Monday, October 28, 2013

The Great White Endpapers $35K-$50K

by Stephen J. Gertz

Binding A (1st state).

An untouched copy of the first American edition, first issue of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick; or the Whale in its first state binding is coming to auction November 21, 2013 in Swann Galleries 19th & 20th Century Literature sale. One of the few known copies bound with plain white wove endpapers, it is estimated to sell for $35,000 - $50,000.

Orange-coated endpapers are the norm. In 1955 Jacob Blanck, in the Bibliography of American Literature (BAL), declared that only "a single copy has been seen with plain white wove endpapers." Fifty-one years later Kevin MacDonnell, in Firsts magazine (June 2006),  noted "two copies that have been seen with plain white end papers." 

Copies with white endpapers are the great white whale of Moby-Dick collection, and those who wish to harpoon one will be plying the sea lanes a long and lonely time before the opportunity to cry "thar she blows!" presents itself again. Such collectors are the Ahabs of  the rare book world, obsessed monomaniacs at risk if their harpoon gets caught on the price-point and drags them down to the depths along with the book, a disaster at sea when initially published. It remained buried in Davey Jones' locker until salvaged by Carl Van Doren's Melville essay in the 1917 edition of the Cambridge History of American Literature  ("One of the greatest of sea romances in the whole literature of the world").

"[Melville's] great book, Moby-Dick, 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 of his books and most of the copies remaining in stock (only about sixty copies survived the fire)..." (BAL XII, pp. 522-526).

Examples of the first American edition (published November 14, 1851 and containing thirty-five passages and the Epilogue omitted from the London edition published a month prior, on October 18, 1851) in its first state binding -  aside from association or presentation copies - have, over the last few years, been selling for $10,000 - $30,000 depending upon condition. 

These are, then, super-duper endpapers, the most expensive in the world, adding upwards of $20,000 to the value of a standard, first American edition, first issue copy with orange endpapers; white makes right. Collectors prefer this book untouched with no restoration and few such copies are as nice looking as this one.

"Melville's permanent fame must always rest on the great prose epic of Moby Dick, a book that has no equal in American literature for variety and splendor of style and for depth of feeling" (BAL).

"And now, liberated by reason of its cunning spring, and, owing to its great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin life-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by my side. Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirge-like main. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew nearer, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan" (Epilogue, Moby-Dick). 

That orphan is this super-scarce copy with white endpapers. Call it Ishmael. Then call your banker.

MELVILLE, Herman. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851
. First edition, first state binding. 12mo. xxiii, 634, [6 as catalog] pp. Original black cloth, boards slightly bowed, blind-stamped with heavy rule frame and publisher's circular device at center of each cover, minor chipping to spine ends, short fray along front joint; white endpapers, double flyleaves at front and back, usual scattered light foxing, penciled ownership signature on front free endpaper. Housed in quarter morocco gilt-lettered drop-back cloth box.

BAL 13664. Sadleir, Excursions 229.

Read Carl Van Doren's Mr. Melville's 'Moby-Dick' in The Bookman April 1924 here.

Images courtesy of Swann Galleries, with our thanks.

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