Above: The fine-press reprint includes 16 engravings by renowned artist Barry Moser. Photograph courtesy of Margot Giest/The Palace Press.
THOMAS LEECH, director of the Palace Press at the Palace of the Governors, in Santa Fe, considers the 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave to be required reading—and rereading—lest we minimize the horrors of a shameful past. Now, 175 years after the book’s publication, Leech and his fellow pressman, James Bourland, have published a fine-press reprint that includes 16 engravings from internationally renowned artist Barry Moser.
Just 60 copies were made, each page letterpressed onto vintage cotton papers, with a shade of black ink that took Leech nine tries to blend just right. “Between James and me and our 80 years of combined printing, we knew this was the most important printing we would ever do,” he said. “This is one of the most important texts in American history. You cannot get through the first chapter without having an epiphany, if you need one, that slavery and racism are vile and unacceptable in this day and age.”
Moser’s etchings do not illustrate the book but interpret the force of its story and his reaction to it. “They’re brutally honest,” Leech says. “He did this as an answer to his upbringing in Tennessee.”
Collectors and libraries are the primary targets for the $675 book, but a trade edition—conventionally printed and more affordably priced—may soon follow, to ensure that even more Americans hear the power of Douglass’s enduring words.