The Heritage Club—gorgeous book design

I’m a sucker for well-designed books—the paper, the printing, the typography, the illustration, the binding. Yum. Unfortunately, well-designed, well-printed, well-typeset books are the exception nowadays, not the rule.

I learned by watching the Antiques Roadshow that it became common practice in previous centuries for publishers of expensive books to sell them by subscription or in installments. This simultaneously allowed the collector to afford pricy volumes, and for the publisher to predict demand in advance of production. Good business model, but over time it became cheaper to produce books, so “well-enough” became the standard. (Not that I have anything against paperbacks, but a well-bound book is a work of art.)

So at some point, in stepped The Heritage Club, a subscription-based publisher of top-quality books.There’s not all that much information online about The Heritage Club. Wikipedia seems to be missing an entry about it altogether. But on this site I managed to learn a thing or two:

In 1929, [George Macy] founded the Limited Editions Club and began publishing fine illustrated books in limited numbers (1500 copies) for subscription members. In 1935, Macy extended his range, founding the Heritage Press for the creation and distribution of more affordable ‘semi-luxe’ books. Directors of the Heritage Press included Cedric Crowell, General Manager of the Doubleday Bookshops, Frank L. Magel, head of Putnam Bookstores in New York, and A. Koch, head of Brentano Stores in New York.

Macy published editions under several imprints. Heritage Press editions were sold through bookstores, while The Heritage Club, The Heritage Illustrated Bookshelf, and The Junior Heritage Club editions were sold by subscription only. These publishing enterprises were combined in 1944 as units of the George Macy Companies, Inc. Each imprint targeted a specific audience; George Macy was a master publicist and had excellent marketing skills.

Macy created the Heritage Club in 1937 in part to satisfy book lovers who weren’t able to afford to join the Limited Editions Club. By 1942, membership exceeded 9,200, and three of its selections, Lust for Life, Song of Songs, and Mother Goose, had each sold more than 20,000 copies in a single year. Circa 1938, these were the terms: The subscriber could either send a remittance for $2.50 plus wrapping and carrying charges for each book immediately upon its delivery or he could take a discount of ten percent and prepay $27.00 for a year’s subscription. Each month a new edition would be sent with only wrapping and carrying charges due on receipt.

The Heritage Press Illustrated Bookshelf operated in the same manner but was targeted at young adults and teenagers. These editions were not issued with the usual Sandglass newsletter or brochure but did have slipcases or dust jackets. The Junior Heritage Club, founded in 1943, was targeted at preteens, ages 5 to 12, and included The Monthly Magazine of The Junior Heritage Club. This booklet was approximately 16 pages and, like the Sandglass, discussed the accompanying edition, with information about the illustrator, designer, and author.

[…]

Macy’s accomplishments did not go unrecognized during his lifetime. In 1948, he received an honor never before accorded to a living publisher: A special exhibition of his books was held in the Salle d’Honneur of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. A second honor followed in England in 1952, when Macy became the first living publisher to be given a special exhibition of his books in the King’s Library of the British Museum in London. The President of France conferred him the title of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor as well, and the American Institute of Graphic Arts awarded him the 1953 AIGA Medal, its highest honor.

[…]

An advertising brochure from 1972 provides a good overview of the Heritage Press:

This is a Heritage Press book. As such, it is a class by itself. For 37 years the Heritage Press has been producing fine editions like this one. Every book selected by our editors is a classic in its field, chosen from the world’s best-known and most enduring literature.

Once a title is chosen, we employ the most creative designer, artists, typographers, printers and binders, who combine their talents to produce our fine editions. We believe that the resulting volumes are the only books of their quality available at their price level in the market today.

These collector’s volumes, beautifully slipcased, are priced no higher than the ordinary current work of fiction or non-fiction. By investing in them, you have not only benefited your own library but have also created a “reading trust” for generations to come.

So that’s about as much as I know. I came across these examples at my fiancée’s aunt’s house—they’d been sitting on the same bookshelf for many, many years, having been part of my fiancée’s grandparents’ collection back in the 1960s. Each of the books has its own protective slipcover, and while the slipcovers and the spines of the books have seen quite a lot of sun (as evidenced by severe fading), anything inside the cover was protected quite well against the elements. They’re in amazing condition otherwise; if any of these books were ever read, they were read with gloves on.

