Collecting Herman Melville
By William S. Reese (William Reece Company)
From The Gazette of the Grolier Club, 1993
Copyright © 1993 William S. Reese
Used with permission.
1991 marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Herman Melville. Numerous observances were held to commemorate the work of that remarkable American writer, so widely forgotten a century ago and so widely celebrated today. The centenary was another step in the evolving attitude toward the man and his work. The re-evaluation of Melville's literary career began even before his death, and has grown in ever-widening circles ever since. Today it is a healthy small industry, especially in the academic arena, where biographers, critics and interpreters, as well as biographers of critics and critics of biographers, assiduously work away. In this whole imposing edifice of Melville studies, booksellers and book collectors have played a role, sometimes aiding scholarship and sometimes paralleling it. And, at the same time, intentionally or not, they have shaped some part of the way Melville is read today.
I came to be a collector of Melville, and hence a participant in the modern Melville world, purely as an amateur. Hearing Robert Penn Warren read from Battle-Pieces inspired me to read further than Moby-Dick, and I worked my way through the works from Typee to the late poems before beginning to accumulate seriously. My reading was made easier by having acquired, for starters, the scholarly Melville material from the library of the Yale professor, Norman Holmes Pearson. This gave me a wealth of secondary material, including all of the standard biographies and early criticism. My own reference library provided many of the sources for the activities of my predecessors in Melville collecting. These aided greatly both in pursuing Melville material and in looking at the history of collecting him. In the case of Melville, there is a strong parallel between the revival of general scholarly interest in him and interest in Melville collecting. In both instances, the modern "Melville revival" dates from 1919, both the centenary of his birth and beginning of a more disillusioned, deterministic, post-war age.
Melville was never completely ignored by intelligent readers during his decades of eclipse. In England, especially, Moby-Dick found numerous readers in the late nineteenth century and first decade of the twentieth century, most notably among the Pre-Raphaelites and such writers as W.H. Hudson and Virginia Woolf. It is safe to say that his general literary stock was far higher among English readers than among Americans during this period. At home, Arthur Stedman made a valiant effort to revive Melville around the time of his death in 1891, republishing Typee, Omoo, White Jacket, and Moby-Dick, but the publisher went bankrupt, and the remaining sheets were sold to an English publisher. Typee seems to have never gone out of print at Harper's during Melville's lifetime, even if its sales were minimal. Moby-Dick saw further republication in England, including in Everyman's Library, before the First World War.
If Melville was read, though, he was hardly collected. His books are listed in the first bible of American literature collectors, P.K. Foley's American Authors, in 1897, and he makes sporadic appearances in booksellers' and auction catalogues beginning with what is usually described as the first bookseller's catalogue devoted to American literature, that of Leon & Brother in 1885. But he was not the taste of the day. Certainly most American rare book collectors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were pursuing anything but American literature. Many of them were collecting American history, especially of the early, colonial, and Revolutionary periods. Those with more literary tastes, however, tended strongly towards English literature, which was generally held to end with the great Victorian novelists. Before the War a collector with a desire to be daring might even throw in a few collectible "moderns" like Stevenson, Wilde or Kipling. However, with a few notable exceptions, American literature took a back seat among American book collectors.
Perhaps the best example of those exceptional few who were passionate collectors of American literature in this period is Stephen H. Wakeman. Wakeman collected from 1900 to 1920, and his sale catalogue in 1924 contains an extraordinary wealth of material by the authors he chose to pursue. They were Bryant, Emerson, Hawthorne, Holmes, Longfellow, Lowell, Poe, Thoreau, and Whittier - an excellent reflection of the authors canonized in the book collecting taste of the time. Wakeman was a persistent collector who sometimes assembled multiple association copies - for instance, he owned Hawthorne's own copy of The Scarlet Letter, as well as presentation copies to his wife and to his sister. In this whole assemblage there is only one Melville volume - Hawthorne's copy of Redburn, which is now in my collection. Even that was catalogued as a Hawthorne item, listed among the many books from Hawthorne's library Wakeman had acquired. Laid in the book at that time was a letter from Melville to Hawthorne, present whereabouts unknown. The book and letter together brought only $35, about one-tenth of what Longfellow's Kavanagh, A Tale, inscribed to Hawthorne, fetched a little later in the sale. About this latter item, the cataloguer remarked, "In the whole of American literature, it is hardly possible to imagine a finer or more important Literary Association Item." Well, tastes have certainly changed in that area - not that I have anything against Longfellow.
