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Huck Finn with the rare first state of the trousers on p. 283

TWAIN, MARK. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer’s Comrade)

New York: Webster, 1885

Original half brown morocco, the publisher’s deluxe binding. Very light rubbing. Fine. Half morocco case.

FIRST AMERICAN EDITION, in the original publisher’s deluxe binding, available at a premium price. This copy has the rare first state of the illustration on p. 283, as well as the other earliest points described in BAL. The frontispiece is an insert occurring in three states with no priority of issue. In 1884, salesmen traveled throughout the United States selling advance subscriptions to Huckleberry Finn. The salesman’s dummy contained an illustration on page 283 showing an unnoticed and innocent slight curve at the fly of Silas Phelps’s trousers. In October 1884, in anticipation of Christmas publication, a few hundred sets of sheets were sent to be bound in expensive half morocco and sheep bindings. As in the prospectus shown to customers, these copies showed the curve at page 283. The present Huck is one of those very few copies.

Soon after these copies were printed and shipped for binding, an unknown individual altered the plate on page 283 by crudely engraving a penis at Phelps’s fly. By the time the defacement was discovered on November 25, 1884, thousands of copies had been printed. The New York Tribune quoted publisher Charles Webster:  “Had the first edition been run off our loss would have been $250,000. Had the mistake not been discovered, Mr. Clemens’s credit for decency and morality would have been destroyed.”  To avert disaster, the leaf containing the offending illustration was painstakingly cut out of each copy and replaced with a leaf showing the new printing of the plate. The newly engraved plate eliminated the defacement but also eliminated the faint line that had been printed innocently in the prospectus and the copies sent out to be bound in leather. In later printings in 1885 the replacement of the leaf was not necessary. The result of this complicated printing history is that the illustration exists in three states:  1st: integral leaf with slight curve at fly; 2nd: leaf canceled, replaced with new leaf showing no curve; 3rd: integral leaf showing no curve. Because the defacement occurred only after advance sheets were shipped to be bound in leather, the plate in its original state exists only in the prospectus and in early copies in publisher’s leather (later leather-bound copies show the third state of p. 283).

Unrestored first edition copies of Huck Finn with the trouser illustration in the rare first state are prized by collectors and infrequently obtainable.

Provenance: art collector and philanthropist Leigh B. Block, bookplate.

Grolier 100 American Books 8760, BAL 3415.