RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
16 March 2007
The Age of Innocence. Edith Wharton, 1920.
Edith Wharton. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. Appleton, NY 1920.
Current Selling Prices
AMERICAN CLASSIC FICTION
A masterpiece set among New York's elite of the 1870s - 'The Gilded Age'. Well filmed in 1993 in the Visconti style by Scorsese who plays up the gilt and opulence. In 1924, a silent film version was released by Warner Brothers, directed by Wesley Ruggles, and starring Beverly Bayne and Elliott Dexter. In 1934 a talkie came out from RKO (1934) that starred Irene Dunne and John Boles. Still read, even by kids of the ringtone generation.
Her first publication was Verses (1878), a book of poems privately printed in Newport, Rhode Island when she was sixteen and known in her family as 'Pussy.' Please offer all copies to moi - it's very valuable. The clue is it doesn't say Wharton on the title page -she was then Edith Newbold Jones. Vita Sackville West produced a similarly scarce volume (Chatterton) privately printed in 1909 when she was 16, that is also rather valuable but not in the same league as Edith. Author's first books are a rich and fascinating collecting field - often negligible in themselves and sometimes anonymous or pseudonymous or written under a maiden name they can be true 'sleepers', not all of which can be awoken.
Like her close comrade 'The Master' (Henry James) Edith Wharton plays with themes of innocence and experience, old decadent Europe and innocent America, themes that launched a 1000 dissertations - 'From Countess Olenska to Humbert Humbert' etc., [Want level 25-50 Highish}
VALUE? Nice copies sans jacket can occasionally be had for circa $800, with a jacket it gets a bit more serious. 1920 is the cut off point for jackets in some guides (i.e. they are not assumed to be there before that, pretty much my assumption too.) Jackets in fact have been around since 1830, but not on every book, by the 1870s they were ubiquitous but usually unillustrated.
The copy shown at the venerable Wikipedia described as a first is in fact a reprint from Grosset and Dunlap, with very few exceptions Grosset didn't 'do' first editions. A decent citizen should change it. Like many Appleton firsts this book must have a  after the end of the text in the book. The jacket should have no mention of the Columbia (Pulitzer) Prize. It can often be found placed in an early jacket as it sold 66,000 copies within the first year.
In 2002 at auction a copy in a jacket made $9000 with a few repairs and slight dampstaining. Between the Covers had a copy in a fab jacket in their Catalogue 61 a while back and sold it, possibly for more than this record, I have no details but there prices are invariably serious. A copy at circa $2000 in a worn jacket listed late in 2006 appears to have sold.
The Arion Press, San Francisco, 2004 photo illustrated and limited edition is desirable and worth circa $800 - "Truly a thing of beauty" according to Forbes magazine. Look out also for a facsimile jacketed issue (in slip-case) by the First Editions Library (1990ish) almost indistinguishable from the 1920 first but unnaturally fine. An LEC 1973 edition of 2000 copies signed by the illustrator, Lawrence Beall Smith can be had for $100 and change. A slightly unpleasant leathery Easton edition about the same.
You can also get audio tapes, CDS, Videos and DVDs, there are even copies around signed by Scorsese. To my mind 'House of Mirth' was a better movie with the wonderful X files woman Gillian Anderson. Lastly - a decent copy made $25 in 1968 in a jacket. Like Janeway says '.. this isn't an exact science.'