10 March 2007

Moby Dick. Herman Melville, 1851.

"It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me. But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught."

Herman Melville. MOBY DICK; OR, THE WHALE. Harper Brothers, NY, 1851.

Current Selling Prices
$20000+/ £12000+

A masterpiece. The greatest American novel (so far) and still read by schoolchildren although they now find it hard, I'm told. Admired by Jung, Van Doren, John Bonham, Malcolm Lowry and T.E. Lawrence among others. One of the few books that bucks the 'follow the flag' rules, the UK which precedes by 1 month - a 3 volume novel entitled 'The Whale'- is worth more than the single volume 1851 New York edition. The NY edition/ first state is in blue cloth and contains circa 35 passages expurgated from the UK ed.

Many of the 3000 copies of the US first were lost in a warehouse fire making the book scarcer than the print run would suggest, however even in his lifetime not all the remaining copies sold and Melville earned less than $600 for it. The novel was received glumly bringing him neither money or acclaim. When he died 40 years later there was only one obituary notice. Sic transit gloria mundi. [Want level 50 - 75 High}

VALUE? A mate in the trade found a copy of the 3 volume 'The Whale' at a book fair in the 1970s for 20 quid. Not wishing to alarm or alert the seller he demanded his 10% discount, paid and walked away with the book, now worth say 40 grand - an ex library copy has made over £30K. An inscribed copy to a shipmate with annotation by Melville made $60K in 1977 when the dollar was strong. If offered today it would probably go mental, postal, ballistic and through the roof. Regular copies of the US first are being offered as we speak at between $20K and $75K.

There is a good LEC 1943 edition illustrated and signed by Boardman Robinson that can go for about $500 in very nice state, also an Artist's Limited Edition (1975) signed by Jacques Cousteau and Leroy Neiman goes for about $700 and the famous 1930 Rockwell Kent illustrated edition from 1930. This manifests in an aircraft aluminum tin in 3 vols signed by Kent and can sell for north of $8000. Note the tin does not fare well and can affect the book, according to one witty seller it 'has a tendency to get knocked about and scratched and ends up looking likely a badly treated biscuit tin.'

The summum bonum of signed illustrated editions is the Arion Press 1979 edition with 100 wood engravings by Barry Moser (see below.) Only 250 for sale. It can breast $10000 in its sumptuous blue leather binding - the Grolier Club named it one of the 100 most beautiful books of the twentieth century.

[Note on the illustration above: The Voyage of the Pequod - was part of a calendar of literary maps printed by the Harris-Seybold Company of Cleveland in the 1950s to advertise the capabilities of the company's lithographic printing equipment. The Illustrator Everett Henry was a well-known New York commercial artist also noted for his mural paintings...]

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