Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Art-Box Fit For Moby Dick

by Stephen J. Gertz

Illustration to Moby Dick by Rockwell Kent.

In 1926, the Lakeside Press of Chicago, established in 1903 as a division of industrial printer R.R. Donnelly, commissioned Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) to illustrate a new edition of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Published in 1930 and limited to  1000 copies, the edition has been hailed as a masterpiece, and is credited with a renaissance of interest in the novel.

Hayo Hans Hinrichs bought a copy. A friend and important  patron of Rockwell Kent, Hinrichs was a major collector of all the artist produced - paintings, engravings, drawings - which he proudly displayed in his homes in Staten Island, NYC and Quogue, Long Island, NY. Later, in 1947, he commissioned Kent to write and illustrate, To Thee!, A Toast in Celebration of  a Century of Opportunity and Acoomplishment in America 1847-1947, a corporate promotional volume limited to 500 copies for the Rahr Malting Company, of which Hinrichs was a senior executive.

Two generations hence, Hinrichs's granddaughter, Julie H.B. Stackpole,  now in possession of the book and a fine bookbinder, set out to create an appropriate environment for this copy to rest in, protected and at peace. The fact that her husband, Renny, and father-in-law, Edouard A. Stackpole of Nantucket, came from whaling families, were  preeminent maritime historians, and recognized authorities on the whale trade only provided additional inspiration and insight into the project. And oh,  not so by the way,  the initial "B" in Julie H.B. Stackpole  stands for "Beinicke." Walter Beinecke Jr., the heir to the S&H Green Stamp fortune and savior of Old Nantucket, was her step-father; his father and uncles, all graduates of Yale, provided the funds to build and endow the university's  Beinicke Library.

If the pedigree to this copy and box were any finer they'd have to register it with the Westchester Kennel Club. Though oh so far from a dog it's definitely Best in Show material. Completed in 1972 as a gift for Edouard A. Stackpole, the case is one of the most dramatic art boxes you'll ever see.

Bound in gray morocco with onlays in shades of blue and gray of Niger and Levant morocco goatskin and white kid, embossed with linoleum cuts  on the two side panels and the front covering flap taken from Kent illustrations, and with a fine scrimshawed button from Edouard A. Stackpole's collection used to seal it, this deluxe case is a sight to behold.

Accompanying this copy is a 1972 First-Day-Issue of the Herman Melville/Historic Preservation cover and stamp with an original whaling watercolor by Massachusetts artist Eunice Alter with an attached sperm whale tooth. 

This copy in this box, is, as far as I'm concerned, the most stunning and desirable out there. Its provenance is impeccable, the connection to Kent sterling, and the box-binding solid gold. Three generations of Kent enthusiasts, the first closely associated with Kent, have husbanded and lovingly nurtured this copy for over eighty years. The box is a love letter in fine leather to Kent and Melville. 

Call it Ishmael or whatever you wish, this copy of this edition in this box will be a significant addition to any Kent collection and certainly a shining highlight to any  collection of Melville. You don't have to be Ahab to harpoon this great whale.

[KENT, Rockwell, illustrator]. MELVILLE, Herman. Moby Dick: or, The Whale. Chicago, IL: The Lakeside Press, 1930. First Edition Thus, limited to 1000 copies. Three small quarto volumes. 280 black & white woodcuts as full page plates, head- tailpieces, and text illustrations. Publisher's original black cloth, silver-stamped. Top edge black, others untrimmed.  This copy housed in full leather custom box.

Images courtesy of Lux Mentis, currently offering this copy, with our thanks.

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