By the time of the Wakeman sale, the tide was turning. Melville's centenary in 1919 had brought numerous literary notices, and a weary and disillusioned post-war world was probably for more ready for his prose. In 1921 Raymond Weaver's biography, Herman Melville, Mariner and Mystic, came out, sparking further interest. The following year the first real bibliography of Melville was issued by the English collector, publisher, editor and bibliographer Michael Sadleir. Sadleir deserves special remembrance by all Melvillians, for he was also the impetus behind the first - and until the Newberry-Northwestern edition is completed, the only - complete collected edition of Melville's works, issued by Constable between 1922 and 1924. Through his efforts, all of Melville's prose and poetry was brought back into print, Billy Budd and many poems were published for the first time, and Melville was made generally accessible to readers. Before the collected works appeared, Sadleir published a volume of author bibliographies entitled Excursions in Victorian Bibliography. Here, included with the likes of Trollope, Marryat, Disraeli, Wilkie Collins, Charles Reade, Whyte-Melville and Mrs. Gaskell, Melville appeared as the lone American, introduced by Sadleir's enthusiastic essay, comparing him favorably to the better known English writers, although Sadleir saw little resemblance except that they all lived in the same period: "They are of Victorianism Victorian," Sadleir said, while Melville "is of the ageless, raceless family of lonely giants." If scholars need a text, collectors often need a list - and a push - and Sadleir provided both.
Only a few months after Excursions in Victorian Bibliography appeared, the Brick Row Book Shop of New Haven published a compilation of Melville's letters, with a bibliography by another Englishman, Meade Minnigerode. This was somewhat more extensive than Sadleir's, and remained the most detailed Melville bibliography for the next fifty years. Significantly, it was published by a bookseller. The owner of the Brick Row Book Shop, Edward Byrne Hackett, also maintained stores in New York and Princeton in the 1920s, and more than a few undergraduates who later became major collectors bought their first books from Brick Row. (After several changes of location and ownership, Brick Row still flourishes in San Francisco, and sold me Hawthorne's Redburn.) Hackett was a buccaneer and a scoundrel - David Randall gives a vivid portrait of working for him in his autobiography, Dukedom Large Enough - but he understood that bibliographies help sell books, and that more collectible authors made for more sales. Whatever his motives, Hackett was an early and influential dealer pushing Melville.
The other bookseller to promote Melville was A.S.W. Rosenbach, the pre-eminent American bookseller from 1920 to 1950. Equally comfortable with illuminated manuscripts or the most modern of authors, Rosenbach liked to buy great writers who were critically out of favor. Certainly his most famous investment in the latter was his purchase of the manuscript of Joyce's Ulysses at the John Quinn sale in 1924 for $1950 - a price Joyce found so insultingly low that he was moved to write a nasty limerick about the Doctor. Despite an attempt by some of Joyce's friends to buy it back for the Bibliotheque Nationale, it resides at the Rosenbach Foundation today. At the same time he was buying Ulysses, Rosenbach was writing an essay of Melville appreciation, issued in 1924 by the auctioneer and publisher Mitchell Kennerly as An Introduction to Herman Melville's Moby-Dick: Or, The Whale. Four years later, the essay was reprinted as the Introduction to an edition of Moby-Dick jointly published by Doubleday of New York and Kennerly's London branch. The Rosenbach seal of approval meant a great deal in the book collecting world of the 1920s, and some of his friends and customers took up the torch. But with Melville, as with Joyce, the Doctor was his own best customer, ultimately leaving to the Rosenbach Foundation the finest group of association copies of Melville ever brought together. These include the dedication copy of Omoo, inscribed to his uncle Herman Gansevoort, presentation copies of Omoo and Mardi to his sister-in law, Hope Shaw; a copy of Moby-Dick which had belonged to Hawthorne (although not the dedication copy itself, which may still exist in a Berkshires barn somewhere); The Whale inscribed to his father-in law, Chief Justice Shaw; and Pierre, inscribed to the Hawthornes, the only book actually inscribed to them to survive.
