A Checklist of Herman Melville’s First and Major Editions

by Kevin MacDonnell (MacDonnell Rare Books)

My standard advice to all book collectors is to arm themselves with an arsenal of bibliographic reference tools and educate themselves so that they know more about their collecting area than any bookseller they ever encounter. My second piece of advice is to seek out two or three booksellers who are experts in that particular field, and to both patronize them (that means buy from them) and ask their advice; doing either by itself is ill-advised. Of course, collectors can save a lot of time if they just stop reading right now and begin buying whatever strikes their fancy on eBay or online, never buy a single book from an established bookseller, and never seek advice.

But if you think you want to collect Herman Melville and you're still reading, the first weapon in your arsenal should be a copy of Volume Six of The Bibliography of American Literature (Yale University Press, 1973, commonly known as BAL). Study it carefully before exchanging your hard-earned dollars for whatever Melville books wander into your crosshairs. Next, buy a copy of Part Six of The Parkman Dexter Howe Library (University of Florida, 1989), and a set of Carroll Wilson's Thirteen Author Collections of the Nineteenth Century (two volumes, privately printed, 1950). You might even want to track down a copy of the Harvard Library Bulletin, volume XVII, number 2 (April 1969) and read Tom Tanselle's article on the sales of Melville's books. Finally, consider investing an hour or two of your time reading the prefaces and notes to the Northwestern-Newberry Edition of The Writings of Herman Melville, which are full of bibliographic details that update BAL. The sum total of all this effort is far less than the cost of the cheapest Melville first edition, but will make costly mistakes much less likely and will pay perpetual dividends that enhance the pleasures of collecting this literary giant.

The good news for Melville collectors is that he was not as prolific as some other Nineteenth-century authors, so the number of books that comprise a complete collection is relatively small. Nor are his books unusually complicated—bibliographically. The bad news is that most of his first editions are rather scarce and can be quite expensive, especially in attractive condition. You can't have everything.

Finally, as with any Nineteenth-century author, a Melville collector should be prepared not to apply the same strict standards of condition as he would if he were collecting a modern author. Some of Melville's works were published in wrappers that become brittle with age. Many were printed on paper that foxes (oxidizes), because Nineteenth-century paper manufacturing processes often failed to bleach all of the impurities out of the paper pulp. Some colors of cloth fade more than others, even with minimal exposure to the ultraviolet rays of sunlight or the sulfates and dust released into the air of coal-heated buildings of yore. To make matters worse, in the 75 years between the time they were published and the time they began to become collectable, several generations of Melville readers handled his books with no thought whatsoever for the future sensibilities of Melville collectors. They were distracted by deep thoughts of spirituality and dark probings into the complex nature of good and evil, when they should have been concerned about the bumping, fraying, snagging, and chipping of vulnerable spine tips.

A note on prices: The ranges given below are a general guide to copies in marginally collectable condition (complete, but heavily worn or even with minor repair, but not rebacked, recased or rebound) to excellent condition (not strictly fine, but only lightly rubbed, probably foxed, and certainly not repaired or damaged in any way).

A note on editions and various states, printings and issues: Both the English and American first editions are listed, in order of publication. The English editions usually preceded the American editions. In some cases, there was no English edition, and in a few instances a few sets of American sheets were imported for issue in England. Consult BAL for details of publication histories. BAL should always be consulted to sort out the various states, printings and issues within each edition, as well as the binding states of both cloth and wrappered copies.

Narrative of a Four Months’ Residence Among the Natives of a Valley of the Marquesan Islands; Or, A Peep At Polynesian Life...
L: John Murray, 1846
Copies were issued in printed wrappers (two volumes) and in bright red cloth, gilt (one volume), as part of Murray's “Home and Colonial Library” series. The first state of the text has the reading "Pomarea" at page 19, line 1. The second state reads "Pomare" at 19.1. The first printing was 4,048 copies, of which 2,500 were issued in wrappers, but many fewer copies have survived in wrappers than in cloth. BAL describes the various textual and binding states.
First edition, in wrappers, $4,000 to $10,000+
First edition, in cloth, $2,500 to $12,500

as Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life...
NY: Wiley and Putnam, 1846
Copies were issued in printed wrappers (two volumes) and in blue, brown, green and slate blue cloth, gilt (one volume) as part of Wiley and Putnam's “Library of American Books” series. Consult BAL for the various textual and binding variants, as well as the revised edition that adds the sequel, The Story of Toby. The edition was 2,000 copies, of which 1,498 were bound in cloth and 496 in wrappers (the other six copies were defective sets of sheets).
First U.S. edition, in wrappers, $4,000 to $10,000+
First U.S. edition, in cloth, $2,500 to $4,000

