By Patricia Reguyal, Archives Assistant
Welcome to the inaugural post of the new monthly series, “Treasures from Special Collections and Archives.” This series will initially feature items from the Rare Books and Print History Collections of the Department of Special Collections and Archives (SCA) but will eventually expand to feature items from other important collections held by the department.
To inaugurate the series, we are proud to announce that the SCA holds two copies of the first American edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. According to Blanck’s Bibliography of American Literature, there have been three printings of the first edition of this American classic. The two copies in the SCA are most likely from different printings because, while they have the same publication date, the two books are paginated differently.
A nearly fine copy of the first American edition is listed on AbeBooks for $45,000 and very good condition copies are listed for $12,000 to $15,000. The two copies at the SCA have been exposed to moisture and mold but have been professionally cleaned and are now in stable condition, thanks to the generosity of Shirley Klein, a lifelong bibliophile and loyal friend of Queens College. Both have the original blue cloth covers with gold-stamped stars and lovely illustrations. Over the longer term, the department hopes to acquire funding to repair the bindings and small tears in the volumes.
The first edition of this American classic came out in London first. It was published by Chatto and Windus and came out in June 1876. The American edition, published by the American Publishing Company, came out in December 1876. Between these two official editions, a pirated edition from Canada was published in July 1876. The case of the English edition is covered in red cloth instead of the blue cloth of the American edition and is considered rarer and more valuable. Biblioctopus sold a nearly fine copy for $60,000, and the Bodleian Libraries happily announced in 2012 that their copy, previously uncatalogued because it probably “slipped in the stack shelves,” was found during a move of library collections.
Remarkably enough, the original and complete manuscript of the novel, in Twain’s own handwriting and with his various erasures and emendations, has been preserved in the Booth Family Center for Special Collections at Georgetown University. Also called a holographic manuscript, it was the manuscript that Twain submitted for the typesetting of the American first edition and that he seemed to have allowed Elisha P. Bliss, the president of the American Publishing Company at the time, to keep after the publication of his novel. This manuscript was also exhibited at the MOMA in 1937.
The SCA also has one copy of the first American edition of the other Twain classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and a post about that treasure will be forthcoming in this series. All three of Twain’s first editions in the stewardship of the SCA are originally from a Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library Rare Book Collection which had formerly been held on the 6th floor of the library, but had been exposed to moisture and had suffered a mold outbreak. The entire collection was recently cleaned and remediated by a vendor. Head of Special Collections and Archives Annie Tummino wrote about its triumphant return to Rosenthal Library last year.
The SCA staff is currently busy working to preserve, process, and arrange these marvelous treasures so that they may be used and enjoyed by the Queens College community.