Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Arion Press, 1979

A previous version of Moby-Dick was reviewed by Books and Vines, the 2009 Folio Society Limited Edition version (limited to 1750 copies). You can read that review by Chris here. (3-Nov-2012: If Books & Vines doesn't return, some details about this production are as follows): Bound in leather, blocked in white and silver with a design based on one of Rockwell Kent's illustrations, with silver gilding on the top block. Set in Fournier, 768 pages with approximately 280 black & white illustrations. Book Size: 9¼" x 6¾". The Commentary volume is bound in buckram, 312 pages, 9¼" x 6¾". Both volumes are presented in a buckram-bound solander box:

Chris previously noted that Moby-Dick had two excellent editions which are quite scarce and expensive. The celebrated 1930 Lakeside Press edition and the 1979 Arion Press edition (discussed later). The 1930 Lakeside Press edition had several features unique to its edition, but is best known for being the source of the Rockwell Kent illustrations. Those Rockwell Kent illustrations are the same one used in the Folio Society's limited edition as shown above, including the cover design.

The Lakeside edition was produced in a three volume set with black cloth covers, clear acetate wrappers, and embossed with the same design on the front cover along with the Roman numbers I-III to differentiate the volumes, and housed in an aluminum slipcase. Limited to 1,000 copies, issued with unopened pages, a black dyed top-edge, completely designed & signed by Rockwell Kent, and it's no wonder why this edition fetches thousands of dollars whenever you can find a set for sale.

Despite all of these features, you can easily find a Lakeside edition assuming you have the money needed! Or you could just find a 1930 Random House trade edition of the Lakeside publication, or any of the other multiple trade editions over the years. But of course, if you have a spare ten grand lying around, you could purchase a very special edition of the Lakeside Press Moby-Dick housed in a custom leather box with a very interesting provenance as highlighted by Booktryst.

The excellent bookseller Bill Majure recently sold a copy of the Lakeside edition, and he has been kind enough to grant permission for us to reuse the photographs he originally took of the set he sold. Thank you, Mr. Majure:


Moby Dick, 3 vol. set with acetate dust jackets & aluminum slipcase, Lakeside Press, 1930


Moby Dick, Front Cover Images (image is repeated across all 3 volumes, with the only difference between the three being the "I", "II", and "III" on their respective volumes.


Lakeside Moby Dick, acetate jacket - Bill Majure notes that these specific jackets shrank and rippled as they aged.


Lakeside Moby Dick, stained top edges (black)


The aluminum slipcase for the Lakeside Moby Dick (I only wish more books came with metal slipcases!).

If the Lakeside edition doesn't strike your fancy, there are literally hundreds of other editions and even derivative works. Some of the various editions produced over the years have ended up in the collection of a Moby-Dick enthusiast that blogs about his collection. Or there's the recently printed Matt Kish 'art book' where he illustrates every page of Moby-Dick (based on his 552 page Signet Classics paperback edition) - entitled simply, Moby-Dick in Pictures. But of course, none of these bloggers possess the Arion Press edition.

Before we start discussing the Arion Press edition, a few statements need to be made:
I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the Ohio State University Libraries, the Arion Press, and Andrew Hoyem for granting me permission to feature this edition of Moby-Dick for Books & Vines. And of course, Mr. Adamson for publishing this article on Books & Vines itself.

Moby-Dick photographs by permission from the Rare Books and Manuscripts collection of The Ohio State University Libraries. Written copyright permission to feature these photos on Books & Vines granted by Andrew Hoyem of Arion Press. My thanks to all involved, especially Mr. Hoyem, the publisher of this edition of Moby-Dick.

The sixth book that Arion produced, Moby-Dick is generally considered their magnum opus, and after seeing it in person, I'm inclined to think that it is a worthy candidate for the "best fine press book ever" title as well. It is a behemoth of a book, its immense beauty only truly appreciated in person if you're ever lucky enough to get within a few inches of one of the copies.

