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Photo of Mark Twain -  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn [sheep] magnify
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn [sheep]

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“ALL MODERN LITERATURE COMES FROM ONE BOOK BY MARK TWAIN”: RARE FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN IN ORIGINAL PUBLISHER’S FULL SHEEP BINDING, WITH ALL FIRST-STATE POINTS, INCLUDING THE CURVED FLY, ONE OF THE FIRST COPIES TO BE PRINTED

TWAIN, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer’s Comrade). New York: Charles L. Webster, 1885. Octavo, original full sheep gilt, original red and black morocco spine labels. Housed in a custom clamshell box.

First edition, in unrestored publisher’s deluxe sheep binding, with all first-state points, including the extraordinarily rare “curved fly” illustration. Most rare, one of approximately 2500 copies issued in this binding, one of the first copies to be printed in the “original state,” before the above illustration was altered. This unaltered leaf appears in only some of the publisher’s deluxe bindings and never in the cloth-bound copies.

Written over an eight-year period, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was blasted by critics from the moment of publication, attacked for its “blood-curdling humor,” immorality, coarseness and profanity. It nevertheless emerged as one of the defining novels of American literature, prompting Ernest Hemingway to declare: “All modern literature comes from one book by Mark Twain. It’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing since.” This copy has all of the commonly identified first issue points (see list below). Leaf containing pages 283-84 is the rare conjugate (Kemble’s illustration is version with “curved” pant-fly, prior to defacement), described by BAL as the “original state, seen only in prospectuses and the leather bound copies” (see also Johnson, 48; MacDonnell, 32-33). The illustration on page 283 became a point of issue after an engraver, whose identity was never discovered, “made a last-minute addition to the printing plate of Kemble’s picture of old Silas Phelps. In the mischievous tradition of graffiti he drew in a male sex organ, and what was originally a pleasant scene shared by an appreciative Aunt Sally asking, ‘Who do you reckon it is?’ suddenly became a flagrant case of indecent exposure” (Kaplan, 263). The sabotage was discovered while the book was at press and the offending plate was replaced, the corrected plate being slightly altered in the area of Silas Phelps’ trousers fly. Not many, even of the sheep-bound copies, contain the first state of the plate prior to defacement. This copy is one of the few that the binder had completed before the defacement. Anything printed after this features either a cancel for that leaf, with the corrected illustration, or a conjugate leaf with the corrected illustration. Hence this is one of the earliest copies of Huck to be printed.

Copies of Huckleberry Finn in the original publisher’s leather bindings are quite rare. “The relative rarity of the cloth and leather bindings is clear. Less than two weeks before publication, Webster announced that he was binding 20,000 copies in cloth, another 2,500 in sheep, and 500 copies in three-quarter leather. The remaining 7000 copies of the first printing were probably bound up in similar proportions… Leather copies dried out, cracked apart, and have survived in even fewer numbers than the original production numbers would promise” (MacDonnell, 35). This copy has all of the commonly identified first issue points (the printer assembled copies haphazardly; bibliographers do not yet agree as to the priority of many points). First issue points: page [9] with “Decided” remaining uncorrected (to “Decides”); page [13], illustration captioned “Him and another Man” listed as on page 88; page 57, 11th line from bottom reads “with the was,” and page 283 has curved pant fly. Debate continues over the priority of other points of issue and state. This copy contains the following points of bibliographical interest: frontispiece portrait without cloth table cover under the bust, bearing the Heliotype Printing Co. imprint; copyright page dated 1884; page 143 with “l” missing from “Col.” at top of illustration and with broken “b” in “body” on line seven; page 155 without the final “5”; page 161, no signature mark “11”.

BAL 3415. McBride, 93. Grolier American 100: 87. MacDonnell, 31.

Joints starting but strong. Resewn, with inner paper hinges reinforced, later endpapers. Only very light wear to extremities of original sheep. Extremely good condition. A very rare and desirable first state copy in the original publisher’s sheep binding of this classic of American literature.