Three Sirens Press

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Three Sirens Press

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Jun 23, 2014, 5:20 am

Does anybody know anything about the Three Sirens Press (or its related imprint the Illustrated Editions Company)? Or perhaps own one? I am intrigued by them - some interesting illustrators - Alexander King, Howard Simon, and others - condition very variable, in fact mostly not good, as far as I can see. And prices likewise.

Jun 23, 2014, 11:23 am

I used to have several copies of their books which I found in used book shops or Goodwill in Kansas City back when I first started my library, though the only one I still have is the Pierre Louys' Aphrodite. The books were mostly from the late 1920s/early 1930s, and I don't think the press survived the Depression.

The books were attractively designed, though of a uniformity of style--quarter bindings and corner protectors of vellum or faux leather, with front and rear boards of different materials, sometimes marbled paper, sometimes of a pebble-finish material of indeterminate composition, and I seem to remember my copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray had either rust-colored or poison green velvet like material (I had Three Sirens books which had both colors of velvet, but can't remember which was which).

The books were generally classic works from the previous century, or, in the case of W.H. Hudson and Anatole France (both of whom were well represented by Three Sirens), more contemporary authors who had not been copyrighted in the USA. They also had a tendency to produce works of a mildly salacious or titillating nature (Aphrodite for one), and they may have started out as a subscription publisher. Among the books I had in addition to the Wilde and Louys volumes were Salome (with Beardsley's illustrations), Lysistrata (with the illustration Norman Lindsay had made for the Fanfrolico Press edition), and Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, with entirely inappropriate and unattractive illustrations by the notorious Mahlon Blaine.

Despite the attractive designs, the artwork was all reproduced on glossy coated paper, which I quickly found unappealing, and over the years I replaced most of my copies with the much nicer versions from Heritage Press, the LEC, or Folio Society.

Edited: Jun 23, 2014, 1:27 pm

>2 Django6924:

Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, with entirely inappropriate and unattractive illustrations by the notorious Mahlon Blaine.

Very interesting, Django. I've heard the name before but nothing I can find online tells me where. Sounds like a remarkable addition to the "peculiar character" pantheon, at least.

>1 Felixholt:

As it happens, I got recently Balzac's The girl with the golden eyes issued by "Illustrated Editions Company" in 1931, but only because I'm mildly curious about Ernest Dowson's translation. (The price couldn't be beat--one dollar out of a box of sad-looking antiquarian fare.)

The illustrations are by one F. Buttera--nothing much about him or her comes up in searches... here's one image from the book:

and could this be the same edition with the dustcover? If so, I can't say I regret that my copy came without:

My copy:

Edited: Jun 23, 2014, 2:43 pm

>3 LolaWalser:

Very interesting, Lola--thanks for sharing this. I would like to have a copy of this Balzac work, which I only know from a New Wave adaptation in the early 1960s which featured the wonderful Françoise Dorleac, Catherine Deneuve's sister, who was to die tragically in her 20s, and the equally delectable Marie Laforêt. I haven't seen the film since it came out, so I suspect it wasn't that good, though I remember it sent my blood racing back then!

Incidentally, Butera is the illustrator for my Three Sirens Aphrodite.

Jun 23, 2014, 5:37 pm

Thank you Django and Lola both. I also rather like the Famous Classics of Love series by the Rarity Press - all reprints I imagine, but illustrated by the usual suspects of Austen, Gibbings, Lindsay et al, and especially de Bosschere. I do have one of these - Woman and a Puppet - illustrated by Clara Tice. Printed on rather nice paper, not glossy at all. But the dust jacket poor - I'd love to find more of these in near fine condition at a reasonable price. So too some of the publications by Argus Books - again, I have only one of these - Collected Tales of Pierre Louys - but this seems a better class of book, with slipcase and the exquisite illustrations of John Austen.

Jun 23, 2014, 6:43 pm

Ah, Woman and Puppet--I'd love to see some of Ms. Tice's illustrations for that! Tice was quite unique, and from the examples of her work I've seen--none of which are book illustrations--I would suspect she would have been well-suited.

I have never read the work myself, but it was, of course, the basis for one of the famous American films of the 1930s: Josef von Sternberg's "The Devil is a Woman." Produced near the end of von Sternberg's relationship with the film's star, and his personal muse, Marlene Dietrich, it has an obsessive quality that mirrored the director's own obsession with the star who outgrew him. This twisted relationship is made even more obvious by von Sternberg's casting of Lionel Atwill, who bore an uncanny resemblance to the director, as Don Pasqual--'the Puppet." The film was nearly lost after the Spanish government blackmailed Paramount Pictures into destroying all prints of the film, but luckily Dietrich had her own personal copy of the film, which was her favorite of all her movies, and the movie was restored from this version.

