Centipede Press (2015).  I discovered Vathek while researching the catalog of The Limited Editions Club around the same time I noticed a new edition announced by Centipede Press.  Once those two editions were in my library I decided to acquire the 1958 Folio Society Edition and the 1929 Nonesuch Press Edition.   

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Cover Design.  Leather with tooled gold gilding

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Chapter opening with full page illustration.  Note the gold gilding is visible in the star in the lower center of the illustration

My first acquisition of Vathek was the Limited Editions Club edition of 1945, signed by the illustrator/decorator of the edition, Valenti Angelo.  The citation for this edition is Beckford, William. Vathek, An Arabian Tale, Limited Editions Club, 1945. It was released in an edition of 1500 copies gold gilded by hand by Valenti Angelo.  Gilding is the act of decorating book pages (or paper edges) with actual gold foil and is traditionally a feature of illuminated manuscripts.  It was the gilding that first caught my attention  and motivated my acquisition.  I am certain I will never have the resources necessary to acquire an actual, gilded illuminated edition (or even a single page) and when I discovered this work and the reality that copies could be obtained for less than $100.00 I jumped at the chance to add a true gilded edition to my library! My copy has a fine slipcase and the orginal book sleeve.  The leather cover and illumination is in perfect condition and the interior is clean and bright with all the gold gilding, subtle as it is, also perfect.  There appears to be a slight lightening of the ink of the page decorations generally in the upper left corner of the edition but it in no way distracts from the beauty of this small format edition.

While awaiting delivery of the Limited Editions Club edition I pre-ordered a newly announced edition of this classic Gothic tale from Centipede Press.  I have casually followed Centipede Press for many years but never purchased a title for my collection.  Generally, what I desired was beyond my means and Centipede Press titles never made it to a "buy now" position in my infinite want list.  It was the right time, right title and right price point to add Centipede Press to my library and the new edition seemed a natural purchase.  Released in a small edition of 250 copies, an early purchase was the smart move and would partner with my Limited Editions Club Edition.  The catalog page for Vathek offers the following:

William Beckford was a novelist, travel writer, art critic and politician best known for his novel Vathek, a story with elaborate imagery, sardonic humour and an unforgettable gallery of grotesques, which describes a journey to the halls of Eblis, or Hell, in the pursuit of knowledge.
      This edition features a new introduction by noted historian and poet Donald Sidney-Fryer, a striking color dustjacket by British artist David Whitlam, and the complete line drawings by Mahlon Blaine.

       William Beckford (1760-1844) inherited a large fortune and, at the age of nineteen, went on a tour of Holland, Germany, Belgium, France and Italy. He was a Member of Parliament and a traveller who spent large sums of money collecting rare books, curiosities and paintings for the embellishment of his Gothic Extravaganza, Fonthill Abbey, where he lived in opulent seclusion until forced by bankruptcy to sell it in 1822. 

While the Centipede Press edition is lovely and a joy to read, I prefer the feel and illustration package of the Limited Editions Club, much better.  This acquisition did serve as my introduction to Centipede and I now actively keep my eyes out for other, affordable editions.  This small printing has been sold out since shortly after publication in 2015.  A complete citation, Vathek, by William Beckford, Introduction by Donald Sidney-Fryer, Cover and Frontispiece artwork by David Whitlam, Interior artwork by Mahlon Blaine, Centipede Press 2015 (purchased directly from Centipede Press on pre-publication sale for $50.00, copy number 222 of 250, signed by Donald Sydney-Fryer and David Whitlam).   This is a reprinting of a 1928 edition, BECKFORD, WILLIAM. Vathek. New York: John Day, 1928. First Edition Thus. Illustrated by Mahlon Blaine, with an introduction by Ben Ray Redman with a new intoduction by Donald Sidney-Fryer.

Line Illustration by Mahlon Blaine 

My third copy of Vathek is from Nonesuch Press.  Over the years I handled many Nonesuch Press editions when visiting bookshops and shows but never acquired an edition for my library.  I had great interest in this British Press but usually connected to the Nonesuch Press complete works of Shakespeare, a celebrated 7 volume edition costing around $3500.00 and a bit too expensive for me.  Vathek is much more realistic and since I had the Limited Edition Club edition and the Centipede Press Edition I decided to add the Nonesuch Press so that I had, at least, one example in my collection.  The history of the Nonesuch Press is fascinating and worthy of a separate post.  A fine example of fine press publishing for a wider reading audience.  I love the paper stock and the illustrations by Marion V. Dorn are wonderful. 

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Cover of Vathek Nonesuch Press
Paper over Boards Off-white Vellum at Spine

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Frontispiece Illustration and Title Page
William Beckford, 1929,  Vathek, A New translation by Herbert B. Grimsditch, Copy 1061 of 1550, 10 Color Illustrations by Marion V. Dorn. 

My final fine press edition of Vathek is from the Folio Society, often a controversial fine press but one that I love collecting and support as I believe that they continue to produce fine editions for the general reader and I do replace many old and beloved reads with Folio Society Editions!

The Folio Society Edition of 1958 is from the 1929 Nonesuch Press edition by Herbert B. Grimsditch and has an original cover design and interior illustrations by Edward Baldwin.  A more formal citation is Beckworth, William, Vathek, Translated with an Introduction by Herbert B. Grimsditch, Illustrated with Lithogrpahs by Edward Bawden, London, The Folio Society, 1958.  The cover design is geometric and the interior illustrations are interesting but not to my taste.  Since I have many other Folio Editions I acquired this to complete this cluster and am happy I did but it is not one of my favorites!  It is pleasant to read as the size and printing is very supportive of old school, physical, book reading. 

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Cover Design Folio Society Edition
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Illustration from Folio Society Edition

I would love to acquire early and varied editions of this peculiar tale.  Often included as one of the earliest examples of Gothic Fiction, this tale compliments my shared addiction with Beckford for the Arabian Nights!  At least I have a cluster that brings me joy.

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