Saturday, January 22, 2022

Twenty Years of Collecting and Writing About The Early Editions of William Strunk's Little Book, The Elements of Style

My Copies of the Early Editions of The Elements of Style 
Top Row: 1919 1919 1920 1920 1920 1920 
Bottom Row: 1934 1934 1934 1936 c1940s c1940s

On any given day, there are over a thousand copies of The Elements of Style listed for sale on the web.  Most of these copies are Strunk/White Editions, which were first published in 1959.  Less than twenty of the  thousand copies for sale are copies of pre-1959 Strunk Editions.    

On Wednesday, January 19, 2022, there were seven copies of pre-1959 editions, the early editions of The Elements of Style, listed for sale on AbeBooks alone.  Four of them were copies of the 1920 Harcourt, Brace and Company First Trade Edition.  They were priced from $800 to $1,000.  One copy was a copy of the 1934 Revised Edition.  It was priced at $400.  Two were copies of the circa 1940s Thrift Press Edition.  They were priced at $200 and $400 respectively.  These copies of early editions of The Elements of Style are what I have been collecting and writing about for twenty years.  And for twenty years, I have been periodically checking Abebooks, other book search engines, and eBay for copies of these early editions

The Elements of Style is the book by William Strunk, Jr. that E. B. White made famous. He wrote about Strunk and the 1918 Edition of Strunk's little book in an article for The New Yorker in 1957.  Jack Case, an editor for the Macmillan publishing firm, read White's article, and convinced him to update Strunk's book for publication.  Macmillan published the first of several Strunk/White Editions of The Elements of Style in 1959.  Over ten million copies of The Elements of Style have been sold.   I bought my first copy of The Elements of Style in the 1960s while attending high school.  It was a Strunk/White Edition, and it cost me 95 cents.

I bought my first copy of an early edition of The Elements of Style in March 2001, and it cost me $35.

  I was searching eBay for a copy of the 1918 First Edition when I came across an undated Thrift Press Edition.  Wendell Smith, the eBay seller,  had me convinced that I was buying the 1918 Edition of Strunk's little book.  In his listing he wrote:

Preceeds (sic) the 1920 Harcourt Edition. This is the little book that E. B. White revised.  He used this booklet in William Strunk's English class at Cornell University in 1919.  It had been privately printed by Prof. Strunk.  This copy I am listing was assigned to me at Cornell in the early 1940s.  In 1959, Macmillan brought out The Elements of Style with revisions, an introduction, and a chapter on writing by E. B. White, and listed him as co-author.  Strunk's booklet has seven chapters.  Two of them, one on Spelling and one on Exercises, are not included in White's version....

I knew nothing about a 1920 Harcourt Edition.  And I soon learned that I knew even less about the 1918 Edition.  But two months later, on May 12, 2001,  I won an auction for a 1920 Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition.  

And for the first time, on rec.collecting.books, an unmoderated UseNet newsgroup dedicated to book collecting, I wrote about collecting copies of The Elements of Style. While researching the web for information about this Harcourt, Brace Edition, I stumbled upon an online copy of the 1918 Edition on the Bartleby website.  The front matter of the book said that it was privately printed in Ithaca, New York in 1918.  But the printer was identified as the Press of W. P. Humphrey, Geneva, New York.  That meant that my Thrift Press Edition was not the 1918 First Edition.  In retrospect, I should have realized that the Thrift Press Edition wasn't the first edition.  On the title page, the author is listed as "William Strunk, Jr. Professor of English, Emeritus, Cornell University." The word Emeritus is the key word. Strunk retired in 1937, so the earliest year this book could have been published was 1937.  On its website, Cornell listed the date of publication as 1958.  But the former owner of my copy said he used it at Cornell in the early 1940s.  I would need to do further research to verify what he said.

In August, 2002, I won an eBay auction for a 1934 Revised Edition of The Elements of Style. 

 Edward A. Tenney, another English instructor at Cornell, was listed as an author of the book as well.  It had been over fifteen years since the publication of the 1918 Edition, and the little book was in need of revision.    This edition is the last edition that we can say with confidence that Strunk revised.  And revise it, Strunk and Tenney did.

On Monday, September 15, 2003,  I performed one of my periodic checks  on the web for early editions of The Elements of Style.  Listed on Abebooks was a 1918 Edition of The Elements of Style.   And the price was $185!  I bid on it in a New York minute.  The seller responded that the book was no longer available.  He sold it at the Rochester Antiquarian Book Fair that weekend.  The AbeBooks seller didn't mention it in his listing, but I would soon learn that the book was reportedly a proof copy, with additions and corrections for publication of another edition in 1919.

