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Masterpieces of Western Literature, 1905, 20 Volume Limited Edition Collection



Masterpieces of Western Literature: The Iliad & The Odyssey by Homer, The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Faust, The Aeneid by Virgil

Complete 20 Volume Limited Edition Collection with Hand-Colored Illustrations

Published by The Riverside Press, Boston and New York in 1905/1906

Publisher’s Custom Full Leather Bindings

FINE Condition

Binding Details:  Stunning publisher’s original signed full leather bindings by the Riverside Press contemporary in French Levant crushed morocco leather with raised hubs to the spine that also features an elaborate gilt arch mosaic design within gilt ruled compartments and titling. The front and rear covers are tripled gilt ruled and the gilt arch mosaic design motif that are on the spine are carried over with floral stops being added. There are triple ruled dentilles, sky blue marbled endpapers, and the top page ends are gold gilted. The Riverside Press binder’s stamp appears on the top of the first free endpaper of each volume. 

Information on the Riverside Press and this edition. By 1872, Houghton admitted George Mifflin to the partnership and renamed the firm Houghton, Mifflin, & Company. Riverside continued to expand throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, growing from a mere 90 employees at the time of its establishment, to over 600 employees by 1886. Increasingly, Riverside became known on account of the typographic, stylistic, and artistic components of its work; in fact, from 1880 on, the press used the motto “Tout bien ou rien” – do it well or not at all – as part of its colophon. After Houghton’s death in 1895, Mifflin capitalized on Riverside’s reputation for quality production by releasing this edition of classic literary works which completely sold out with “second-hand copies” of this Riverside Press Edition selling for more than half their original price shortly after being published.

Collection Details:  Published in 1905 and 1906 by The Riverside Press Division of Houghton Mifflin and Company, this is the large paper limited edition of Masterpieces of Western Literature consisting of 5 titles in the following 20 volumes:

The Iliad of Homer – Translated by William Cullen Bryant - 4 Volumes – Number 17 of 600

The Odyssey of Homer - Translated by William Cullen Bryant - 4 Volumes – Number 17 of 600

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri – Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - 6 Volumes – Number 23 of 650

Faust: A Tragedy by Johann Wolfgang von Faust - Translated by Bayard Taylor – 4 Volumes – Number 23 of 650

The Aeneid by Virgil – Translated by Christopher Pearse Cranch – 2 Volumes – Number 23 of 650

Each volume is beautifully illustrated with double-suite (proof state and hand-colored) frontispiece reproductions of paintings by Rembrandt, Burne-Jones, Alma Tadema and others as well as   an additional 144 full-page engraved plates by John Flaxman and others throughout the 20 volumes. From the publisher: “From the fall of Troy to the fall of Doctor Faust, from Odysseus’ trek across the seas to Dante’s descent into Hell and ascent into Heaven, these magnificent volumes present milestone translations of five foundational texts of Western literature: The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer (translated by William Cullen Bryant), the Aenid of Virgil (translated by Christopher Pearse Cranch), Dante’s Divine Comedy (translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) and Goethe’s Faust (translated by Bayard Taylor). Bryant’s translation of Homer (1870-71) is especially esteemed, and Longfellow’s rendering of The Divine Comedy (1865, 1867) “first revealed Dante to numberless readers, and is still considered one of the great versions” (The Dictionary of American Biography, VI:386).  Cranch’s translation of Virgil dates from 1872; Taylor’s translation of Goethe, 1870.”

Each volume measures approximately 10.5” x 7.75” and includes a preface, table of contents, list of illustrations, and a limitation page containing the limitation numbers.

Condition Report:  The bindings are in FINE condition with a few volumes having superficial surface wear mostly confined to rubs to the corner tips. Due to the process of integrating the watercolor illustration to the inside front cover there is a resultant bowing to the board that does affect the shelf appeal of the collection. Internally, the books are very clean with some mild age toning to the page edges. There are no bookplates or signs of previous ownership.

A photograph of the collection and the limitation page appear in the photo section of the listing.