The Story of Toby
[L: John Murray, 1846]
The edition was 1,000 copies, of which 250 were issued in printed wrappers and 750 were bound up with the sheets of early editions of the English edition. All copies of this sequel to Melville's first book were paginated for insertion at the end of the English edition text. There was no separate American edition. I can trace no copy of the wrapper issue in the market in the last 50 years. The copies of this rare separately printed issue that were bound up with English sheets are easily distinguished from later printings that included the sequel as part of the text because those later printings mention the inclusion of the sequel on the title-page of the book.
In wrappers, $10,000+
Issued with early printings of the book, bound in at end, with no mention of the sequel on the title-page, $2,000+

Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas
L: John Murray, 1847
As with his first book, copies were bound in both printed wrappers (two volumes) and in bright red cloth, gilt (one volume), as part of Murray's “Home and Colonial Library” series. Signature P occurs in three states, but with no known priority between them. The edition was 4,027 copies, with 2,500 issued in wrappers. Wrappered copies are far rarer than cloth copies.
First edition, in wrappers, $3,000 to $8,000+
First edition, in cloth, $2,000 to $6,000

Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas
NY: Harper & Brothers, 1847
Copies were issued in printed wrappers (two volumes), and in brown, purple, slate, black, red and green cloth, gilt (one volume). The edition was 4,000 copies, of which 1,830 were issued in cloth, and 2,000 in wrappers. The Harper fire of 1853 destroyed 276 copies (249 were still unbound, in sheets). A handful were bound in half calf (Beware!! The vast majority of surviving copies found in leather bindings are not the publisher's binding, but simply copies bound by early owners, a common practice in those days.) Wrappered copies are much scarcer than cloth copies.
First U.S. edition, in wrappers, $3,000 to $8,000+
First U.S. edition, in cloth, $2,000 to $4,000

Mardi: And a Voyage Thither
L: Richard Bentley, 1849
Issued as a triple-decker (three volumes) in light green cloth, gilt. The edition was 1,000 copies. The rarest of Melville's English trade editions (exclusive of the English issues of American sheets), and seen less often than the English triple-decker of The Whale.
First edition, $10,000+

Mardi: And a Voyage Thither
NY: Harper & Brothers, 1849
Issued in cloth, gilt, in two volumes, in green, purple, blue-green and brown cloth. Faded purple copies are often mistaken—or misrepresented—as brown copies (a common problem with Nineteenth-century books issued in this color so prone to fading to brown). In stark contrast to the rarity of the English edition, this is perhaps Melville's most common trade edition. The edition was 3,048 copies, of which 2,400 were bound in cloth, and a few in half calf. The Harper fire of 1853 destroyed 494 copies (420 were still unbound, in sheets).
First edition, $1,500 to $3,500

Redburn: His First Voyage...
L: Richard Bentley, 1849
Issued in blue cloth, gilt, in two volumes. A copy has been seen with both volumes bound in publisher's red cloth, with an 1853 cancel title-page (White-Jacket and The Whale are also found with cancel title-pages of this same date). The edition was 750 copies.
First edition, $6,000+

Redburn: His First Voyage...
NY: Harper & Brothers, 1849
Copies were issued in both printed wrappers (two volumes), and in dark blue or purple cloth, gilt (one volume). In the first printing the terminal advertisements end at page 10; in the second printing they are extended to 14 pages. The edition was 4,508 copies, of which 1,700 were issued in cloth, and 1,858 in wrappers. The Harper fire of 1853 destroyed 296 copies (220 were still unbound, in sheets). As with all of Melville's first editions issued in cloth and wrappers, the wrappered copies are much scarcer due to the fragile format and the custom of purchasers buying the cheaper format and having them bound in a leather binding of their own choosing.
First U.S. edition, in wrappers, $3,000 to $6,000
First U.S. edition, in cloth, $2,500 to $4,000

