Arion Lyre

100. Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, with an introduction by Helen Vendler.

Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman, with a preface by Walt Whitman and an introduction by Helen Vendler.

The one-hundredth publication of the Arion Press is a handset deluxe limited edition of the text in the famed 1855 first edition of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. It contains just a dozen poems, the first, later titled “Song of Myself”, so long it takes up more than half the pages devoted to poetry, and Whitman’s prose preface, so poetical he reused many phrases in later poems as Leaves of Grass expanded to the “death-bed edition” of 1891-92.

Title page of Arion Press Leaves of GrassFor the occasion of the press’s one-hundredth publication, publisher Andrew Hoyem has chosen this most American of texts. “A holy book of the nation, along with the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence,” is how poet laureate Robert Hass describes Leaves of Grass. The appearance of this book of poems in the middle of the nineteenth century was revolutionary. No one had ever read poetry like this before. Ralph Waldo Emerson was so astonished and impressed that he wrote the thirty-five-year-old Whitman what must be the mash note of all time: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty.”

To explicate the text of the 1855 first edition Leaves of Grass and establish its importance to literary history, Arion Press invited Helen Vendler, the distinguished Harvard professor and eminent critic of poetry, to write an introductory essay. (Read about Whitman and this work in Helen Vendler's introduction.)

Publisher Hoyem chose Leaves of Grass in part as a tribute to his predecessors Edwin and Robert Grabhorn, whose masterpiece was their 1930 edition of the Whitman poem. “I thought Arion Press might do something with Whitman’s poetry that was different as to the text and yet pay tribute to the 1930 edition by using a similar format, production methods, and materials, but with a new design,” Hoyem writes in the prospectus for this new edition. (Read Andrew Hoyem on the making of Arion's Leaves of Grass.)

For its 100th book, the press draws upon the unusual resources of its historic collections and traditionally trained typecasters, printers and binders. The Arion Press Leaves of Grass has been handset, for the poetry, in an 18-point Goudy typeface, Californian, initially designed as a private type for the University of California Press in 1936-38. Monotype composition-casting is used for the 14-point size of the introduction, preface, and other subsidiary material. The folio format is 13-7/8 by 10 inches. The paper is a special making of Langley from the Barcham Green Mill in England, with watermarks of the mill and of Arion Press, with its lyre pressmark. It was dampened before printing to soften the fibers and make the paper more receptive to the inked type. The paper had been ordered in 1985 and saved for a special project, and is now used, appropriately, for the press’s one-hundredth book. The presswork for the 156-page book was done on a 1915 Thomson Laureate platen press, 14 by 22 inches, considered the best machine ever made for hand-fed printing.

Frontispiece for Arion Press Leaves of GrassThe frontispiece portrait of Whitman from the first edition, a steel engraving based on a daguerreotype from 1854, is reproduced at twice size in sepia ink on the page facing the opening of the preface.

A second color of green was introduced for the title page and colophon (the printer’s statement at the back of the book, telling who made the book and how). These elements are drawings of grass made by one of our bookbinders, Rochelle Youk. Another of her grass images appears with the title on the spine of the book, stamped in gold.

The binding design is a tribute to the Grabhorn edition in that the boards are wooden, with oak veneer, stained yellow-tan, and the spine is goatskin, green in this case. The sections of twelve pages are sewn by hand with linen thread over linen tapes. The book-block is rounded and backed and has hand-sewn headbands in green silk thread. The volume is presented in a green cloth slipcase.

Read the full prospectus for Leaves of Grass.

(Click on thumbnails below to view larger images.)

Front cover for Arion Press Leaves of Grass   Title page of Arion Press Leaves of Grass  

Preface and frontispiece for Arion Press Leaves of Grass   Poetry spread from Arion Press Leaves of Grass


The Arion Press edition of Leaves of Grass is limited to 275 copies with Arabic numerals for sale and 15 copies with Roman numerals for complimentary distribution to participants in the project. The price is $1,250. Out of print

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Edition: Folio format, 156 pages, with poetry handset, and other text cast on the Monotype, printed by letterpress on dampened handmade Langley paper. The binding boards are oak veneer, and the spine is green goatskin, presented in a green cloth slipcase.

The edition is 275 copies for sale, price $1,250. Out of print

Read Andrew Hoyem on the making of this edition.

Read an excerpt from Helen Vendler's introduction.

See PBS NewsHour coverage of Arion Press and Leaves of Grass.

Read the full prospectus for Leaves of Grass.