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Art Shop Spotlight: Moby-Dick (First American Edition)

Art Shop Spotlight showcases the weird, wonderful, and different in More Moe's on the fourth floor.

This week: Moby-Dick, First American Edition (1851)

The 166th anniversary of the original publication of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick is coming up, so what better time to share one of the more interesting things to come through the upstairs rare book room at Moe's.

Last week, we acquired on consignment a copy of the first American edition of Moby-Dick, published in 1851, and worth $22,500. If you're not familiar with the world of rare and valuable books, that price might blow your mind. But there's a reason it's in such demand. In the 50 years Moe's has been dealing with rare books, we have never seen one of these. 

The background of the book gives some insight as to its value. In 1851, it was customary for authors in the United States to send their manuscripts to the publishing houses in London. Melville did the same, but unbeknownst to him, the British publisher, Bentley, made significant changes before the book went to print. He removed or changed passages he felt were offensive, and omitted the very last page-- an epilogue that gives information vital to the plot. As a result, the book received some bad press, with reviewers saying that the book didn't make sense. As it is the first complete edition, the first American edition, though chronologically slightly later than the first British edition, is more valuable. Not to mention it came in a more portable single volume, to the British version's three volumes.

Harper published about 3,000 copies of this first edition in 1851; all but 300 had sold in 1853 when there was a fire in the warehouse, reducing the remaining number of copies to 60. The book itself has brick-red endpapers, which is unusual for the time and publisher. The book is also dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne, a neighbor of Melville's who was, at the time, less of the literary giant he is known to be today.

The official description of this book as written by John Wong, our rare book expert, is below: 

We're excited to share this amazing book with you!

And, just for fun, here are some of the original 1851 reviews of Moby-Dick.