Melville inscribed or presented very few copies of his books, which makes the Rosenbach group all the more amazing. Typee and Battle-Pieces seem to have been the two he inscribed most often, with at least seven known presentations of each. White Jacket and The Confidence-Man are unknown in presentation, although Melville's own copy of the first survives, now at Harvard, and there is a presentation copy from Melville's brother, Allan, of the latter, now at Yale. The bulk of surviving presentations are either to family members, or to close acquaintances. Herman Melville was not a man for casual book signing. The one inscribed book in my collection is interesting in that regard. It is a copy of Typee, evidently specially bound in full morocco for gift purposes, inscribed to Henry A. Smythe at Christmas, 1868. Smythe had known Melville since 1857, but in 1866, as Collector of Customs in New York, he had performed a signal service, handing Melville a job as customs inspector when five thousand patronage job-seekers, each with three political sponsors, were lined up at his door. It would be interesting to know if Smythe had requested a copy of Typee or if Melville picked it out among all of his books as the volume to signify his gratitude, since the success of his first book and his reputation as "the man who had lived among cannibals" had come to rankle later. However, The Confidence-Man would hardly have been a politic gift for his boss.
Once the book collecting world noticed Melville they were ready to embrace him. The most popular writer about book collecting of the 1920s, A. Edward Newton, gave Melville a ringing endorsement in his 1928 volume, The Book-Collecting Game. An enthusiastic collector and author, writing in the pose of a self-made man without higher education, but enamored of the world of books and scholarship, Newton set the tone for the post-war book world with his famous The Amenities of Book-Collecting in 1918. His essays continued to appear in the Atlantic Monthly and the Saturday Evening Post; and he was probably read by as wide an audience as any author on book collecting before or since. A friend and disciple of Dr. Rosenbach, whose triumphs are sounded and opinions repeated throughout his own essays, Newton surely came by his Melville interest via Rosenbach's Walnut Street book store. When he proclaimed Moby-Dick "one of the finest pieces of literature in the English language," and put it on his much collected list of "One Hundred Good Novels," popular collecting interest took a huge step forward.
It was impossible for the book collecting writers of the '20s to think of Melville without mention of Conrad, the other great writer of "sea tales," as they usually termed them, making one think of garrulous old captains champing on their pipes and beginning stories, "It was a dark and stormy night...." Some collectors were never quite comfortable until it was resolved, once and for all, which was "greater." Newton had no use for Conrad at all. Dr. Rosenbach observed that Melville was a better writer but was ready - protean as always - to buy most of the extant Conrad manuscripts at the John Quinn Sale. Barton Currie, after Newton the most popular popularizer of book collecting, may have spoke for a certain taste of the time when he wrote, in 1931,of his love of Conrad:
Nine out of ten of my collector friends were keen about Melville. Several of them called Moby-Dick the great American novel, though it is really no more of a novel than Robinson Crusoe. (And what child or adolescent has ever been able to read so much as a chapter of it?) But somehow I could not rave about Moby-Dick, American classic of the sea though it be. I had read it three times, trying to step up my enthusiasm. I paid one thousand dollars for a very fine first edition of it and again read it in its pristine form. But no, Conrad for me ten to one against Herman Melville.
I love the image created here, that the earnest book collector, failing to appreciate what he knows he should, makes one more effort employing the talisman of "the very fine first edition" as an aid to understanding, only to be beaten back to Lord Jim.