Jun 23, 2014, 8:53 pm

I also made the mistake of buying the Blaine Sentimental Journey (poor copy so fortunately very cheap). I went by the seller's picture of the binding - looked quite effective in a neat, unassuming way - and his only picture of an illustration, in which I liked the economic way Blaine sketched in the Parisian husband (bit blurred here unfortunately):

But when it came it was a disappointment, most of the pictures inept and as Django says unattractive. And I think I remember there being two illustrations of the same scene, which was hardly good value. I gave it to a scout sale.
My only other Three Sirens book is Alexander King's take on Anatole France's Reine Pédauque. A world away from Sylvain Sauvage's LEC as you'd expect, but entertaining:

(I also have a Reine Pedauque with illustrations by one of Jerry's favourites, Frank C. Papé. Were there any 1920s/30s illustrators who didn't have at least one Anatole France book on their cv?)
Robert, I know I too saw The Girl with the Golden Eyes, but I know that only because Marie Laforêt made such a deep impression on me that when she later took up singing I bought most of her records. I can't even remember if the film was shot in period or updated (the latter, I suspect, New Wave directors not usually having much of a costume budget).

Edited: Jun 24, 2014, 11:25 am

>4 Django6924:

I haven't seen that movie, would love to! By the way, if you (or others) are interested in this particular edition of The girl with golden eyes, I could take pictures of more illustrations for your information.

This mysterious "F. J. Buttera" seems hard to track down. Confusingly, here's a different edition of Dowson's translation of Balzac, with a cover illustration looking much more like Buttera's than that other dustjacket with his/her name on it:

>5 Felixholt:

Thanks for the tip about yet another publisher.

>7 featherwate:

I have a nagging feeling I handled that book, perhaps on the same occasion I bought the Balzac, and that that's when I came across Mahlon Blaine's name. Sterne is such a favourite I would have picked up almost any curious edition, so if I passed on it once, I must have been really underwhelmed. But since Django's remark made me look Blaine up, I might want it as an oddity relating to the illustrator.

Gershon Legman apparently wrote a monograph on Blaine. How tight-knit is the world once you start tracing connections...

Jun 24, 2014, 10:13 pm

>8 LolaWalser:

Yes, Lola--pictures please!

Jun 25, 2014, 3:19 am

Indeed, I second that - and if anyone can direct me to a post that explains how to upload photos to this site I would be most grateful.

Jun 25, 2014, 4:59 pm

>10 Felixholt:

Here's a post with comprehensive info about HTML one can use on LT, including how to post pictures:

Or, HTML tips on HelpThing Wiki (one long page):

I hope that helps!

Edited: Jun 25, 2014, 5:04 pm

More on the Three Sirens Balzac (I didn't register earlier that "Three Sirens Press" actually appears on the spine)--

click on images to enlarge

Jun 25, 2014, 5:08 pm

click on image to enlarge

Edited: Jun 25, 2014, 5:20 pm

As was mentioned above, the paper is very smooth and somewhat glossy, maybe you can notice the shine here:

I must say that at least it hasn't discoloured or foxed. Somebody opened (carefully and cleanly) almost all the pages except for the last fold following "The End" (and I'll keep it that way); the visible raggedness is the original deckle edges.

P.S. Those are all the illustrations in this edition, so, not what one would call "profusely illustrated"!

P.P.S. Oh, forgot to say--I skipped the picture that was linked earlier in the thread. So, there are four illustrations in the text, plus the frontispiece with Balzac's portrait.

Jun 25, 2014, 5:15 pm

>11 LolaWalser: Thanks very much Lola - I appreciate your help. And the Balzac is a very handsome book - what an astonishing find at $1.

Jun 25, 2014, 5:27 pm

You're welcome. Yes, I'm often surprised at what bargains can be found among old books--even experienced booksellers seem to have given up on that market. The other day someone literally thrust into my hands two lovely 1915 Temple dramatists plays as a thank you for buying something else--I couldn't believe he thought he could only give away those. I mean, nothing hugely special, but so nice--buckram, gilt tops, engraved frontispiece with cover, perfect condition... people just don't look at old books, said he.

Jun 25, 2014, 7:53 pm

Thanks, indeed Lola--this looks like a splendid book and I'm on the lookout for one in as good condition as yours!

Incidentally, I should have mentioned earlier when I disparaged the semi-glossy paper, that all of the volumes I had were in remarkably fine condition for 80+ year old books, and showed no signs of foxing.

