A SMALL COLLECTION OF RARE FIRST EDITIONS.

Communism was a delightful idea, was it not? The humblest worker should be elevated to the level of the richest aristocrat, and all the advantages of education and material prosperity that once belonged only to the wealthiest should now be showered upon the whole population indiscriminately. And if the promise was not fulfilled as well as the projectors of communism had hoped, we may charitably lay the blame at the feet of a recalcitrant reality, rather than supposing any want of effort on the part of the communists. The real world refuses to produce luxuries in quantities sufficient to make every resident of it a decadent aristocrat, and until some strong measures are taken to bring reality in line with our expectations of it, truly successful communism may be out of human reach.

On the Internet, however, we are freed from the galling constraints of reality. When possessions are virtual, they can be multiplied without limit, and everyone with an Internet connection may possess what in the real world would be beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest.

How much would an autographed first edition of Moby-Dick be worth? There cannot be many such things in existence. The book was a failure on its first publication; no more than a few thousand of the first edition were printed, and many unsold copies were doubtless destroyed. But Dr. Boli, whose generosity with things that do not belong to him knows no bounds, stands ready to give each of you, his loyal readers, an autographed first edition of Melville’s masterpiece. This is the first American edition, from which every accurate edition is derived,—not the botched English edition that slightly preceded it.

Moby-Dick; or, the Whale. By Herman Melville. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers. London: Richard Bentley. 1851. (Look in the end-papers, before the title page, for Melville’s autograph.)

Moby-Dick is certainly one of the most famous American novels of all time. Mr. Melville dedicated it to his good friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, who, just one year before, had published The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne’s book was a decided success, and it would not be too much to say that American fiction falls easily into two eras: before and after The Scarlet Letter. In this color scan of the first edition, we discover that the title itself was printed in scarlet letters:

The Scarlet Letter, A Romance. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1850.

J. Fenimore Cooper was the writer who gave the United States a place among the literary nations, rivaling Sir Walter Scott as a purveyor of adventure tales, and almost universally acknowledged in his time as the greatest master of the sea story. He wrote prolifically and in all genres, and made one fascinating attempt at a Swiftian satire:

The Monikins; Edited by the Author of “The Spy.” In two volumes [both included in this scan]. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1835. —The first American edition, at archive.org.

The Monikins, incidentally, though it was an embarrassing failure in 1835, has gained a surprising second life among fans of science-fiction. It tells the story of an English aristocrat and a Stonington sea-captain who meet a race of intelligent monkeys living around the South Pole.

We also have a later tale by Cooper:

The Wing-and-Wing, or Le Feu-Follet; A tale, by the author of “The Pilot,” &c., &c. In two volumes. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1842. —Both volumes are included in this scan. Cooper’s tales were often published under different names in America and Europe, and often the name changed in later editions. This tale is the same one published in other editions as The Jack-o-Lantern or The Privateer.

There are many more interesting first editions out there, and Dr. Boli is very generous, if not downright extravagant, with other people’s virtual possessions. Look for more such valuable free gifts in the near future.