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Rare Books discoveries : A first edition Mark Twain

by on June 11, 2012

The Bodleian’s legal deposit copy of the first edition of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, shelfmark 251 d.401.

from Sarah Wheale, Rare Books, Department of Special Collections

The Bodleian’s collection of mid-Victorian English literature in Old Class, (the Bodleian’s mid-19thcentury subject classification scheme) is outstanding, with almost 22,000 volumes housed together in a single sequence stretching more than 700 linear meters. The vast majority retain their original bindings with the addition of a black shelfmark label at the foot of the spine, and most were acquired under the terms of the copyright agreement.

Until 2010 it might have seemed to a user of the library catalogues that one item was missing from this collection – a first edition of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer (London, 1876). Happily, the move of library collections has brought this to light along with an array of other items which seem to have slipped onto the stack shelves without making their way into the printed books catalogue first. Some categories of material were known to have been exempted from the main Pre-1920 Catalogue (e.g. 19th century foreign dissertations, items in some non-Roman languages, etc.) but I was surprised by other omissions which cropped up during the stock-take and over the next few months I will be adding them to the catalogue. This occasional series will highlight the more interesting and usual finds as I go along.

The Bodleian’s legal deposit copy of the first edition of Tom Sawyer was resting at shelfmark 251 d.401. Twain insisted it should be published in London ahead of the US publication, to secure the British copyright.  It appeared in this red cloth binding in early June 1876, but delays with the US publisher meant that it did not appear in his home country until December that year. It was a bestseller, and allowed Twain, amongst other things, to engage Louis C. Tiffany in 1881 to supervise the redecoration of his home in Hartford, Connecticut in lavish style.

The Bodleian’s copy is not date-stamped (something the Library began doing from 1882 onwards) but almost certainly entered the collection in 1876. While it has an entry in the handlist (a 19thcentury manuscript inventory) and was given a shelfmark, it did not appear elsewhere in the various main Bodleian catalogues and was effectively untraceable in SOLO by readers.

After the creation of the Nicholson classified shelfmarking scheme in 1882, novels were more widely dispersed, being arranged by size, language, subject, target audience and even acquisition date.

For more information on accessing material via the Old Class or Nicholson Classification Scheme please email sarah.wheale@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

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