Another sign of the book collecting interest in Melville in the late '20s was the publication of fine press editions. The first of these was another English production, the Nonesuch Press edition of Benito Cereno, published in 1926. But by far the most important was the Moby-Dick issued by the Lakeside Press in 1930 in three large volumes, with illustrations by Rockwell Kent. I think this edition of Moby-Dick is of the greatest importance because of the extraordinary impact of Kent's illustrations. Later used in the Modern Library Giant edition, they are so powerful and so well known that I would argue they have had a major impact on the way the book is read and understood. Anyone who becomes seriously interested in Melville cannot escape seeing them sooner or later - they even illustrate the checklist of editions of Moby-Dick compiled by Thomas Tanselle. (The line of Kent's Moby-Dick dinnerware sadly never caught on. The Columbia Library has some magnificent pieces from it, including a massive Pequot punch bowl.) If there was ever a case of a later illustrator profoundly asserting his own voice in the text, this is it - all the more so because the immediate reaction of most readers is that the Kent illustrations are completely appropriate. I am certainly among those who find the illustrations powerful and beautiful. But I do feel that they have become a text of their own for modern readers of Moby-Dick, and it is impossible to say how the subtle subtext of added illustrations has altered perceptions of the original book. Melville was a writer with a broad interest in visual images - he discusses whaling prints in Moby-Dick, had a print collection, and lectured on art. It is interesting to speculate what he would have thought of the linking of these essentially alien images to his book. In any case, Kent's illustrations provided an iconographic romanticism which I think contributed to the rising popular interest in Moby-Dick and Melville's writing.
By the 1930s, despite the generally hard times for the rare book business during the Depression, Melville was well established as a very respectable author to collect. A group of strong collectors pursued Melville and other American writers, building some of the great collections of American literature during these years - such names to conjure with as Carroll A. Wilson, H. Bradley Martin, C. Waller Barrett, and Frank J. Hogan. Even in the depths of 1938 Melville's annotated copy of the Moby-Dick sourcebook, Owen Chase's Narrative, realized $1700 at the Cortland Bishop sale to Hogan's agent, although Moby-Dick itself had dropped back from its 1929 peak of $1000 or more for a fine copy to the mid-three figure range. David Randall, who headed Scribner's rare book department after working for Brick Row, has left us the best record of selling during the '30s and '40s in the chapter on Melville in Dukedom Large Enough. Like all booksellers, but less than most, Randall must be watched for the exaggeration of reminiscence - I rather doubt that the Brick Row Book Shop always had copies of those great, late, rarities, John Marr and Timoleon, in stock, as he recalls, but for the most part his recollections collate with sale catalogues, and Scribner's under Randall was undoubtedly the leading Melville dealer of the period. Much of the Bradley Martin collection came from Randall, as well as key parts of other major collections. After the death of Carroll Wilson, Randall catalogued his Melville collection in the record of Wilson's collecting issued by his widow, 13 Author Collections, and then sold it, mainly to Martin, Barrett, and the Boston collector Parkman Howe. Waller Barrett's books, of course, are now at the University of Virginia. The Hogan books were sold at auction at an unfavorable time - early 1945 - offering the best single group of Melville to appear at public sale until the Bradley Martin sale in 1989.
My own experience as a Melville collector has been in a field already well surveyed by others. At first, I wondered what was left to buy. Great institutions are built with collections of collections, and it is sometimes discouraging for the private collector to contemplate what has gone beyond reach in research libraries, even if one happens to be fond of those libraries. Taking Melville presentation copies as a guide, for instance, one finds that the great bulk of those known are now in institutions. What does that leave for the collector? When I started buying Melville, several friends who are book trade veterans suggested I wouldn't find much new.
The answer is that the collector has the fun of discovering the unknown. Years in the rare book business have convinced me that just at the point someone proclaims nothing new is going to turn up, something great pops out of nowhere. In the last few years, someone found, and sold at Sotheby's for several million dollars, a real Declaration of Independence in a picture frame he paid four dollars for - unfortunately prompting thousands of people with later reproductions to call up me and my colleagues, hoping they are going to strike it rich. Two ladies in California looked in their grandfather's trunk recently and discovered the first half of the manuscript of Huckleberry Finn. Events like this make hope spring eternal for us all.
