06 February 2007

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 1885.

Have been away from my desk attending the sale of the books of a 1930s society person who seems to have known everybody including Lord Berners, Robert Byron and Paddy Leigh Fermor - I got some good things, which will appear in a pretentious catalogue come April. The auction was in Essex and they didn't take cheques. My remark that there must be a lot of villains in the area didn't go down too well. Credit cards or cash only. Today's book is by the great Twain. I recall that when he was hanging out with the cannibals he said something like 'I suppose you would like to eat me too' and was politely informed that the flesh of a heavy smoker and drinker was unpalatable to them.

Mark Twain. ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Charles Webster, New York, 1885.

Current Selling Prices
$13000 - $18000 / £6500 - £9000 Want level 50 - 75 High

Enduring US classic, up there with Moby Dick, Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Scarlet Woman. Hemingway, not necessarily reliable as a guide, opined: "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 as good since." Quite a high print run so not especially scarce and there are points to determine early states of the first edition, the most obvious of which are that the title page and page 283/4 are cancels (i.e. page has been replaced on a stub) and that at page 155, the final 5 is slightly dropped, or slightly bigger or entirely absent. Much argument about that five depending on which copy the dealer is attempting to sell. There are other points and a good deal of literary detection has gone into them, precedence is now fairly clearly established. Talking of which the 1884 British edition precedes the American by 4 months but is worth less -- presumably under the rules of 'follow the flag' (i.e. prefer the edition from the author's country.)

VALUE? The UK first is worth about a third of the US, but serious collectors like to have both. There is the story of the dealer who bought a copy privately lacking the front endpaper, when he remarked on this to the seller the chap said 'Yeah that had to go, some guy called Clemens wrote his name on it.' (An old chestnut-- sometimes it's Alice and 'some guy called Dodgson.') There are facsimiles of the first that occasionally turn up online with persons trying to sell them as the real thing; the first clue that something is wrong is that they are in unnaturally fine condition with bright white fore edges, don't be fooled.

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