I knew the bookseller who bought the book at the book fair: Bob Riedel, proprietor of Print Matters! Used and Rare Books, in Dansville, New York.  Bob was a member of an online newsgroup I belonged to,  rec.collecting.books.  Bob queried the group on September 29th, asking for information on recent sales of the 1918 Edition. But no one had any information of recent sales.  In fact,  there were no listings of sales of the 1918 Edition of The Elements of Style in the Cumulative American Book Prices Current up to 2001.  A few weeks later, Bob listed the book online for $5,000!  That was too expensive for me.  He found a buyer in early 2004, Madeline Kripke, the Dame of Dictionaries.   I wrote Madeline and congratulated her on acquiring Strunk's little book.

From November 1999 to January 2007, I displayed and wrote about my book collections on WebTV websites that I had created.  This is what my Elements of Style Collection looked like as of October 2004.

My Elements of Style Collection

Strunk, William Jr. and White, E.B. THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

I LOVE THIS BOOK! It's the best little book on the use of English. I have three copies of the hardback (first Macmillan printing ) which was published in 1959. The paperback editions are 1967 and 1979; both also published by Macmillan in New York. See the next listings for the earlier editions of Strunk's Elements of Style sans E.B. White. 

Strunk, William Jr. THE ELEMENTS OF STYLENew York, 1920. Harcourt, Brace and Company. As of October, 2004, I have four copies. This edition is what is known as the First Trade Edition, following the private printing by Strunk in 1918 in Ithaca, New York. This edition consists of 52 pages versus the 43 pages of the 1918 Edition. See the next listing for an on line link to the 1918 Edition. 


Ithaca, New York, n.d. (c.1940) The Thrift Press. I bought this little treasure for $35 on eBay in March 2001, believing this book to be the coveted 1918 Edition. I shall copy the words the seller used to describe the book in his ebay listing: "....Preceeds (sic) the Harcourt Edition of 1920. This is the 'little book' that E.B. White revised. He used this booklet in William Strunk's English Class at Cornell University in 1919. It had been privately printed by Prof. Strunk. This copy I am listing was assigned to me at Cornell in the early 1940s. In 1959, Macmillan brought out 'The Elements of Style' with revisions, an introduction, and a chapter on writing by E.B. White, and listed him as co-author. Strunk's booklet has seven chapters. Two of them, one on Spelling and one with Exercises are not included in White's version...Former owner's name on t.p

I discovered that the Thrift Press did not publish the 1918 Edition the very morning I won the bid for the 1920 Edition. I stumbled upon the Bartleby link which shows that the 1918 edition was privately printed by W.P.Humphrey, Geneva, New York.

In retrospect, I should have realized that the Thrift Press did not publish the 1918 edition as soon as I looked at the title page:
The key word is "emeritus", a title given to retired professors. Strunk retired in 1937!
The only other difference in the printing of this edition from the 1920 edition is in the Introduction; the list of books recommended for further reference and study was revised. Both editions consist of 52 pages, including the chapters on Spelling and Exercises.

The 1918 Edition, on the other hand, does not include the two chapters on Spelling and Exercises. In addtion, the rules concerning Syllabication are included in The Elementary Rules of Usage Section, instead of in the section titled, A Few Matters of Form.
More news! There is another Harcourt Edition to procure. In 1934 and 1935 William Strunk co-authored revised editions with Edward A. Tenney, another Cornell University instructor, changing the title of the 1935 edition to The Elements and Practice of Composition. Cornell University has this edition listed online as well as the 1918 and 1920 Editions. Cornell has the undated Thrift Press Edition listed as well, but with a circa date of 1958. Thrift Press was in business from the 1930s on, which supports the ebay seller's statement that he used the book when he attended Cornell in the 1940s. 

Strunk, William Jr., and Tenney, Edward A. THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

New York, c.1934. Harcourt, Brace and Company. Revised Edition. No date on title page but copyright 1934(1920). I don't believe this publisher would put the date on the title page because it is a "revised edition". Revise it they did, changing the format and titles of each Chapter: Chapter I. The Three Prerequisites of Writing. 1.Spelling 2.Grammar 3. Punctuation. Chapter II. Essay Writing. 1.How to Write a Short Essay. 2. Miscellaneous Conventions to be Observed. III. The Three Elements of Style. 1.Principles Governing the Paragraph. 2. Effective Sentences 3. Diction. IV. Two Devices to Promote Effective Writing. 1. The Precis†2. The Paraphrase. V. The Business Letter.
And finally, in an unnumbered section, A Short List of Reference Books.

It is interesting that in 1959, E.B. White reverted to the original format of chapter headings from the 1920 Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition, except for replacing the chapter on Spelling. 

