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Annotated Reference Guide to Collectible Books

Editions Narcisse

One of the appeals of collecting the fine presses is not only the excellence of their work, and the dedication they have to perfection, but also the fact of their slightly unorthodox natures. Nothing could be more true of the fine press known as Editions Narcisse, or, later the Black Sun Press.Editions Narcisse was a fine press that operated predominantly in the Jazz Age, circulating around the giants of modernist literature, the Lost Generation. Writers such as D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound and many more came to be favoured with unique imprints. In fact, the Editions Narcisse was so closely associated with the ‘bright young things’ of the decadent, striving generation of surrealists and radicals, that the press was widely ignored and castigated by the external literary media.

Looking back of course, we can point to the fact of the presses severest attention to detail, and the loving attention that they gave to all of their editions. No one imprint ever exceeded 500 copies – with a good many of them having print runs of less than 50! All of the first ‘limited edition’ print runs were hand-coloured, with hand-illustration favoured as predominantly as woodblock or relief print. Perhaps then it is the subject matter that many of the literary world disliked? With its concentration on the provocative, the licentious and the downright profane, Editions Narcisse made waves even before one of their founders, Harry Crosby’s apparent suicide pact with then 21-year-old lover, Josephine Noyes Rotch.

Harry Crosby’s then wife, Caresse Crosby, went on to make the Black Sun Press the fine press it became up until its close in 1950. Although shattered by the past, Caresse somehow managed to present some of the finest solo-publisher work, with unique books from the likes of Jung, Paul Eluard, Bukowski, and many more. Any interested in the birth of modernist literature, the Lost Generation and the intersection with European Surrealism should look no further than the Editions Narcisse and Black Sun Press, especially any earliest copies of James Joyce that might be available (expect to pay thousands), or indeed, Harry Crosby’s seminal work Red Skeletons (1927, under £1000) or Caresse Crosby’s Painted Shores (1927, between £500-1000) with water-colour paintings as cover illustration.