If you're unable to get access to one of the few copies, the University of California produced two facsimile editions, a deluxe, limited, slipcased edition of 750 copies also published in 1979, and the standard trade hardcover and paperback still available today. The standard trade editions do not replicate the blue ink colors (they are all black ink). The deluxe edition measured approximately 13¾" x 9½", and the standard edition measures at approximately 10.2" x 7.1", and both the deluxe and standard editions weigh in at 600 pages.

The illustrations are done by Barry Moser, an American illustrator, painter, designer, printer, and much more - to read more about Barry himself, read his own biography. As I've personally done a few linocuts myself, the technical prowess and skill displayed by Mr. Moser in his wood engravings are stunning. While leafing through the Arion Press Moby-Dick, I would often stop at the large engravings and let my fingertips run across the pressed lines, enjoying the depth and texture imparted onto the paper by Mr. Moser's wood blocks. Even engravings of just the sea are remarkable in the amount of talent required to successfully be executed. Mr. Moser, I salute you.

This edition was composed by Andrew Hoyem, and it is rightfully considered a typographical exemplar par excellence. The amount of time and love it took to produce this superb book is on display on every page, even the blank ones. Once I opened Moby-Dick, I was stunned by the letterpressing and engravings until I reached the colophon. Then I turned the final few blank pages and the light struck them in such a way that I finally found the Great White Whale lurking in the pages themselves. It took me 590 pages until I finally realized that the paper itself has a distinctive very light bluish-greyish hue that evokes the sea, with a watermark of a whale (due to the color of the paper, appears as white), thus Moby-Dick's avatar had been stalking me the entire way. Mr. Hoyem, I salute you as well.

And now, on to the details about the edition and the long-awaited photographs:

About the Moby-Dick; Or, the Whale - Arion Press, San Francisco, 1979 edition

  • Limited to 265 non-numbered editions, of which 250 were for sale
  • Bound in full blue Moroccan goatskin, housed in a blue cloth slipcase
  • Title is silver-gilded on the spine
  • Handset Goudy Modern type with Leviathan Titling (drop-caps designed for this edition)
  • Printed in blue & black ink
  • Dampened handmade Barcham Green paper with a whale watermark from Hayle Mill in England
  • Size: 15" x 10", 594 pages
  • 100 wood engravings by Barry Moser
  • Leviathan Titling designed by Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes
  • Assistance in the production of this book provided by: Pauline Christensen, Margaret Green, Lester Lloyd, Abigail Potter, Gerald Reddan, and Glenn Todd
  • Printing commenced March 1978 and completed in May of 1979
  • Originally priced at $1,000 (approximately $3,000 in 2010 dollars)
Pictures


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, slipcase


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, slipcase with dollar for scaling


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, spine showing out of the slipcase


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, close-up of spine in slipcase


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, cover revealed


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, cover with dollar for scaling


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, fore-edge shot


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, title page


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, title page detail


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Hawthorne dedication


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Etymology & Extracts


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, World Whaling map


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Call me Ishmael


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Sample Page


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Sample Page Opened


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Sample Page Letterpress Detail


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Sample Engraving


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Sample Engraving Detail


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Sample Engraving Detail #2


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Sample Engraving Detail #3


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Layout Sample


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Layout Sample Detail (note precise spacing)


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Epilogue


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Epilogue Detail


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, Colophon


Moby-Dick, Arion Press, The Whale Watermark (note its white-ness)

Epilogue

There is a complementary post to this post on Ephemeral Pursuits. And if the mention of the high price tag doesn't deter you, please be reminded that the original price was simply the price it was issued at. As the Arion Press's edition of Moby-Dick's reputation (has quite justifiably) grown, the price has simply increased. A selection of prices that Moby-Dick has sold for recently is shown below:

  • Swann Galleries auctioned off a copy for $8,500 on 23 February 2012
  • Abebooks sold a copy for $28,900 in October 2010
  • PBA Galleries auctioned off a copy for $9,200 on 14 September 2006