The copyright information in the 1959 edition is confusing:

The Elements of Style, Revised Edition, by William Strunk, Jr. and Edward A. Tenney, Copyright 1935 by Oliver Strunk.

To the best of my knowledge, the title of the 1935 edition was changed to The Elements and Practice of Composition. Both the Library of Congress and Cornell University list the changed title. The LOC listing adds that the 1935 edition is an enlargement of Strunk's Elements of Style and includes 48 practice leaves at the end (which are not included in the 1934 edition). 


The most I paid for an early edition of The Elements of Style from 2001 to 2004 was $50.  But after Bob Riedel sold his copy of the 1918 edition, prices for all of the early  editions went through the roof.  For the next few years early editions of The Elements of Style were listed from $75 to $350.   I bought a second copy of the 1934 edition on eBay for $75 in 2005, and that was it.

In October 2006, a 1919 edition of The Elements of Style was listed on eBay for less than $200.  But I couldn't bid on it. I started having heart problems in 2004, and had three stents inserted in my arteries.  By 2006, I had nine stents in my arteries.   My cardiologist put me on a twenty-pound lifting limit. A tray of mail weighs more than twenty pounds.  That meant I could no longer perform my duties as a rural carrier for the Post Office.  A Man of Letters I could no longer be!  I applied for disability retirement.  But it wasn't approved until 2007.  We survived the year because we had excellent credit, and because I sold more than a few of my books. Needless to say, I didn't buy any early editions of The Elements of Style for a while. 

On May 22, 2007,  I was contacted by a person who, for identification purposes, shall be known as the "Professor of History." He had read a December 2006 post of mine about my Elements of Style Collection on the Exlibris listserv and thought I could help him.  He bought a stack of books and maps from someone's trip to Japan at a yard sale.  Included in the stack of books was a copy of the 1918 edition of The Elements of Style.   He wanted to know what his copy of the 1918 edition of The Elements of Style was worth.   

I told him about the sale of the Riedel copy and about the current listings of other early editions of The Elements of Style. I thought the prices of copies of the early editions were gradually receding.  In February 2007, a Thrift Press edition sold on eBay for $18.50.   And a 1920 Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition listed on eBay in April for $75 did not sell.  I informed him that I was in no position to purchase the book myself, but would help him find a buyer when the time was right, and if he was ready to sell. 

On May 19, 2009, I decided to display My Elements of Style Collection on my Biblio Researching blog. In the post,  I discussed some of the revisions for each edition.  I revised the post the very next week to include a new addition to the collection.  I revised it again the next month to include yet another addition.  I continued to revise the post every time I added a new addition to the collection.  Finally, in December, 2012, I made my last revision to the post.  But I continued collecting....

My finances were in better shape in the Spring of 2009, and I was back to adding to my Elements of Style collection.  On the 27th of May, I purchased a 1936 Edition of The Elements and Practice of Composition on Amazon for $4.95.  This is the only copy of this edition that I have seen in twenty years of collecting. 

 In 1934, Tenney  provided practice leaves that students were required to purchase in addition to acquiring a copy of the 1934 Edition.  The practice leaves were included in the 1935 and 1936 editions, and the title of the book was changed to The Elements and Practice of Composition.  Interestingly, the copyright for the practice leaves was in Tenney's name only.  Both Strunk and Tenney held the copyright for the 1934, 1935, and 1936 Editions.   Strunk and Tenney were listed as the authors for the 1935 and 1936 Editions, but Strunk was in Hollywood as the technical advisor for George Cukor's production of Romeo and Juliet from July 1935 to June 1936.  The copyright date of the 1935 Edition was 17 September, 1935.  That's why I believe that Tenney was responsible for most or all of the revisions.   And revise it, he did.  Even though Strunk may not have been involved in the revisions, his name is listed as one of the authors, and these editions have to be considered as early editions of The Elements of Style.

On the 23rd of June, 2009,  I won an eBay auction for a 1919 Edition of The Elements of Style.  I don't have a record of sale anymore, but I may have bid as high as $125 for the pamphlet. 

 When I first opened the book, I made a bibliographical discovery!  The Press of W. F. Humphrey Geneva, N. Y. was listed as the printer of the 1919 Edition.  I thought it had to be a typo because the records at the Library of Congress and everywhere else identify the Press of W. P. Humphrey, Geneva, N. Y. as the printer of the 1918 and 1919 editions.  It wasn't a typo.  It was a broken typeface that was used in the 1918 Edition, and everyone, including E B. White, believed the printer of the 1918 edition to be W. P. Humphrey.