In my case, my first step in collecting Melville was made in an area where quite a lot has reached the market recently, and hopefully will continue to - books from his library. After Melville's death some of his books remained in the family, and these groups are now largely institutionalized, at The New York Public Library and Harvard. The bulk of his library was sold, however, to a Brooklyn bookseller for $110. No special importance, obviously, was attached to his ownership and they were widely scattered through the trade. Those that were unmarked cannot be recovered, but Melville was a persistent and sometimes copious annotator, and a slow but steady stream of his books from his library have been rediscovered. Merton Sealts, who has painstakingly chronicled all this in successive editions of his Melville's Reading, notes that between 1966 and 1988 the number of surviving books located rose from 247 to 269 - a rate of one a year. Among books in my own collection, such an important and extensively annotated text as his copy of Dante only re-emerged in the last decade, as did Melville's Milton, probably the most thoroughly annotated of his books to come to light. I have succeeded in securing most of the books from Melville's library to come on the market recently. My first Melville purchase was his copy of Macy's History of Nantucket and the Whale-Fishery. I also have a group of volumes of poetry given to relatives, Kearsley's Stranger's Guide...to London signed by both Melville and his father, two volumes of Hazlitt, his set of the works of Abraham Cowley, and several others. I also have a number of volumes which belonged to his older brother, Gansevoort, and may have later been inherited by Herman, most notably Poe's narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.
The history of books from Melville's library in the marketplace has been a strange one. The value and interest of any book, worthless in itself but invested with iconic power and perhaps research value by virtue of marks of ownership or annotations, can be very much a matter of opinion. The high end of this kind of associative magic is Washington's copy of The Federalist, sold at the Bradley Martin sale to an unidentified buyer for almost $1,430,000. (By the way, anyone who can identify the mystery purchaser can get a finder's fee from more than one dealer.) In the case of Melville, most of the really interesting associative books are in the family groups in New York and Cambridge, but the steady trickle of discoveries, including some major books, has seen a very uneven market. The defining event was the first sale of the Milton at Phillips in New York in the early 1980s. The Milton had first appeared in the catalogue of the veteran manuscript dealer, Robert Batchelder, priced, I think, at $27,500. It was bought by a New York manuscript runner (and, more recently, convicted felon), well known in the trade for sharp practices. He consigned it to Phillips, who had a New York gallery at the time, evidently negotiating a very high reserve. Our operator was banking on the known interest of the famous zany collector-cum-cult leader, Haven O'More, then at the height of his buying career. In the event, John Fleming, bidding for O'More, paid $100,000 against the reserve for the Milton. Since it has since emerged that O'More was spending someone else's money, we have a sales figure reflecting unreality all around. When the Milton reappeared in the Garden Library sale in 1990, the bidding quickly resolved itself into a two-way contest between Ximenes, bidding for Princeton, and myself, with Princeton winning at $45,000. At the same sale I bought the annotated Dante, evidently against the reserve, at $20,000.
But, to return to the Milton, its first sale rewrote the marketplace. Suddenly, anyone who had a volume from Melville's library figured it was worth some serious percentage of $100,000. Never mind that the Milton was a major work which had greatly influenced Melville, with wonderful annotations, and they just had a bad book of poems with a titlepage signature. It must be worth $25,000 anyway! For the most part, I've stubbornly refused to go along with these wishful thinkers, and cold reality suggests that, at the moment, I'm the only game in town. I've bought the reasonable ones, but there has been a steady stream of auction buy-ins of over-reserved books from Melville's library. Such is the chaos created in the marketplace by a shrewd speculator and a collector using someone else's money.
