1855 Leaves of Grass at Beinecke Library
The Yale Collection of American Literature is home to 6 copies of the first edition of Walt Whitman’s extraordinarily important 1855 first edition of Leaves of Grass.
The 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass was printed in an edition of 795 copies—fewer than half of these were bound in the distinctive green hard covers that have become associated with the text; many copies were issued in simple paper wrappers. A one-time journalist and printer, Whitman not only designed the 1855 edition, he also helped to set the type for the 85-page book. The book was sold, for between 2 and 58 cents depending on the binding, in a handful of bookstores in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. As a result of the small print run, the fragility of the paperbound copies, and the lukewarm public reception of the book, the 1855 edition exists today only in fewer than 200 copies. A useful and detailed description of the printing and binding of the book can be found online in Ed Folsom’s “The Census of the 1855 Leaves of Grass: A Preliminary Report” published the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review (24.2 2006).
Copies of the 1855 Leaves of Grass in the Beinecke Library have distinguished provenance and include examples of variant bindings and frontispiece illustrations. Detailed description of the books follows; comparative description of variants can be viewed here: Binding Variants; Printing Variants (see Bibliography of American Literature, Jacob Blanck, 1991 and Blanck-BAL electronic resource); Frontispiece Variants (see Ted Genoways, “‘One goodshaped and wellhung man’: Accentuated Sexuality and the Uncertain Authorship of the Frontispiece to the 1855 Edition of Leaves of Grass” in Leaves of Grass: The Sesquicentennial Essays, U of Nebraska 2008 and Yale Internet Resource).
All copies of the 1855 Leaves of Grass are restricted by nature of their extreme fragility; permission of a curator is required to consult these volumes.
The collection includes one copy of the 1855 Leaves of Grass in original paper wrappers: Call Number Za W596 +855 (Blanck-BAL Binding State C). The wrappers are salmon-pink with the title printed in black; the frontispiece is printed on thin China paper mounted on a heavier sheet (Blanck-BAL Frontispiece State B). This copy is signed in pencil by Whitman. Donated by Owen F. Aldis (Yale College Class of 1874), a distinguished collector of American Literature and the founder, in 1911, of the Yale Collection of American Literature, now housed at the Beinecke Library.
One of the cloth-bound copies in the collection was also donated by Owen F. Aldis: Call Number Za W596 +855d. On this copy, only the title gold stamped in gold leaf on the front cover and spine – three-rule border and floral ornaments and back as well as the title on the back cover are blind stamped (Blanck-BAL Binding State B). The frontispiece is the Genoways portrait variant and is printed directly on a heavy sheet (Blanck-BAL Frontispiece State A).
A second copy in this binding (Blanck-BAL Binding State B), Call Number Za W596 +855e, has an ownership inscription on the title page ([A. G. Odell]). The frontispiece portrait is printed on thin paper mounted on a heavier sheet (Blanck-BAL Frontispiece State B); it differs slightly from both the portrait in Za W596 +855 and the Genoways portrait variant in Za W596 +855d and Za W596 +855c copies 1-3. This copy was donated by Adrian Van Sinderen (Yale College Class of 1910).
The Library’s collection includes 3 copies in the green cloth binding with title and triple-ruled border stamped in gold, with blind-stamped floral ornaments on the covers; title and floral ornaments gold stamped on the spine; with marbled endpapers and gild edges (Blanck-BAL Binding State A): Za W596 +855c Copies 1-3. These copies all include the Genoways portrait variant printed directly on a heavy sheet (Blanck-BAL Frontispiece State A).
The gift of Susan Morse Hilles, Za W596 +855c Copy 1 is rebound with the original covers and spine bound in; it is extra-illustrated with two portraits of Whitman. It includes the stamp and bookplate of William Inglis Morse. A magazine clipping affixed to the verso of front free endpaper is annotated and autographed by William Inglis Morse. The binder’s stamp of J. MacDonald, binder, N.Y. is present.
The gift of Adrian Van Sinderen, Za W596 +855c Copy 2, includes manuscript notes, dated 1905, by W.M.R. [William Michael Rossetti]. It is inscribed: W.M. Rossetti from W.B.S. [W.B. Scott], Xmas 1856. Printed label pasted on t.p.: London, William Horsell, 492 Oxford Street (Blanck-BAL English Issue).
Za W596 +855c Copy 3 was the gift of Jean White Van Sinderen in honor of Adrian Van Sinderen.
Za W596 +855: Blanck-BAL Binding State C (salmon-pink paper wrappers)
Za W596 +855d: Blanck-BAL Binding State B
Za W596 +855c copy 1: Rebound with Blanck-BAL Binding State A covers and spine bound in
Za W596 +855c copies 2 & 3: Blanck-BAL Binding State A
Za W596 +855e: Blanck-BAL Binding State B
Za W596 +855: Blanck-BAL Copyright Page State B; Page IV State B
Za W596 +855d: Blanck-BAL Copyright Page State B; Page IV State B
Za W596 +855e: Blanck-BAL Copyright Page State B; Page IV State B
Za W596 +855c Copy 1: Blanck-BAL Copyright Page State B; Page IV State A
Za W596 +855c Copy 2: Blanck-BAL Copyright Page State B; Page IV State B
Za W596 +855c Copy 3: Blanck-BAL Copyright Page State B; Page IV State A
Frontispiece Variants – SEE ALL Beinecke 1855 frontispeces
Za W596 +855: Blanck-BAL Frontispiece State B (China paper mounted on a heavier sheet)
Za W596 +855d: Blanck-BAL Frontispiece State A (printed on heavy paper)
Genoways Portrait Variant
Za W596 +855c copies 1-3: Blanck- BAL Frontispiece State A (printed on heavy paper)
Genoways Portrait Variant
Za W596 +855e: Blanck-BAL Frontispiece State B (China paper mounted on a heavier sheet) (image differs from both Za W596 +855 and the Genoways Portrait Variant)
Additional loose copies of the frontispiece can be found in the Walt Whitman Collection – YCAL MSS 202 and in the Beinecke’s Digital Library:
YCAL MSS 202.1.22: Genoways portrait variant removed from bound volume; colored
YCAL MSS 202.4.188: Genoways Portrait Variant, mounted on separate sheet; pencil note on recto: “used in 2d issue of 1st ed of L of G”
YCAL MSS 202.11.233: 1) signed and dated by Whitman; 2) Genoways portrait variant removed from bound volume; 3) with engraved signature and date of Whitman and “Copyright 1902,” signed in pencil “S. Hollyer”