I spent the summer researching the printing firms of W. P. Humphrey and W. F. Humphrey.  There was no record of the Press of W. P. Humphrey operating in Geneva, New York.  I even had the archivist of the Geneva Historical Society verify that the Press of W. P. Humphrey did not exist in Geneva, New York.  I contacted the librarians at the Kroch Library, Cornell University, reported my findings, and asked them to examine their copies of the 1918 and 1919 Editions of The Elements of Style.  Patrick J. Stevens, Curator of the Fiske Collections at the library, examined the printing statements of both editions.  I reported our findings in a paper that I submitted to the Library of Congress on September 21, 2009.  and I posted the paper,  A Correction to the Copyright and Bibliographic Records of The Element of Style on my Biblio Researching blog.  The Library of Congress corrected its records on September 28, 2009.

The year 2009 was the fiftieth anniversary of the 1959  Strunk and White Edition of The Elements  of Style.   To celebrate the anniversary, in October, 2009, Simon and Schuster published Mark Garvey's book, Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style.    I was disappointed in the book.  I expected  the author, Mark Garvey, to provide more information about the early editions of The Elements of Style.  One  edition, the Thrift Press Edition, wasn't even mentioned in the book.  For months I stewed and stewed about writing my review of the book.  Finally, on April 9, 2010, I posted my review on my Biblio Researching blog.  I titled it, Stylized and the Forgotten Edition of Strunk's Elements of Style.  In retrospect,  Garvey was on the money in devoting his book to the Strunk/White editions.   Those are the editions that most of the ten million buyers of the book bought, and what they wanted to read about.  Not the early editions.

On December 18, 2009, I purchased a copy of the 1934 Revised Edition of The Elements of Style from an AbeBooks Dealer in Cambridge, Ma. for $75. I now had three copies of this revised edition.

Price listings of the early editions of The Elements of Style were beginning to rise again in 2010.  There was also an edition of The Elements of Style that I didn't even know about.  I'll have more on that shortly.  In November, 2010, I contacted the Professor of History, and suggested that it might be time for him to sell his copy of The Elements of Style.   Earlier in the year an eBay seller listed a copy of the Harcourt, Brace and Company edition for $1500.  Better World Books listed a copy of the 1920 Harcourt, Brace, and Howe Edition on Biblio for $1,140.  Royal Books listed a copy of the  Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition for $2,250.  The firm later included this edition in a sale listing also containing the 1919, 1920, and circa 1945 Editions.  The price?  $6,250!   Kevin Johnson, proprietor of Royal Books, recalls selling the books straightaway.

Courtesy of Royal Books

Courtesy of Royal Books

The Professor of History, received several offers from booksellers; but $1,500 was the highest offer he received.  He couldn't understand why his 1918 edition wasn't worth more than the 1920 Harcourt, Brace and Howe Edition.  I pointed out that the Harcourt, Brace and Howe Edition was just as rare as the 1918 Edition.   As a side note, I wasn't aware that there was a Harcourt, Brace, and Howe Edition until I viewed the edition in the Royal Books listing.  And that compelled me to research the firm.  Harcourt, Brace and Howe received its copyright of the 1920 edition of The Elements of Style on September 18, 1920.  Will D. Howe left the firm less than six months later,  some time between January and March of 1921.  By the 10th of March,  the firm had  a new name for its company, and a different colophon to print on its publications.

In January 2011, the Professor of History decided to sell his copy of the 1918 Edition to the University of Iowa.  And for a bit more than $1,500.  He realized he could have gotten even more from several other universities that showed interest, but he was impressed with the university's writing programs, and that Iowa City was recently designated as a "City of Literature" by UNESCO.  To update and close out my reporting of his copy, I contacted him on January 7, 2022. I asked him how much he received for his copy of the 1918 edition, and how he would like to be identified in my post.  He responded that he received $2,000 for his copy of the 1918 edition, and that I could identify him by his current position, Professor of History, Austin Peay State University.  

Sometimes, eBay auctions fall through the cracks, and hardly anyone bids on the items up for sale. On April 23, 2012, I was the only bidder on an eBay auction for a Thrift Press Edition. I snagged it for ninety-nine cents!   

But usually, the prices of the early editions continued to remain high.  In November 2014,  Honey & Wax sold a 1920 Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition for $1275. 

On November 24, 2014, I published my post, The Early Editions of The Elements of Style.  I began the post with Toni Morrison's quotation, "If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it yourself."  I thought the early editions of The Elements of Style had some of the worst bibliographical records.  I planned to write the definitive book on The Elements of Style in 1918, the one hundredth anniversary of Strunk's little book.  But first I had to nail down the actual publication date of the Thrift Press Edition.  I was able to verify that Wendell Smith indeed used his Thrift Press Edition while attending classes at Cornell University in the 1940s.  And I included it in this post about the early editions.  But I couldn't identify when the Thrift Press Edition was first published.  To find that out, I needed to go to Ithaca to find and research the archives of the Thrift Press.  

