Separate Pieces: All Printed Books are Different

Date: 21 January 1998 – 20 May 1998
Location: Dome Room, UVA Rotunda
Curated by: Terry Belanger & John Buchtel

“Separate Pieces: All Printed Books are Different,” focuses on the Book Arts Press (BAP) collections of multiple copies of the same title, highlighting changes between their various issues, states, printings, and editions.

Our starter set of multiple copies was the gift of Michael Winship; nine copies of the first edition (1867) of John Greenleaf Whittier’s Tent on the Beach and Other Poems. Winship gave them to the BAP on condition that we continue to acquire copies of this bibliographically interesting publication. Our current first-edition Tent total is 38 copies.

Then at some point we began to collect copies of Volume Eight (Flying Sails) of Olive Beaupré Miller’s once-ubiquitous twelve-volume compendium, My Book House, useful in Terry Belanger’s undergraduate history of the book class when he gets to cultural literacy (and how his generation was told to acquire it). Our Flying Sailsrange from the 17th printing (after 1928 but before 1937) to what must be about the 40th printing (1974 or after); thus far, we have 19 copies of this volume of the Book House set.

We collect copies of the Modern Library (ML) edition of André Malraux’s Man’s Fate. ML is not generous with back-of-title-page information, but its early dust-jackets are informative: for a long time, they listed all the ML titles in print, with a screamer across the top of the list asking: “Which of these [number] outstanding books do you want to read?” The number changed in successive dust-jacket printings, reflecting the ever increasing number of ML titles available. Our copies of the ML Man’s Fatehave dust-jackets ranging from “Which of these 271 books” to “Which of these 415 books”? shortly after which, ML seems to have given up trying to keep up with its own output and began saying simply, “Which of these outstanding books.” We have 17 hardbound copies and three paperback copies of the ML Man’s Fate.

We collect copies of Vanity Fair. Thackeray’s novel originally contained a variety of illustrations, all after his own original drawings: chapter-head initials with satirical vignettes and other intext wood engravings, plus inserted full-page steel engravings. If ever there has been a case for continuing to reprint the original illustrations along with the text of a novel, this is it; and in fact most of the editions of Vanity Fair that appeared during Thackeray’s life-time were illustrated. Very few editions publishedafter his death contain his illustrations, however; and modern paperback editions are almost without exception deficient in this regard. We have 39 hard-bound copies of Vanity Fair (issued by 30 different publishers) plus 31 paperback copies (issued by twelve different publishers).

We collect multiple copies of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. The Prophet appears in three principal forms: the regular hard-bound edition (at least 130 printings since 1923), the pocket edition (at least 66 printings), and the large format slipcased edition (at least 33 printings; from publisher Alfred A. Knopf’s point of view, Gibran’s best-known book might well have been titled The Profit). Many of our copies of The Prophet are inscribed, eg: “To my dear Mom & Dad, I hope you read this book and follow what your heart tells you to do. These words herein have led me through many rough times. I give them to you so that you may enjoy his spirit too. Love & peace, Fred | December, 1972″ (89th printing, 1972); or (also 89th printing) “Dear Danielle, this is a book that when you come to know it will become a part of your life. Enjoy it and love it. Love Mother. Thus far, we have 42 hardbound copies of The Prophet and two paperback copies (the 1944 Armed Services Edition; as far as we know, the book has never been generally issued in the United States in paperback form).

We collect the six quarto volumes of Will Carleton’s poetry issued in a pretty suite of similar bindings by Harper beginning in the 1870’s, and clearly intended as a series or set: City Ballads, City Festivals, and City Legends; and Farm Ballads, Farm Festivals, and Farm Legends. These books, madly popular in their time, contain sentimental poems of a sort that would warm Edgar Guest’s heart, eg:

Here in The City I ponder,
Through its long pathways I wander,
These are the spires that were gleaming
All through my juvenile dreaming.
(“Wealth” [lines 1-4], from City Ballads)

Carleton’s poems go on for a very long time; but never mind: the decorated bindings of his books are of considerable interest. You could buy them in any of about a dozen binding colors and either mix-and-match or acquire them all in a single color. Our goal is to acquire complete six-volume sets in as many colors as possible. Our current volume count: eight red (possibly two shades), three dark red, two emerald green, twelve green (several shades), six olive, five light blue, five dark blue, eight tan, eight brown, two gray, four chocolate, and several single volumes in colors ranging from gold to black. Thus far, our Carleton totals range from fourteen copies of Farm Balladsto five copies of City Festivals, and we have 63 hard-bound copies of one volume or another in the series.

We collect copies of John Knowles’s novel, A Separate Peace: another book that does well in the “wouldn’t it be nice to have THOSE royalties” stakes. A Separate Peace is currently enjoying at least its 96th Bantam massmarket paperback printing; we have 65 copies, many of them annotated in earnest high-school hands, sometimes with reading schedules, eg, “pp 1–24 (Monday), pp 25–52 (Tuesday), pp 53–77 (Wednesday),” etc.

Then there is our Janson collection. Several years ago, Leonard Schlosser pointed out that the history of later c20 printing processes was conveniently displayed in successive editions of H. W. Janson’s History of Art. The first edition (1962) was designed by Philip Grushkin. It had gravure black-and-white illustrations, letterpress text and captions, and letterpress color illustrations on coated stock. Later printings of the first edition used gravure for both the black-and-white illustrations and the text (except for the prelims, which were printed offset). The first revised edition of 1969 shifted its gravure printing from Germany to Japan, with a resulting temporary decline in quality.

Subsequent editions of Janson’s History of Art moved completely to offset, at first on two kinds of paper stock, later on a single stock. To add to the fun, each of the many printings of the book over its six editions occurs in two states: an Abrams trade edition and a Prentice-Hall college edition, with different dust-jackets and title-pages.

If you put copies of all six editions of Janson’s History of Art next to each other, you can see, e.g., the Mona Lisa in black-and-white gravure, black-and-white offset, letterpress color, offset color on coated stock, and offset color on matte stock — and there are startling aesthetic differences among them.

Our goal is to have twelve copies (twelve is our usual maximum class size and thus the BAP’s magic number) of each of the five major printing technology shifts that have occurred in the printing of Janson’s History of Art. Thus far we have 33 copies of various states of the first edition (13 printings, 1962–68); 20 copies of the first edition revised and enlarged (seven printings, 1969–74); 14 copies of the second edition (nine printings, 1977–85), seven copies of the third edition (two printings, 1986–?), four copies of the fourth edition (1991), and one copy of the fifth edition (1995).

Janson is a great big book. The 570-page first edition weighs five pounds and is 1″ thick; the 960-page fifth edition weighs eight pounds and is just under 2″ thick. Many of them are on view in this show.

Visitors to the BAP who walk through the Classroom and Pressroom into the Studio sometimes ask why (for example) the Book Arts Press finds it necessary to own 67 prominently-displayed copies of Ben-Hur. In reply, we show them our 83 copies of The Great Gatsby—or (as a special treat) our 340 copies of Owen Meredith’s long narrative poem, Lucile, in the Dome Room of the Rotunda; and remind them of Roger Stoddard’s wonderful dictum: most manuscript copies of a book are pretty much the same, but almost all printed copies are different.

Original Exhibition Webpage

The exhibition was on view from 21 January – 20 May. The curators were Terry Belanger and John Buchtel.