At first I thought I would stick to books from Melville's library and avoid collecting his writings, but as I read more of him, my restraint collapsed. The decisive moment came at Ximenes in New York, where I saw and bought The Piazza Tales inscribed by Allan Melville, once the property of the Pforzheimer Foundation. Shortly after that, I was able to buy from my friend, Clarence Wolf, the 1853 remainder issue of The Whale. As some of you may know, Richard Bentley, Melville's publisher for Redburn, Mardi, White Jacket and The Whale, refused to have anything to do with Pierre, and in 1853 remaindered all four, binding up the sheets in single volumes in cheap red cloth with cancel titles. The Whale is the most interesting of these, of course, and is a good deal rarer in this issue than the regular first edition. For whatever reason, the remaindered Redburn turns up with some frequency, and I have it in two different forms of remainder cloth. I also have the remaindered White Jacket, which I got from Rob Rulon-Miller. The remaindered Mardi has so far alluded me, as has an English Mardi in original cloth.
For the most part, it is the English editions of Melville which present complications for the collector. Nice copies of all of the four Bentley titles in original cloth are difficult to find - in the case of Mardi, impossible, so far. All that stands between me and the cream and gold spines of a Whale in original cloth is the price, pushed up to the $100,000 range in the Martin and Gorden sales, and held there by some of the rasher members of the trade. A nice but rebound one is still a fraction of that; however, probably the most difficult of English editions are those of Piazza Tales and The Confidence Man. Piazza Tales is actually the American sheets with a cancel title, and it is sufficiently rare that Carroll Wilson, no less, doubted its existence. My copy came from the Hermitage Book Shop in Denver. The English Confidence Man is an entirely English setting of type, and was issued by Longman, Brown, Green and Longman's on the basis of a contract negotiated for Melville by Hawthorne, who by then was American consul in Liverpool. My copy came from the great Melville scholar, Merton Sealts.
A collection of American Melville can be formed without great difficulty, excepting the first two books in wrappers and the final two books of poems. These famous black tulips, Timoleon and John Marr, were issued by Melville in editions of twenty-five copies each, just before his death in 1891. Both came up at the Martin sale, and they were my prime desiderata. In the event I got both of them at very reasonably prices, thanks in large measure, I think, to the widespread knowledge in the trade that I wanted them for my own collection, and a good deal of collegial forbearance as a result. Even this would not have saved me if Maurice Sendak, who bought many of the other Martin copies, had decided to pursue these, but he unaccountably did not. At the time of the sale I did not know Sendak, except of course by reputation, but the next year we got to know each other personally and had a convivial Melvillian lunch and gam, in which he confessed to me that he had not realized the rarity of the two, and wished the sale could be rerun. This kind of confession is of course music to a collector's ears, and while I wish Maurice the best of luck as a Melville collector, I don't wish him that.
As I suggested earlier, association copies of Melville's works have always been great rarities and are almost entirely in institutions now - many of them here in the Barrett collection, in fact. I have two: the previously mentioned Hawthorne copy of Redburn, which is an inferential presentation copy, in that we know Melville gave Hawthorne a copy via Harper's, this is inscribed by Hawthorne, and Melville's calling card is affixed to the front pastedown. My other is the Typee inscribed to Henry Smythe which I mentioned earlier. This volume has an interesting history. It was discovered in Brooklyn and put up for auction at Darvick's in New York, a gallery more associated with baseball cards than literature. There it was purchased by the same operator who put up the annotated Milton. In fact, given the time frame, he probably bought the book with the profits from that piece work. He kept it for several years. In the meantime, his main occupation lay in American historical manuscripts. He obtained from one of Jimmy Carter's secretaries a large group of Carter manuscript material, all of which she had illicitly fished out of the trash can. This group of rather hot presidential material he sold to a real estate developer who collected manuscripts, for $100,000 or so. In due course, our operator got a call from a Los Angeles collector who claimed to be particularly interested in Carter manuscripts. Going back to his original buyer, the operator persuaded the developer to resell the letters, telling him that they would realize a modest profit over the original $100,000. In fact, he was offering them to the Los Angeles buyer at $250,000. The operator flew out to L.A. with the manuscripts, where he was picked up at the airport by the customer's limo and whisked to a posh office in Beverly Hills. The prospective buyer looked them over, indicated great enthusiasm for the material, and asked for confirmation that they were for sale. When our operator assured him they were and repeated the price, WHAM! The room filled up with Secret Service agents. It's a federal crime to steal a president's papers, even those of a former president, and the secretary had been caught and spilled the beans to save herself. Our operator had fallen victim to a sting.
