The story of the “Subscription Edition” began in 1900. (A subscription edition is a book that is only published after a specified number of volumes have been sold; often these books have special bindings or special features available only to subscribers.) William Dana Orcutt, who worked for Mary Baker Eddy’s printers, proposed the publication of a larger and more elaborate edition of Science and Health. He envisioned this new edition as an accompaniment to “the old family Bible” and as something for use in churches. Orcutt gave sample pages he had prepared to Joseph Armstrong, the Publisher of Eddy’s writings and a member of the Board of Directors of The First Church of Christ, Scientist (The Mother Church), for consideration. Orcutt didn’t know that Armstrong had also shared his letter and samples with Eddy herself, and he received no response at this time. He later recalled that around 1901, during an unrelated meeting with Eddy, she said, “I was sorry to disappoint you in the matter of that beautiful Science and Health you wanted to make…but Mr. Armstrong was right, the time has not come.”1
On November 12, 1907, Orcutt again wrote to Eddy, proposing the printing of a “sumptuous” Edition:
For many years I have had a matter uppermost in my mind which I have been very anxious to present to you, but one thing after another has prevented, so until the present time it did not seem possible to do so.… This matter is nothing less than the manufacture of a superb Large Paper Edition of SCIENCE AND HEALTH….2
In this letter Orcutt outlined in great detail his rationale and plan for printing a “magnificent” edition, and again provided sample pages to illustrate his vision for the book. It appeared that, with Armstrong’s support, the book might be produced at this time. But unfortunately Armstrong passed away in December, and so did the consideration of the proposed new edition. Orcutt wrote Eddy about it once again in 1908, but that request was denied as well.
In 1914, four years after Eddy’s death, Orcutt wrote to the Trustees Under the Will of Mary Baker Eddy, asking about the possibility of a “deluxe” edition of Science and Health. Again the same answer came back—it was “not the right time.”
The right time finally came in the late 1930s when William P. McKenzie, a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors, happened to see a “dummy” volume of the new edition that Orcutt had given to the Publisher’s Agent (who manages Eddy’s publications for the Trustees Under the Will) in the early 1930s. Orcutt had made it with sample typeset pages, plus blank pages bound in Morocco leather, with a stamped title made to show the size and appearance of how he thought the final volume would look.3 This chance occurrence set the publication in motion, and Orcutt was finally given the commission to produce the Subscription Edition of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures on August 15, 1939.
But the volume’s long journey to fruition was further complicated by circumstances that no one could have been anticipated; it was just one month before the start of World War II. This threatened to disrupt delivery of the materials needed to complete the project. Special paper had been ordered from England, as well as fine leather from India for bindings. Soon questions arose about cancelling orders, as the British government took over paper mills in support of the war effort and shipments came under threat of attack by U-boats.
Unsure if the project could proceed, Orcutt sought advice from Hudson C. Burr, who succeeded Henry I. Hunt as Publisher’s Agent in 1939. Burr replied:
Inasmuch as Christian Science is based upon the understanding that good will conquer evil, it seems to us that to cancel or postpone the order for the Subscription Edition of Science and Health would be stultifying. The book is needed now more than ever. Please proceed.4
Negotiations with the British government proved fruitful; six small paper mills in Eynsford, Kent, England, which Orcutt had contracted to produce the handmade paper, were reprieved from war work. All shipments of paper and leather journeyed safely to Boston before the United States entered the war in December 1941.
The Subscription Edition had been announced to Christian Science churches, societies, and Reading Rooms in 1939. A four-page brochure had been distributed, with one page produced in the same size and typeface as the finished book. The Subscription Edition was limited to 1000 copies, with 26 additional copies to be placed in libraries and museums around the world. The price was $100 (nearly $1700 in today’s money).
In June 1941 the published book was delivered to the first subscribers. By 1943 nearly all the copies had been sent out, save for a small number that were held back for delivery after the end of the war.
The Subscription Edition of Science and Health is Super Royal Quarto in size (10 inches by 14 inches) and bound in fine Morocco leather dyed a deep blue. The front cover bears the book’s title, Cross and Crown emblem, and the author’s name, all blind-stamped. (Blind stamping is a process of embossing without ink or color.)
The book is printed on handmade paper, and as a part of Orcutt’s design a Cross and Crown emblem watermark was incorporated into the paper. Each volume was enclosed in a fitted slip case and delivered in a specially designed wooden box.
Orcutt designed the printing of the text to give the appearance of hand lettering, setting it in black and red lettering and Laurentian typeface. Laurentian was developed from an earlier Orcutt typeface he had named Humanistic.
In his book Mary Baker Eddy and her Books, Orcutt concludes the chapter on the Subscription Edition by posing this question:
Could it not be that there was another unseen but beneficent influence that guided the book throughout the various processes with a certainty more powerful than we know, and that the serenity of the atmosphere through which it passed was an assurance of the “rightness” of the undertaking? 5
Some copies of the Subscription Edition were purchased by individuals for personal use. Some were donated by The Mother Church to local and college libraries. And many were purchased by Christian Science churches and Reading Rooms. By most accounts the book was well received, but even then there were questions about the motivation for its publication. These were addressed in a notice in the January 13, 1940, edition of the Christian Science Sentinel. In short, this notice states that the Subscription Edition was “not a commercial venture” but produced “in a form that will preserve it for ages.” Further, that “it was not published with the idea of personal aggrandizement or pride of ownership.”6
The Subscription Edition of Science and Health is a fine, beautiful book that was never meant for study but rather for display. Based on the number of questions to the Curator at The Mary Baker Eddy Library, asking about the proper way to display and care for this special volume, the edition continues to have a valued role. To learn more about how to care for and display this and other books, follow this link to: “15 Tips for Caring for Your Books.”
Biographical Note: William Dana Orcutt (1870-1953)
Orcutt first met Mary Baker Eddy in 1892, while serving as a messenger and representative for the University Press at Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Science and Health was published at the time. He continued his association with Eddy until her passing in 1910. That was the same year he founded the Plimpton Press in Norwood, Massachusetts, where Science and Health was subsequently printed for many years. He was an author, a well-known and respected publisher, and a book and typeface designer. In 1950 The Christian Science Publishing Society published Orcutt’s last volume, Mary Baker Eddy and Her Books.
- William Dana Orcutt, Mary Baker Eddy and Her Books (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1950), 86.
- Orcutt to Mary Baker Eddy, 12 November 1907, L07079.
- Orcutt, Mary Baker Eddy and Her Books, 173.
- Ibid., 174.
- Ibid., 184.
- Trustees Under the Will of Mary Baker Eddy, “Important Notice,” Christian Science Sentinel, January 13, 1940, http://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/98j3z9flf6?s=t.