I borrowed as many as I could easily carry back to photograph, but there were more. The selection here includes:

  • The Romance of Tristan & Iseult [Isolde, Yseult, etc.], as retold by Joseph Bédier, with an introduction by Padraic Colum and illustrations by Serge Ivanoff
  • Zuleika Dobson (or An Oxford Love Story), by Max Beerbohm, with a preface by Douglas Cleverdon and illustrations by George Him
  • The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas, with a preface by the author and illustrations by Edy Legrand
  • Tales of Mystery & Imagination, by Edgar Allan Poe, with an introduction by Vincent Starrett and photogravures of the original aquatints by William Sharp
  • Life on the Mississippi, by Mark Twain, with an introduction by Edward Wagenknecht and illustrations by Thomas Hart Benton
  • Ben Hur, by Lew Wallace, with an introduction by Ben Ray Redman and illustrations by Joe Mugnaini
  • The Koran, Selected Suras, translated from the Arabic by Arthur Jeffery and decorated by Valenti Angelo

I also borrowed Typee, by Herman Melville, but it turns out this is a 1962 limited edition published by the West Virginia Pulp & Paper Company, and not related to the Heritage Club.

There’s too much to comment on, but I hope that the photographs do the books justice.

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16 Responses to “The Heritage Club—gorgeous book design”

  1. brian June 1, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    i have inherited a large collection of the classics from the heritage club circa 1940′, ’50, 60’s. would be great to know more about the collection, what to do?

  2. Josh Korwin June 10, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Hi Brian! Which books did you inherit?

  3. Gayle Wright June 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    Have received a very large collection (50+) of Heritage Books in excellent condition. Want to auction or sell them for charity. Would like them to go to someone who is interested in the collections and not just ‘I’ll buy one or two because they are such pretty books’. Any ideas??

  4. Josh Korwin June 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Hi Gayle! Do you have a listing of the titles that you own?

  5. Theodore December 7, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    A friend in Greece is working on a book dedicated to a deceased famous local etcher and designer. He is trying to find either a hard copy or a good resolution pdf copy of The Heritage Club’s Sandglass, from 1950, Number XVIII : 20. Do you have any advice on where I can find a copy? Thank you.

  6. Josh Korwin December 8, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    Hi Theodore,
    Do you happen to know which book was associated with that particular issue of Sandglass?
    —Josh

  7. Cindy November 23, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    We have a few of these at home. They are quite beautiful and always the most important classics.

  8. Bob Spencer April 17, 2013 at 1:22 am #

    Hi
    I inside a copy of Pope’s Odyssey I found an insert by the Heritage Club (595 Madison Avenue)I think the date is around 1942. The book (and the Iliad) are in v good condition and I’m about to use them in talking about rhyming couplets. How these books came to be in a second hand bookshop in a small English village (Heathfield in East Sussex) we’ll probably never know but I thought you might be interested. The illustrations were by John Flaxman.
    Regards,
    Bob Spencer

  9. Jay T. June 12, 2015 at 4:00 am #

    Hey Josh- great blog! I worked at my family’s small job printing company for around 20 years, doing bindery, typesetting (the first Macs and Pagemaker, I had just missed out on the lino computer things from the 70s.), and when I got out of high school I ran the Windmill. Nothing fun, just the drudgery of numbering forms and die cutting card stock. That background though, and a love of books led me to collecting Heritage Press books. I appreciated the work they did on binding, suitcases, typography, illustrations, etc. Your story gave me some great info I was not aware of- about the difference between Heritage Press, Club, and Illustrated Bookshelf which I had never even heard of. I own about fifty H. Press titles, usually acquired from eBay, but now I’ll be getting some more thanks to you. I’m going to start including the other names in my searches. Everyone should be sure to check out Folio Society books, Heritage’s modern day fancy English cousin.

  10. Jay T. June 12, 2015 at 4:02 am #

    Oops, slipcases not suitcases. Did I mention I did a lot of proofreading too?

  11. Lois Santos September 6, 2015 at 2:46 pm #

    I was a Heritage Club member for 5-6 years in the late 50’s-early 60’s. Still have the books, all with Sandglass, in very good to excellent condition. How can I realize the best price for the whole collection? I don’t have time or energy to sell them individually.

  12. Krista May 9, 2016 at 10:34 am #

    I have 18 of the books so far. I’m interested in collecting all of them. I’ve been finding many at Half Price Books, and their price averages only $7! Which books do you have, Lois? I might be interested. I’m glad you kept the Sandglass with them: that’s very important to a collector like me. (I’ve gotten so many strange looks at used bookstores as I try to find the Sandglass: holding the book gently by the spine and giving it a little shake to get the pamphlet to fall out.)

  13. Doug August 25, 2017 at 11:19 am #

    I have dozens of these books. They, unfortunately are not very valuable. They were somewhat limited editions, with most books not being printed more than 1500 copies. My mom was a club member for many years, and her total collection was well over 100 books. When we closed her house down after 50 years, we took some around and no one was interested in them, even the library didn’t want them. So, maybe one day they will be valuable, but they are priceless in my eyes. I love each and every one of them and they bring back memories that I cherish, not to mention they are all beautifully printed and illustrated!

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