Around the middle of July in 2015,  I noticed a a significant uptick in the number of pageviews of my blog posts about my  Elements of Style Collection.  I found the source!  In an article in The Daily Beast on July 12, 2015, Mark Dery cited me as "a devout Strunkian who collects editions of Elements...."

On August 29, 2018, I won an eBay auction for my second copy of a 1919 Edition.  The paper covers were barely attached, but I expected to pay more than the $100 I paid for the pamphlet.   Copies of the 1920 Harcourt, Brace and Company First Trade Edition were still going for around $1,000, and the 1919 edition should have been worth more.

On December 20, 2018,  I created a new blog,  A Bibliographic Handlist of the Early Editions of The Elements of Style.   Why?  Because I never made it to Ithaca,  never wrote my book, and thought I needed to publish something about the early editions!

In February 2018, a woman from Georgia contacted me.  She had bought a box of old books at an auction in Pembroke, Georgia.  One of the books in the box was a copy of the 1918 Edition of The Elements of Style. 

She had read one of my posts online, and wanted to know what the current value of her copy of the book was.   I responded that the book was worth how much a buyer was willing to pay for it.  And how much a seller was willing to sell it for.  I told her how much the book was worth to me, and how much I was willing to pay for it.  But she was still enjoying having the book herself, and wasn't ready to sell.  As of January 2022, she still is enjoying having the book herself. :-(

I mentioned the Georgia woman's copy of the book in a March 20, 2018 post to My Sentimental Library blog, Another One That Got Away, One I Gave Away, and One That Headed My Way; Or, The Adventures and Misadventures of MoiBibliomaniac. I also gave a rundown of the other two copies of The Elements of Style that I wasn't able to buy, The Riedel Copy that Madeline Kripke acquired, and the copy belonging to the Professor of History.  I had been periodically corresponding with Madeline Kripke since 2004, and in 2018  I finally learned the true facts about her purchase of the 1918 Edition.  I thought she paid five grand for it.  She paid three grand.  I thought the book was a proof copy with corrections for publication in a 1919 Edition.  It was the proofs of the original 1918 edition.  Strunk's original manuscript was lost, so this proof copy was the earliest known state of the book.  And in this same post, I announced that the Professor of History sold his copy of the 1918 Edition to the University of Iowa.

On April 30, 2020,  I read an obituary in The New York Times that left me reeling.  On April 25, 2020, the coronavirus claimed the life of my friend Madeline Kripke!  I posted a tribute to her on the 5t of May, Defining Madeline Kripke: A Remembrance.  This post contains a week's worth of correspondence with Madeline in March, 2018, mostly about her copy of The Elements of Style. 

On a good note, in October, 2021, The Lilly Library acquired the Madeline Kripke Collection of 20,000 books, including her  proof copy of The Elements of Style.

The prices of early editions of The Elements of Style have remained high, particularly for copies of the Harcourt, Brace and Company edition.  And my days of buying copies of this edition for $50 or less are long gone.  Earlier in this post, I mentioned that on January 19, 2022 four copies of the Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition were listed on Abebooks  with prices ranging from $800 to $1,000.  Burnside Rare Books of Portland, Oregon listed two copies, one for $850 and the other for $1,000.  Bearly Read Books of Sudbury, Ma. listed a copy for $800.  Singing Saw Books listed its copy for $950, but appears to identify it as a Harcourt, Brace and Howe Edition.  However, the colophon displayed in its photo of the book is clearly the colophon of a Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition.   There was a copy of the 1934 Revised Edition listed For $450 on AbeBooks on January 19th by The Bookplate of Chesterton, Maryland.  And there was a copy of the Thrift Press Edition listed on AbeBooks for $400 by Grendel Books of Springfield, Massachusetts.

I need to stay something about the bibliographical records of the First Trade Edition of The Elements of Style.  And I write records instead of record because the publisher's name on the title page and the colophon on the front cover of the Harcourt, Brace and Howe Edition differs from what appears on the Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition.  The differences, however, are not enough for a new edition to published.  What we have here are two issues of the First Trade Edition.

Before I end this post, I want to mention two purchases of facsimile editions of early editions of The Elements of Style.