Jun 25, 2014, 8:17 pm

>12 LolaWalser:
Your Buttera has a classier binding than my Blaine Sentimental Journey had! so I checked back on my LT entry for it and found what I used to have was in fact a 1939 Illustrated Editions Company reprint of the Three Sirens original. They commissioned an underabundancy of illustrations (5) for their Sentimental Journey, too. See the meagre array:
(although for some reason the frontispiece is omitted and one of the others shown twice).

On the other hand they published a superbly illustrated Green Mansions, which has over 20 striking woodcuts by Keith Henderson, including nine double-page spreads. In this case, however, the artwork had originally been commissioned by a London house, Duckworth.

Altogether, they printed/reprinted an eclectic choice of books and authors: Cyrano de Bergerac, Emerson, Pierre Louys, Gilbert & Sullivan(!), Zola, Clemens (Tom Sawyer), Samuel Pepys, Andersen and Perrault fairy tales ("Illustrated in a Beardsley manner by Harry Clarke"), Chinese Love Tales (Valenti Angelo), Samuel Butler and Chekov. The last two are illustrated with typically confident Howard Simon woodblocks.

Another tempting byway!

Jun 25, 2014, 8:36 pm

>17 Django6924:

Good to hear that the fine condition of the paper in my copy isn't just a fluke, although I'd too much prefer a matte paper.

Incidentally--did any of your Three Sirens books have dustcovers?

>18 featherwate:

Aw, a naked lady with a TAIL!

I agree, it's ludicrous for Sterne, but I'd absolutely get it. The cover doesn't ring any bells--no way would I have let something like THAT slip my hands. :)

Chinese Love Tales and Angelo--intriguing.

Jun 25, 2014, 9:07 pm

>19 LolaWalser:

No, none of my copies had dust covers; frankly, I didn't know any were issued with dust covers.

>18 featherwate:
Jack, very unfair of you to mention the Green Mansions book--I am somewhat of a collector of this title, and in addition to the LEC and HP versions, have a slipcased edition from Random House with characteristically virtuoso illustrations by McKnight Kauffer and a superb edition from A.A. Knopf with fascinating illustrations by Horacio Butler--the book designed by Rudolph Ruzicka. I will have to look for some samples of the Three Sirens illustrations now.

Edited: Jul 1, 2014, 12:46 pm

>19 LolaWalser:
"Chinese Love Tales and Angelo--intriguing." Yes! The illustrations are b&w line drawings - no gold - but apparently the book has a red silk binding and a ribbon marker.
It was originally - ie, pre-Three Sirens and Valenti - published as "Eastern Shame Girl" and therefore banned in Boston. This made it very popular with private presses and even after it was rapidly declared to be of high literary value and not obscene it was often - and continues to be - marketed as a loppadalulu for the lubricious.
Thus the Williams, Belasco and Meyers edition of Girl with the Golden Eyes whose cover you posted above was issued with a colour brochure and order form:

and Avon Books (1947) is typical paperback cover-fare (the translation used here and in some (possibly all) other editions is by E. Powys Mather; his Eastern Love Poems was an early Folio Society publication, a slim volume of translations that turned out to be mostly if not all his own invention, but enjoyable in their own right, especially with Ru van Rossem's flowing b&w illustrations):

In contrast, the Illustrated Editions Company's binding is delicately effective in its restraint:

>20 Django6924:
Sorry, Robert! if it's any consolation Green Mansions has now cost me something, too. I came across the McKnight Kauffer edition last night (virtuoso certainly describes it!) and ordered both it and the Henderson edition. Three Sirens also published The Purple Land with Henderson's illustrations (available in a double volume with Green Mansions).
I'll have to avoid looking at the Horacio Butler/Rudolph Ruzicka edition for as long as I can. Please don't post any sample illustrations!

Edited 1 July to restore Powys Mather's literary reputation.

Jun 26, 2014, 2:04 pm

>21 featherwate:

Fascinating. I suppose "shame girl" is a literal translation of the Chinese term.

I rate highly Powys Mathers' skill with words, including his liking for florid paraphrases, so that's another interesting title to keep in mind.

Edited: Jun 26, 2014, 10:17 pm

>21 featherwate: Congratulations! I'll hazard a guess that your Green Mansions is the Duckworth edition, preferably one of the 165 copies of the 1926 edition signed by Henderson.

Jun 26, 2014, 10:53 pm

>23 Felixholt:
Er, yep. It should be here next week. You didn't have your eye on that copy (on Abe) as well did you? If so, my apologies!

Jun 28, 2014, 8:15 pm

>24 featherwate: Good heavens no, not if it is signed by Henderson, my pennies don't stretch that far. Can't wait to see what you think of it though.

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