Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

October 1, 2010

It’s Raining Deluxe Editions!

I (and others) have observed over the last few years that the rise of the eBook might be a Good Thing ™ for those of us who love and value the art of the book.  Relegating most of the drivel published to an appropriately temporary medium might free up print resources for those things which benefit from a tactile existence – that is to say, it might widen and clarify the difference between works read unthinkingly to pass the time, and works owned to preserve and venerate the quality contents.  The books one wants to own and the books one wants to read are not always the same.  Perhaps the Reader would spend more on the former if they could spend less on the latter (insert snarky comment about the long-standing existence of libraries here).

I have absolutely no data to back up this claim, but I am starting to detect actual evidence of this trend.  Not that the flow of cheaply printed works of drivel has lessened any (maybe it has, maybe it hasn’t – I like to think we don’t stock or sell these things, so as a bookseller I’m pretty oblivious to them), but the availability of premium editions from mainstream publishers – that is, not from small and private presses who’ve been producing these all along – has really increased.  These books might not be exactly to the standard of an artisan private press work, but they certainly are striving to appeal to the sensibilities of collectors.

Harvard University Press’s new release Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition (annotated by Patricia Meyer Spacks) is a beautiful example.  The book is bound in ochre cloth with the most lovely wood-grained endpapers, and is lavishly illustrated throughout with historical references, diagrams and portraits.  It’s a non-standard 9 x 9 1/2″, and weighs a tonne because of the excellent paper stock.  Best of all, it’s fantastically affordable at $35US.


“Dover Publications” doesn’t bring to mind “quality editions”, so they wisely launched their latest enveavor under the imprint Calla Editions.  These hardcover editions are mainly reprints (as is most of Dover’s catalogue) of classic illustrated editions from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.  But oh my goodness, who cares?  These are stunning reproductions of iconic editions illustrated by Golden Age artists like Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen and Harry Clarke.  The list keeps expanding, too – I’m giddy at the possibility that I might someday get a big, beautiful edition of one of my favourites from Dover – E.R. Eddison’s Worm Ouroboros, illustrated by Keith Henderson.  Once again, the price is right – the backlist thus far has come in at $50-$54 CDN per volume.

In honour of Puffin’s 70th anniversary, they have released these Puffin Designer Classics. These limited-edition runs of classic children’s books are drop-dead gorgeous in jpg form – I’ve yet to see one in person, though! I’ve pictured their edition of The Secret Garden because it is probably the most stunning – but unsurprisingly, I’d line up for their Treasure Island in glass-bottle slipcase!

Both Barnes & Noble and Penguin Classics are onboard, of course. I saw my first Penguin Hardcover Classic (left) in the wild at Type on Queen St. the other day, and it exceeded my expectations. Generally I’ve found Penguin Classics to be cheaply made, overpriced- and subjected to Pearson’s insane book packaging and shipping methods, which frequently end in bent and damaged books. But they weren’t messing about with these editions- the paper is more forgiving, the bindings are tight and of course, they look wonderful. Barnes and Nobles’ Leatherbound Classics (right) I can’t attest to – but they give a mean photograph.

In administrative news, I’m back! Apologies for the extended summer vacation – the bookstore has been a zoo busy lately, only now settling down to our usual, sit-and-read pace. I have a backlog of reviews, interviews and reports to kick out, so I hope you’ll be back. Happy autumn!

2 thoughts on “It’s Raining Deluxe Editions!”

  1. Nathalie Foy says:

    So glad you’re back! I’m also glad to see that Jane Austen. Yum!

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