White-Jacket; Or, The World in a Man-of-War...
L: Richard Bentley, 1850
Issued in blue cloth, gilt, in two volumes, and copies have been seen bound in publisher's cloth into a single volume with a cancel title-page dated 1853 (see Redburn and The Whale for a similar reissue). The edition was 1,000 copies.
First edition, $6,000+

White-Jacket; Or, The World in a Man-of-War
NY: Harper & Brothers, 1850
Issued in printed wrappers (two volumes), and in brown, slate, dull green, and black cloth, gilt (one volume). The first printing has no signature mark ("T") at page 433 and six pages of terminal ads (among other "points"); the second printing is signed "T" at page 433 and has 14 pages of terminal ads. Intermediate states are known, and there are three states of the cloth binding and two states of the wrapper binding, so BAL should be consulted. The edition was 4,534 copies, of which 2,042 were bound in cloth and 2,022 in wrappers. The Harper fire of 1853 destroyed 272 copies (48 were still unbound, in sheets).
First U.S. edition, in wrappers, $3,000 to $6,000
First U.S. edition, in cloth, $2,500 to $4,500

The Whale
L: Richard Bentley, 1851
Issued in three volumes, in a beautiful binding of brilliant sea-blue wavy-grain cloth covers with cream cloth spines, emblazoned in gold from top to bottom with diving right whales (never mind that Ahab was chasing a sperm whale). The edition was 500 sets, and some copies were later issued in brown or purple cloth, without gilt-stamped whales on the spine, and in a single volume of red cloth with an 1853 cancel title-page. The last attractive copies to appear at auction in original cloth changed hands for $65,000 and $66,000 in the mid-1990s. A recased/rebacked copy sold for $47,500 in 2004, and a rebound copy in half leather fetched $42,500 in 2005. A rebacked copy in the purple remainder binding fetched $56,000 in April 2006. A very good unrepaired copy in original cloth today would easily fetch $100,000+.

Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale
NY: Harper & Brothers, 1851
Issued in a single volume, in black, green, blue, red, purple, slate or brown cloth, gilt. The first state of the binding has a circular device at center of covers that is absent from the second state binding. Much has been made of whether the earliest copies bound should have orange-coated end papers, but in fact there is no priority between copies with orange, dark orange, maroon veined in gold, or marbled end papers. Of uncertain status are two copies that have been seen with plain white end papers, and a copy seen with yellow-coated end papers. But the circular device is the mark of the first binding—not the end papers. Copies in bindings with beaded rope-like designs or Grolier-esque strapwork borders are very likely copies that survived Harper's terrible fire of December 10, 1853, which destroyed 287 copies (212 were still unbound, in sheets). The edition was 2,915 copies, of which 2,230 were bound up about the time of publication. $10,000+ for repaired or recased copies; $25,000+ for copies with heavy wear and minor repairs; $65,000+ for the best and brightest copies.

Pierre; Or, The Ambiguities
NY: Harper & Brothers, 1852
Copies were issued in black, green, purple or slate cloth, gilt. The book was advertised as also being issued in wrappers, but no copies in wrappers are known, and the publisher's records do not include copies being bound in wrappers. The edition was 2,310 copies, of which only 737 were bound up at the time of publication. The Harper fire of 1853 destroyed 494 copies, but an unknown number of copies were salvaged after the fire and bound in a binding similar to the later state binding described above that is found on a few copies of Moby-Dick. Some copies of the American sheets were shipped to England and issued with a cancel title-page with the imprint of Sampson Low—the publisher's records do not indicate how many. This issue and the other English issues from American sheets of Melville's works are extremely rare, with no copies of some titles ever appearing in the market.
First edition, $2,500 to $4,000

Israel Potter: His Fifty Years Exile
NY: G. P. Putnam & Son, 1855
Copies were issued in green, purple and red cloth, gilt. The first printing has the chapter heading at page 141 reading "XVI"; the second printing reads "XIV"; and the third printing has a "Third Edition" slug on the title-page. There are other text readings that should also be checked. On the primary binding the initial letters of the spine title are ornamented with pendants. A small number of copies of American sheets were imported into England and issued with a Low & Son cancel title-page, and Routledge produced the first edition to be printed in England about two weeks later. The edition size is unknown.
First edition, $2,000 to $3,500