In May 2019,  I purchased a facsimile edition of the 1918 Edition.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform has been printing it since 2015.  On May 28, 2019, I posted about the book in a piece titled,  The Grammarian in the Bedroom; Or, A Whole New Dimension to The Elements of Style

On January 6, 2022, I purchased a facsimile edition of the First Trade Edition.  Suzeteo Enterprises has been publishing this facsimile edition since 2018 under  ISBN: 978-1-947844-32-2.  Buyers on eBay, and on the book search engines as well, should beware of the wording in the listing, "The Original 1920  Edition."  It is a facsimile of the original edition.  And the wording has caused confusion!

Here's an eBay auction that ended on November 30, 2021.  The listing has the same exact words as the listing of the facsimile editon, "The Original 1920 Edition." 

 But this was, in fact, an original copy of the First Trade Edition!  And some observant eBay buyer (not me) purchased it for $7.96!

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

C. W. Sherborn: Number Ten of the Twelve Blog Posts for Christmas


   M E R R Y   S!

Ten years ago, I began a custom that bookmen of days gone by have enjoyed doing, among them Luther A. Brewer and A. Edward Newton.  Each Christmas, they published a keepsake and sent it to their friends.  I decided to post my Christmas keepsakes on My Sentimental Library blog, and to share them with other bibliophiles online.  I already had the resource to supply the material for the next twelve years: twelve essays from Contributions to Biblionotes, the newsletter of the "Bibliomites," the unofficial name of the Society of Antiquarian Booksellers' Employees.  The Bibliomites was more of a social club than a union. Walter Harris was the editor of its newsletter, which means that he was the author of most, if not all, of the contributions to Biblionotes from 1953 to 1958.

I posted Walter Harris's first nine essays to Biblionotes as my first nine Christmas blog posts:  Ex-Libris, Chapbooks, Grangerisers, Miniature Books, Peter Motteux, The Bewicks and Their Bookplates,  The Rochester Press, The Book-Plates of Samuel Pepys, and The Beldornie Reprints. This year I am posting his essay about C. W. Sherborn.

If you want to know more about Bibliomites, Biblionotes, and Walter Harris, I recommend that you  read my Dec 2013 Biblio Researching blog post:
About Bibliomites, Biblionotes, and Walter "Wally" Harris.

Here are the first nine essays of the Twelve Blog Posts for Christmas:

Christmas 2012:  Ex-Libris
Christmas 2013:  Chapbooks
Christmas 2014:  Grangerisers
Christmas 2015: Miniature Books
Christmas 2016:  Peter Motteux
Christmas 2017:  The Bewicks and Their Bookplates
Christmas 2018:  The Rochester Press
Christmas 2020:  The Beldornie Reprints

C.  W.  Sherborn

Monday, November 29, 2021

About My Copies of The Romance of Book-Collecting

I can't remember exactly when I acquired my first copy of The Romance of Book-collecting  by J. H. Slater.  It had to be in the 1990s because that's the only time that I stamped some of my books with my embossed seal.

I probably bought it from Bob Fleck because I bought most of my Books About Books from Oak Knoll back then.  For over twenty years this was the only copy of The Romance of Book-collecting that I had in my library.  But all that changed early this month!  I came across a presentation copy of The Romance of Book-collecting while searching online for a relevant book to give to my friend Kurt Zimmerman.  Kurt was going to be the guest speaker at the meeting of the Florida Bibliophile Society on the 21st of November, and we give our speakers a book in appreciation for their presentation before the Society.  I found a choice association copy for Kurt, and I kept the presentation copy of The Romance of Book-collecting for myself!

The cover was a little soiled but I wanted the book for its presentation inscription.

If Slater's handwriting is hard to decipher, this is what he wrote:


                                                                                                       16 Sep. 1902

Written for an American bookseller (Francis P. Harper of 17 East 16th Street, New York) and publisher in London & perhaps also in New York as well.  The critics said I have invented most of the experiences given in the book but that assertion is not within bow-shot of the truth.

                                                                                                       J. H. Slater 

I knew who Francis P. Harper was.  I have two of his bookseller catalogues. He was Lathrop Harper's older brother.  I searched for a connection between J. H. Slater and Francis P. Harper and I found one.  Francis P. Harper published the First American Edition of The Romance of Book-collecting in 1898, the same year as the London edition.  From Slater's inscription, though, it appears that he was not aware that Harper was the American publisher of his book.

 I then tried to find a book reviewer that questioned the veracity of the experiences that Slater detailed in his book.  But the only negative review I could find concerned Slater's repeated misspelling of Poe's  Tamerlane.  He misspelled it as Tamerlaine not once but four times.  As far as The Ath├Žneum reviewer was concerned, that was a mortal sin.  As for the veracity of Slater's finds, I myself have been blessed with some lucky finds, and have read about the lucky finds of others, so I don't doubt the veracity of what Slater wrote in his book (See Addenda).