When the real estate developer found out the whole story, including the disparity in profit margin, he was understandably unhappy. Since the chances of the operator paying him back his original $100,000 were small, and the papers were in the hands of the Secret Service, he demanded stock in trade. And so, the Typee, when I heard about it, was in the hands of a man who didn't know Melville from the man in the moon. He first knew that it represented a quarter of his money out of pocket. We quickly concluded a transaction, mutually agreeable, and I got the Typee. The operator got a little over a year, with time off for good behavior.
Collecting Melville manuscripts or letters is just about impossible. The largest collection by far was the Bradley Martin collection, but here the arrangement of the sale and other factors were a handicap. First was my concern for John Marr and Timoleon, which came up first, in the event I got them for far less than I was prepared to pay. But I was also interested in Melville's Bible, the last Melville lot, after the manuscripts, and so I needed to reserve funds for that. In the event, I underbid it. The best letters, Melville's correspondence with Richard Bentley, was lotted as one group, which I knew I could not afford in any event. As the sale neared, it became clear that two different groups of dealers were going to attempt to buy the letters and then market them individually. My best chance to secure some good letters, therefore, was to join one of those consortiums and then negotiate my share in letters. In fact, I was invited by both blocs to join their team. I joined the wrong one. As it turned out, both groups posited a top bid of $150,000. In the event, the bid was against us and we underbid. Such are the vagaries of auctions. I did buy two individual letters and have privately acquired another since then.
I have had more luck with the Melville family than Herman himself when it comes to manuscripts. I've been able to acquire a number of manuscripts relating to his relatives, including a memorandum by his sister, Augusta, on family excursions in the summer of 1852, which illuminates some obscure biographical points; other family correspondence in which Herman is mentioned; his father's manuscript exercise book from 1796; and some of his father's business papers. All of this might seem far afield, but it is all fodder for devoted Melvillians. Recently I was able to add a collection of prints which had belonged to Melville. These will be published in an upcoming Harvard Library Bulletin. While few of the prints are very notable, it does tell us a good deal about his interests in visual material, something of considerable scholarly investigation, these days.
Finally, and less expensively, there is the vast literature of Melville studies and Melville enthusiasm, ranging from the biographical and critical works, to Rockwell Kent plates and comic book versions of Moby-Dick. I even have the movie poster for the Ray Bradbury and John Huston adaptation of Moby-Dick.
One of the pleasures of collecting Melville has been getting to know the scholarly community who study him, a pleasantly obsessed group of people. I am fortunate in having sufficient material of interest that they want to come see me - running a very small private research library is one of the most enjoyable aspects of book collecting. Although I now have all Melville's works in first editions, numerous collecting opportunities still beckon. No doubt books from Melville's library will continue to turn up. I am particularly interested in finding other editions besides the first, since this gives a picture of how Melville was read by other cultures and readers not contemporary with his first appearances in print. I know of such interesting printings as the first German editions of Typee and Omoo, which appeared shortly after the English ones, but I have never seen them available for sale. The secondary literature provides a happy playground for years. And then one can always contemplate something really big - the actual dedication copy to Hawthorne of Moby-Dick, or even the manuscript of one of the books. After all, it was not long ago that The New York Public Library was able to acquire the only surviving part of the manuscript of Typee, along with a number of important letters. As Melville wrote to Hawthorne, "As long as we have anything more to do, we have done nothing...Leviathan is not the biggest fish;- I have heard of Krakens."
This article first appeared in The Gazette of the Grolier Club in 1993. Copyright © 1993 by William S. Reese. No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without the express written permission of the author.