Limited Editions Club: Books and Manuscripts

By Eric Stoykovich, Manuscript Librarian and College Archivist

In February 2022, the Watkinson Library undertook a minor project to improve the finding aids for three archival/manuscript collections: the Limited Editions Club collection; the Dard Hunter papers; and the Roberts Brothers collection. Amy FitzGerald, Processing Archivist in the Watkinson, reformatted the finding aids by transferring them from word processing documents and crafting new collection descriptions when necessary. Additionally, FitzGerald worked to refine the physical organization and labeling of materials. Now word searchable and available to a wider public in the ArchivesSpace database of finding aids, the collections are ready for an expanded audience of users interested in papermaking, the history of the book, women authors, and bibliography.

The Limited Editions Club, founded in 1929 in New York City by publisher George Macy, reprinted classic books of high literary distinction for a limited audience of up to 1,500 paid subscribers. The club was both a fine press and a private press. It focused on literary merit, print quality, fine typography, and durable binding, rather than wide commercial success using newer or cheaper print technologies.[1]

Trinity College’s Watkinson Library contains about 300 volumes issued by the Limited Editions Club, largely the donation of John M. K. Davis, a former Watkinson trustee and chairman of Cardavon Press, which ran the Limited Editions Club from Avon, Connecticut, between 1972 and 1978.[2] Among the most famous in the collection is the version of Lysistrata with drawings by Picasso, along with his autograph. The club’s books were once very highly collectible in the rare book market. To wit, the library holdings of Trinity’s local peers, Wesleyan University and Connecticut College, each maintain collections of about 175 volumes from the Limited Editions Club.[3]

            In addition to the printed books, the donation of John M. K. Davis and Ethel Davis to the Watkinson included two boxes of mainly print ephemera related to the history and publicity efforts of the Club. Located in the “Limited Editions Club collection,” these include prospectuses, catalogues, and loose-leaf flyers for upcoming publications.

Examples of print ephemera in the “Limited Editions Club collection” of the Watkinson Library include event announcements, such as this one (at right) for Octavio Paz’s Three Poems.

Some random examples of the “Monthly Letter,” sent in the mail to club subscribers with clockwork regularity, complement a reprint edition of the first fifty numbers of that serial catalogued separately in the Watkinson.

The October 1935 issue (no. 77) of “The Monthly Letter” refers to the Limited Editions Club’s publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which featured drawings by Henri Matisse. Matisse’s drawing of Ulysses slaying Polyphemus is shown at top of this blog.

Notable among the few manuscripts is a typed letter dated 1938, autographed by George Macy and written to John M. K. Davis, then of the Case, Lockwood and Brainard Company. With the United States still in economic hardship, Macy offered Davis a reduced rate on an advanced subscription price, knocking the price down to $5.00 per volume.[4]

            Nowhere comprehensive, the “Limited Editions Club collection” at the Watkinson nonetheless offers researchers the opportunity to explore the promotion, marketing, and brand maintenance of the Limited Editions Club, particularly during the down market of the 1970s. In contrast, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas houses a large collection of business archives of the George Macy Companies, while Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library preserves an additional tranche of the business correspondence of George Macy.[5]

The Limited Editions Club version of Alcott’s Little Women was released in 1967.

[1] Bill R. Majure (retired bookseller), A Brief History of the Limited Editions Club, available online with last update of Sept. 9, 2012.

[2] Gordon Carroll (president of Cardavon Press), “Cardavon Press: A Summary” (April 1975), 3 pages, in Box 1, Folder 2, Limited Editions Club collection, Watkinson Library and College Archives, Hartford, Connecticut.

[3] Numbers are derived from catalog records in the federated Connecticut College-Trinity College-Wesleyan University (CTW) consortium online library catalog (OneSearch) in March 2022.

[4] George Macy to John M.K. Davis, July 25, 1938, Box 2, Folder 2, Limited Editions Club collection, Watkinson Library and College Archives, Hartford, Connecticut.

[5] See Preliminary Inventory of the George Macy Companies, Inc.: Limited Editions Club and The Heritage Press, at the Harry Ransom Center and finding aid of the George Macy Papers, 1916-1970, at Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

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