One thing that surprised me when I first saw the presentation copy was that it was bound in light brown cloth.  My older copy was bound in light green cloth.  It is possible that by 1902 Eliot Stock, Slater's London publisher, had run out of the green cloth, and resorted to using the brown cloth.  

The presentation copy wasn't the only copy of The Romance of Book-collecting that I acquired this month. I also acquired a copy of the New York edition that Francis P. Harper published in 1898.  I acquired it from Sean Donnelly, proprietor of Doralynn Books in Madeira Beach.  We visited his bookstore after the FBS meeting on the 21st.

The only difference between the New York edition and the London edition is that the title page was changed to reflect the change in the publisher and place of publication.

I expected to find that the new title page was pasted in the book but that was not the case.  The new title page and the frontispiece were printed on the same sheet and sewn into the book as part of the book's first signature.  I could discern no difference in the first signatures of either book.  The last page of both books state that both books were printed in London by Eliot Stock.  Therefore, it is likely that the title page was replaced at the very time the books destined for New York were being printed in London in 1898.  That would account for the change in the color of the cloth binding of my presentation copy as well.



I found this unflattering review of Slater's book which appeared in the Dec. 28, 1898 issue of The Guardian.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

About Table Talk

I really, really thought that writing this month's post would be a breeze. Table Talk would be what I was going to write about.  I would  define what Table Talk meant.  And then I would discuss and display some of the Table Talk books that I have in my library.  

I began my post by providing definitions of Table Talk from my 1785 edition of Johnson's Dictionary, from my facsimile edition of the 1828 First Edition of Webster's American Dictionary,  and from my fourteen-volume set of the 1970 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

Johnson's Dictionary

Webster's Dictionary

Both Johnson and Webster defined Table Talk as conversation at meals or at table.  But Johnson went further and defined  Table Talk as table discourse as well.  The OED more or less agreed with the definitions of Johnson and Webster.  And it added that Table Talk  is now considered to be the social conversation of famous men of intellectual circles that is reproduced in literary form. 

The OED cited Hallam in its listing.  And what Hallam wrote made me nervous. 

One group has acquired the distinctive name of Ana; the reported conversation, the table-talk of the learned.

I have Hallam's book that the OED cited, and I immediately read the entire passage that he labelled as The Ana.  Hallam was discussing the miscellaneous literature of France of the sixteenth and  seventeenth centuries, and specifically mentioned the other groups of miscellaneous literature: the memoirs, the letters, the travels, the dialogues, and the essays of the French.  In discussing the group, The Ana, Hallam mentioned The Menagiana, and said it was "full of light anecdote of a literary kind...."  If I understood this correctly, Hallam considered anecdotes to be in the same vein as Table Talk and Ana.   To me,  all the Anas that I read contained more than just Table Talk or conversation.  They contained anecdotes and other literary information.

I was looking right down a rabbit hole now and really, really needed help.  So I got John Carter's ABC for Book Collectors down from the shelf, and sought his definition of Table Talk.  I went to T and the first word beginning with the letter that Carter defined was Tail.  He did not define Table Talk in his book!  After I few long minutes, I finally got up the courage to turn the pages of Carter's book and see if he defined Ana.  I went from Abbreviations, to Adams, to Advance Copy, to Advertisements, to A La Grecque, to All Published, to American Book-Prices Current, to Americana, and finally, to Ana.

Well!  I sure am glad that Carter got it right!  According to Carter, Table Talk is just a part of Ana.  And Ana also contains sayings, anecdotes and etc.  

I wondered what the  Library of Congress had to say about Table Talk and Ana.

                         Table Talk                                                                          Ana

I was kind of glad that the LOC did not authorize Ana for indexing Table-Talk. But it did surprise me that the LOC did not provide the Use terms for Table-Talk – something that pointed me in the right direction to know what was best to use for Table-Talk.  Perhaps there was nothing better to use than the general classes that Table-Talk belonged to.  The LOC listed them under BT, which stood for Broader Terms.  I believe the general classes were listed in some kind of descending order of importance: Anecdotes, Aphorisms and Apothegms, Biography, Conversation, Epigrams, and Wit and Humor.  

The LOC did, however,  provide useful information regarding indexing Ana! In descending order, the LOC suggested I use Anecdotes, Aphorisms and Apothegms, Epigrams, Maxims,Proverbs, Quotations and, as a last resort, Table-Talk!
One thing I was glad to learn is that the LC classification codes for Table-Talk were PN6259 to PN6268!  My enthusiasm, however, was short-lived because I discovered that Table-Talk shared the same LOC classification codes as Anecdotes.