The Piazza Tales
NY: Dix & Edwards, 1856
Copies were issued in blue, black, green, slate, purple and brown cloth, gilt, with various colors of end papers. Some copies lack the signature mark 14, but it is not a point of priority. The edition size is unknown. A few copies were imported into England and sold by Low & Son.
First edition, $2,500 to $5,000

The Confidence Man: His Masquerade
NY: Dix & Edwards, 1857
Copies were issued in brown, red, green and purple cloth, gilt, with various colors of end papers. The edition size is unknown.
First edition, $3,500 to $6,000

The Confidence Man: His Masquerade
L: Longman, Brown, 1857
Copies were issued in orange cloth, with the end papers found in four different states of unknown priority. The edition size is unknown.
First U.K. edition, $3,500 to $6,000

The Refugee
Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson, [1865]
This is not a Melville first edition, but instead a pirated edition of Israel Potter. It is included here to avoid confusion, and because the title-page credits Melville with four other works, two of which he did not write, which could lead to even more confusion. For this reason, it is a fun book to include in any Melville collection.
First edition, $300 to $600

Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War
NY: Harper & Brothers, 1866
Copies were issued in brown, green, purple, blue and maroon cloth, gilt. The notion that the misspelling of "hundred" as "hnndred" in the copyright notice is a point of issue is a myth; there was but one printing and all copies have the misprint. Issue-mongers don't die easy deaths, but even the most ignorant must face the fact that if no second state (or printing, or issue) exists, then it's pointless to declare every misprint a "first state." The edition was 1,260 copies, of which 805 were immediately bound up for sale, and it would appear that no more than 1,104 were ever bound up and sold, which left Melville with a loss of $229 on this book.
First edition, $1,500 to $2,500

Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land
NY: G. P. Putnam, 1876
Issued as a two-volume set in green, mauve, tan, olive and terra-cotta cloth, gilt. The edition size is unknown, but it is said the book was a poor seller and that many copies were pulped. Sets are found with mismatched colors, but with contemporary ownership inscriptions showing they were sold this way.
First edition, $8,000 to $15,000

John Marr and Other Sailors
NY: The De Vinne Press, 1888
Issued in a buff printed wrapper. The edition was a mere 25 copies. A poor copy sold at auction for $16,000 in 1990.
First edition, $50,000+

NY: The Caxton Press, 1891
Issued in pale grey printed wrapper; a single copy is known in white cloth (the Bradley Martin copy, which in 1990 sold at auction for $15,000). The edition was 25 copies.
First edition, $50,000+

Billy Budd And Other Prose Pieces...
L: Constable and Company, 1924
Issued as Volume 13 in the collected Works of Herman Melville (1922-1924, 16 volumes). The edition was 750 copies, and sets are found in slightly varying shades of blue cloth, gilt.
$6,500+ for the complete set

The four- and five-figure-challenged might enjoy the pursuit of Nineteenth-century reprints of Melville's books, although not all of his titles were reprinted, and early reprints of Moby-Dick (1855, 1863, 1871) were printed in editions of less than 300 copies and can be quite pricey.

Some of Melville's best short fiction appeared in Putnam's Monthly Magazine in the 1850s, and some of his Civil War poetry appeared in Harper's New Monthly Magazine during the war. The first publication of any part of Moby-Dick was “The Town-Ho's Story,” printed in Harper's Monthly of October 1851. Other magazines that printed his works were Literary World (including his famous assessment of Hawthorne) and The Albany Microscope (his first appearance in print, in 1838) and Yankee Doodle. Periodical first printings of Melville's writings are an affordable alternative to the primary first editions.

Just as some Whitman collectors focus on the many later editions of Leaves of Grass, some Melville collectors chase after the many later treatments of Moby-Dick, some with introductions or commentary by authors like Raymond Weaver, Alfred Kazin, James Baird, Howard Mumford Jones, Clifton Fadiman, Somerset Maugham and Hershel Parker, or those illustrated by Boardman Robinson, Charles Golden, Mead Schaeffer, Rockwell Kent and Barry Moser. Tom Tanselle's A Checklist of Editions of Moby-Dick (1976) is a useful guide in this direction.

Finally, some of Melville's writings appeared in books by others. BAL provides a partial guide to these publications, which include letters written by Melville and extracts from his books, as well as many first separate editions of some of his shorter writings.



**This article first appeared in Firsts Magazine and has been reprinted with their permission and that of the author's.No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without their express written permission.



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