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In and About the Library

The Limited Editions Club Books Are Here

by Chelsea Kuehler on 2024-05-13T14:32:12-05:00 in Art, English, History | 0 Comments

By: Jeff Farris
Ray Bradbury’s science fiction masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451, took the literary world by storm in the early 1950s, helping elevate the genre toward the mainstream and the author toward stardom. A year after its release in 1953, Bradbury, then 34, was honored with the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for contributions to American literature.

The Limited Editions Club (LEC) added to that legacy when it released its copy of the novel in 1982. Readers feel and see the meticulous details the Club incorporated to enhance the book, from its aluminum cover to the flaming four-color lithographs made by artist Joseph Mugnaini. 

The Cornette Library has its own copy, which anyone can touch and read in the Blackburn Reading Room but, unfortunately, not check out.

In March, the Friends of the Cornette Library board voted unanimously to buy five items for the Special Collections and University Archives Department. In addition to a new scanner, a lightbox, and two other LEC books, The Poems of Emily Dickinson and Punch and Judy, the library got a Limited Editions Club copy of Fahrenheit 451.

The LEC was a subscription-based membership book club that began in 1929 by George Macy. Limited edition books were sent to members’ homes every month and were limited to 1,500 copies in the early years and 2,000 copies in later years. Many were signed by the illustrator, and some also by the author. Many of the books were reprints of classics, such as Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Still, many books in the collection highlight social injustice and tragedy, such as John Hersey’s Hiroshima and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail. The LEC books were printed on high-quality paper with images from leading illustrators and even some artists not associated with the book-making business, such as Picasso, Matisse, and Rodin.

All the books also came with their own slipcase and The Club’s Monthly Letter, a two—or four-page newsletter that gave interesting backstories of the author and illustrator and explained how typefaces, paper, printing houses, and binderies were selected.

Fahrenheit 451 was included in The Limited Editions Club’s 46th series, and both Bradbury and Mugnaini signed the copy housed in Cornette Library. The first thing readers will notice is the cover, which is wrapped in heavy aluminum “to simulate a book so durable that it would be able to resist a heat of 451 degrees—‘the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns,’ “ according to the Monthly Letter.

The Limited Editions Club produced 595 books over the years; Cornette Library has 312. These are currently housed in Closed Stacks but can be accessed by anyone during the Special Collection and University Archives Department’s regular business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday).

All but a few of the books were donated to the library by Kenneth Seyffert’s family upon his death in October 2021. According to his obituary, Seyffert’s “main interests in life were literature, arts, music, and ornithology. He amassed an extensive book and phonograph record collection.” 

To which Cornette Library and the community are eternally grateful.

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