I am now at that part of my post where I want to discuss and display some of the Table Talk books that I have in my own library.  But how do I decide which of my books are Table Talk books and which books are Ana?  I only want to post about Table Talk books!

In my quest for determining what Table Talk actually is, I came across a book that was edited and published in  Edinburgh by Alexander Hislop.  The title of the book was Adversaria, Ana, and Table Talk: A Literary Commonplace-Book Google Books lists 1869 as the publication date, but Hislop died in 1865, so I can't vouch for the accuracy of the date of publication.  What I can vouch for is what Hislop says about Table Talk in the Preface of his book!

I shall take Hislop's words to heart and refer to the Johnson/Webster definition of Table Talk: conversation at meal or at table. Therefore,  I will discuss and display books in my library that have the words Table Talk in their title, or books that have the word Table in their title and contain conversation or discourses.  There are eight books in my library that qualify  under this criteria.  And the first one is the Table-Talk of John Selden.

I have a copy of Edward Arber's English Reprints, which contains Selden's Table-Talk

Selden's Table Talk was not what I expected. It was not conversation that took place at dinner or around a dinner table for that matter.  It was based on a different kind of table.

That sure looks like a Table of Contents to me!  Nevertheless,  the Table lists Selden's discourses that his amanuesis, Richard Milward, reportedly heard.  However, Selden's biographer, David Wilkins,  disputed their authenticity.

2.  Johnson's Table Talk

James Macaulay, a periodical editor in London, edited this book for Frederick A. Stokes in 1893.   My copy was formerly owned by D. S. Pithers with his Johnsonian bookplate.  And yes, it contains Johnson's conversations.

3.  Hazlitt's Table Talk

The prestigious firm of Asprey & Co. bound and published this book around 1909.  But I think calling this book a Table Talk book is stretching it a bit.  The contents themselves are listed as essays.  Therefore, it is simply a book of essays. But an excellent book of essays at that.

4.  Sanborn's Table Talk

I have to use my imagination to classify this book as a Table Talk book.  Sanborn was a feature writer for the Springfield Republican and the Boston Daily Advertiser, and his so-called Table Talk dates from1869 to 1918.  Kenneth Walter Cameron, the editor of this book, says that the book consists of personals and obiter dicta that Sanborn usually placed at the end of his feature articles and book reviews.  His column in the Boston Daily Advertiser was named "The Breakfast Table," and that could be where Cameron got the Table Talk title from.  Or maybe it was because readers read his articles when they were sitting at the breakfast table?  I have to say, though, that the book is well worth reading, from Sanborn's involvement with John Brown to his opinions of the authors of the day.

5.  The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table

I could never get into this novel by Oliver Wendell Holmes.  But it is conversation that takes place at a Breakfast Table....

6.  At the Library Table

This book qualifies as one of my Table Talk books not just because the word table is in the title, but because, in some of the passages, Joline appears to be conversing while he is sitting at his library table

Sitting at the library table and letting my eyes wander with affection to the adjacent shelves, I try to fancy who buys the multitudinous books of memoirs and reminiscences, of literary, dramatic, and political gossip, which are poured so profusely from the English presses (p7).

Most of us find that as the number of years increases we are apt to spend to pass more and more time at the library table, within easy reach of the shelves.  I have been charged with believing that books are "the chief things in life;" I admit that they are not and ought not to be that, but I see no reason why we should not be allowed to enjoy them as we would any other innocent pleasure in due moderation (p14).
 I wrote about Adrian H. Joline in my July 2017 post to My Sentimental Library blog. 

7.  More Books on the Table

Books continue to be heaped upon my table, and they are flowers that tempt into the sunshine bees, which I call memories, hived in the course of sixty years of indiscriminate and insatiate reading. The Young Anarchist placed his trust in books, and we are told that he was disappointed.  The fault must have lain, I think, in himself and not in literature.  I have forgotten who Lucas de Penna was, but I love him for saying that books were to him "the light of the heart, the mirror of the body, the myrrh-pot of eloquence."  So they are to me, and more so the older I grow.  When the infinite variety and charm of them fail to enchant me, it will be time for me to "cease upon the midnight with no pain." (vii)

8.  Around the Library Table: An Evening With Leigh Hunt

So at this time we ask you to gather around the big table in our library where we may visit informally, and talk of the fellowship of books, and look at some Hunt rarities. We are hungry for your companionship, and while, possibly, your presence is not essential to complete our happiness, for we have friends on the shelves that are a solace to us at all times, yet we want you to know that we hold you in great esteem (p10).