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Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.

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Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.

by MELVILLE, Herman

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  • Hardcover
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About This Item

New York: Harper & Brothers,, 1851. His masterpiece, in the original cloth First US edition of Melville's greatest work, in the first issue binding (BAL's "A" state, with the publisher's device on the covers and orange endpapers), a very smart copy notably free from any of the usual foxing. The US edition was the first to appear under the familiar title and contains 35 passages and the epilogue omitted from the slightly earlier British edition. Moby-Dick was originally issued in London earlier the same year, set from the New York sheets and titled The Whale. Now universally acclaimed, at the time the novel was a "complete practical failure, misunderstood by the critics and ignored by the public; and in 1853 the Harpers' fire destroyed the plates of all his books and most of the copies remaining in stock" (DAB, vol. 12, p. 523). Copies in first issue bindings appear in black, blue, grey, green, purple-brown, red, and slate-coloured cloth, without any priority. As Sadleir notes, it was the custom of American publishers in the 1850s and 1860s to bind an edition in cloths of various colours, for the purpose of window display (see p. 221). Octavo. Original purple-brown cloth, spine lettered in gilt with decorative gilt border at head and foot, thick one-line border and central publisher's life-buoy device to covers in blind, orange coated endpapers, 6 pp. publisher's advertisements at rear. Housed in a custom burgundy morocco folding box. Spine cocked, ends and corners lightly worn, cloth rubbed with faint stain to rear cover, short closed tear to head of rear joint, first gathering discreetly reinserted, gutter before final gathering tender, but holding, occasional light spot to contents, else clean and sound within. A very good copy. BAL 13664; Grolier American 60; Johnson High Spots 57; Sadleir, Excursions in Victorian Bibliography, pp. 221 & 229.


Melville's classic was first published in England as three volumes titled The Whale in October 1851. Slow sales of Melville's previously books convinced Publisher L. Richard Bentley to reduce the printing to only 500 copies, and of that, only 300 sold in the first 4 months. The remaining unbound sheets were bound in a cheaper casing in 1852, and in 1853 there were still enough remaining sheets to again bind into an even cheaper edition. Melville changed the title to Moby Dick a month later, November 1851, when the American Version was published in one volume by Harper & Brothers in NY. Of the 2,951 copies printed, 125 were review copies. About 1,500 sold in 11 days, but then sales slowed to less than 300 the next year. After two years copies of the first edition were still available, and almost 300 were destroyed in the 1853 fire of Harper's warehouse. Most of the first editions have orange end-papers, although there are 2 known volumes with rare white-endpapers. Because of Nineteenth-century printing practices, and the time-lapse between when the first-editions were published and Melville became collectible, oxidized paper, bumped and chipped spines, and brittle wrappers are all common for even the most expensive and collectible of these books, which can sell from $35,000 to $100,000. Also, expect heavy wear and maybe even minor repair. Another collectible edition is the 1930 first edition illustrated by Rockwell Kent, a three-volume set published by the Lakeside Press with acetate dust jackets in an aluminum slipcase. These range in value from $9,000 to $11,000. A total of 3,215 copies of Moby-Dick were sold during Melville's life (he died in 1891). Today, Moby-Dick is considered one of the greatest American novels. -

Read More: Identifying first editions of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.


On Mar 9 2016, a reader said:
Why would this be 600 since the original was in 1851?

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Peter Harrington GB (GB)
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Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.
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Place of Publication
New York: Harper & Brothers,
Date Published

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About the Seller

Peter Harrington

Seller rating:
This seller has earned a 5 of 5 Stars rating from Biblio customers.
Biblio member since 2006

About Peter Harrington

Since its establishment, Peter Harrington has specialised in sourcing, selling and buying the finest quality original first editions, signed, rare and antiquarian books, fine bindings and library sets. Peter Harrington first began selling rare books from the Chelsea Antiques Market on London's King's Road. For the past twenty years the business has been run by Pom Harrington, Peter's son.


Some terminology that may be used in this description includes:

Another of the terms referring to page or book size, octavo refers to a standard printer's sheet folded four times, producing...
Morocco is a style of leather book binding that is usually made with goatskin, as it is durable and easy to dye. (see also...
Refers to a state where the spine of a book is lightly "twisted" in such a way that the front and rear boards of a book do not...
"Cloth-bound" generally refers to a hardcover book with cloth covering the outside of the book covers. The cloth is stretched...
Especially for older books, a printer's device refers to an identifying mark, also sometimes called a printer's mark, on the...
The inside margin of a book, connecting the pages to the joints near the binding.
Bibliography of American Literature (commonly abbreviated as BAL in descriptions) is the quintessential reference work for any...
The decorative application of gold or gold coloring to a portion of a book on the spine, edges of the text block, or an inlay in...
The outer portion of a book which covers the actual binding. The spine usually faces outward when a book is placed on a shelf....

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