02 December 2007

Mark Twain. Huckleberry Finn, 1885.

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

Current Selling Prices
$13000 - $20000 / £6500 - £10000

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 also the word 'was' for 'saw' at page 57. 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.') A first state copy in superior condition made $33,000 in 2003 ( "A splendid, well-preserved copy.") Most very high records are reserved for signed presentations from the author. The great L.A. dealer Biblioctupus forked out $85,000 in 1988 for a presentation copy from Twain to his wife dated Christmas 1884, also signed again on front pastedown. Fittingly it was the Doheny copy - among the points noted was that the engraving of Silas Phelps's trousers fly was in original state with "definite curve". Much is made of the bulge or lack of it in Silas's trousers and it was later replaced with a straight vertical flat fly. A question of decency. Twain's own signed copy came to auction in 2005 making circa $100K in the original publishers sheep binding. These have generally not lasted well - this one was chipped & cracked along joints & extremities. It can also be found in original three-quarter leather. Webster bound up 500 copies thus and 2500 in sheep.

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. Last word on Twain--I recall that when he was hanging out with the cannibals (to write an article) 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.

1 comment:

James Mc. said...

A nice 1st/1st on Ebay right now (ending today) has been bid up to $2100, same book was bid up to $2050 recently but failed to make reserve:


There was also a battered copy that sold a few weeks ago on EBay for $686, seems like the market may be a bit soft for this book at present.