New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929. Quarto (11 5/8 inches tall), original silver-stamped vellum with yapped fore-edges, top edge silver, uncut, original dust wrapper. Housed in a custom cloth slipcase (lacking the original paper board slipcase) with paper spine label from the original slipcase laid-down on the cloth spine, original wrapper worn with tape repairs and loss to spine ends. A fine copy, complete in the scarce original dust wrapper. Item #859
'THE OLD ARCHBISHOP LAY BEFORE THE HIGH ALTAR IN THE CHURCH WHICH HE HAD BUILT" Splendid first illustrated edition of Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop—issued two years after the first edition—one of only 170 large-paper copies signed by Cather. This large-paper edition adds drawings and designs by Harold Von Schmidt, including a decorated title page, full-page plates, and vignettes in the text. This is copy 12, numbered and signed by Cather in ink on the printed limitation page inserted before the half-title. Designed by Elmer Adler, printed on Rives Cream Plate Paper, and bound in full vellum at the Plimpton Press. First conceived during a 1912 visit to "the country of her soul in the desert places of the American southwest" (Harold C. Gardiner, S.J.), Cather's character study of two Frenchmen trying to organize a Catholic Diocese on the frontier of New Mexico has become a classic of 20th-century American literature. Cather viewed Death Comes for the Archbishop as a "narrative" rather than a true novel. Converted from the Baptist to the Episcopalian Church, the book reveals Cather's interest in Catholic ritual, legend and symbolism. "The majesty of the desert, the Cathedral and the Virgin, the civilized amenities of gardens, cookery, music and French language are figurative contradictions of the drunken, desecrating cowboys, the vile avarice of the mining towns, the malicious vulgarity of the Anglo-Saxon Smiths" (Harold Gardiner). Knopf's distinctive Borzoi first edition sold well but the reputation of the book benefited greatly from the subsequent editions (such as Von Schmidt's illustrated edition and the 1931 Modern Library "cheap" edition) and Cather's work began to reach large middle-class audiences. "From 1931 to 1936, at the time when Cather's novel was available in the Modern Library, the study of American literature was being institutionalized in university departments" (Lise Jaillant, Canonical in the 1930's: Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop). A beautiful copy in bright original vellum boards.