(The private act of reading in the very public space of Bryant Park in the 1930s, a heyday for private presses. From the NYPL Digital Gallery.)
In 1929, Giovanni Mardersteig, the head of the Italian private press Officina Bodoni, offered this explanation of his press's ideals: "A book consists of five elements: the text, the type, the ink, the paper, and the binding. To create a unity from these five elements in such a way that the result is not a passing product of fashion, but assumes the validity of permanent value--that is our desire." Private presses--those small publishing houses that devoted loving attention to type, design, illustration, and (usually*) adherence to handpress production--blossomed on both sides of the Atlantic in the early twentieth century. Often, as Geoffrey Glaister explains in his Encyclopedia of the Book, the bibliophiles and typophiles who ran private presses published limited editions of books which were then distributed to subscribers or to members of an associated club.
Just such a club here in New York City was the Limited Editions Club, founded by George Macy in 1929 and credited (in Grove Art Online, an excellent resource available at the Library) as one of the most influential private presses to promote the creation of finely illustrated books. Macy recruited the period's greatest artists, designers, and illustrators--including Bruce Rogers and Thomas Hart Benton--to contribute to the Club's luxurious editions of classic literary texts.
For students of the craft of printing and illustration, NYPL's collection of Limited Editions Club publications is a treasure trove (a search for Limited Editions Club in the library catalog brings up over two hundred titles). And to get the big picture concerning the scope of the Limited Editions Club's printing efforts, you can also look at a bibliographical catalogue of the Club's publications, entitled Great and Good Books.
*As Glaister reports, some presses did not limit themselves to small handpress runs and instead sought to deliver finely designed and produced volumes to the masses. One such press was Nonesuch Press, established in England 1923. Nonesuch aimed "to adapt mechanical methods to the production of finely made books which were to be sold at modest cost through normal trade channels." And indeed, Nonesuch had tremendous success with The Week-End Book, a lovely volume in decorated cloth covered boards, endpapers printed with whimsical (and useful) gameboards, and jaunty illustrations throughout.