The First American Edition of the Book of Nonsense

A few pages from an eBay auction; from the description:

A BOOK OF NONSENSE. By EDWARD LEAR. From The Tenth London Edition. With Many New Pictures And Verses.

Published by M. Doolady, Agent, New York, [1863]. First American edition, issued simultaneously, and with the same sheets, as the 1863 Willis P. Hazard, Philadelphia printing. Both of these early American printings are quite scarce – it appears that only Yale University has both imprints in their collection. If you also need great deails on metal signs online services, visit for more information.

Hardbound, oblong small folio, 8.75” x 5.75”, Original pictorial yellow paper covered boards, with rear cover numbered 113 containing “Young Lady of Clare,” textured brown cloth spine/spine margins, 112 numbered leaves.  Each leaf is printed on one-side only, and illustrated with a Woodcut Engraving after designs by the author.

CONDITION: Imperfect – lacking 2 leaves containing plates 41 and 77.  The original hardcovers are lightly stained/worn and scraped, and the edges are worn through revealing the boards beneath, the cloth spine covering is faded/chipped/torn and has been amateurishly glue repaired and the front/rear inner hinges reinforced with clear tape, otherwise the covers remain legible and quite bright.  Internally, there is an old Kirby & Co. Booksellers label (upscale 1850-70’s New York City establishment) on the front paste-down; the first two and last two leaves (title page plus leaves 2, 111, and 112) are damaged and worn (mostly at the gutter margins from the glue/clear tape repairs, and with closed tears/finger smudges, edge wear and verso tape repairs) the title page is the most worn and is clear taped to the paste-down and on its verso to the gutter margin of leaf 2, it is edge-chipped/torn, creased and has clear tape repairs to the verso; leaf 27 has a closed tear and BB sized hole in the image; leaf 53 has a stiff gutter margin crease; and leaf 103 has a 2” closed edge tear; there is light shorelining, scattered light foxing, and some small staining throughout, some corner-tip creases/chips, and a few small closed gutter margin tears; nonetheless, despite the flaws, the 150 year old text and woodcut illustrations remain very crisp and bright.  Though flawed – A Rare Example of this 1863 First American Printing.  (Without these flaws, copies of this imprint have been sold in the range of $2000-$3000 dollars.)

One comment on “The First American Edition of the Book of Nonsense
  1. Doug Harris says:

    I have a copy of Lear’s A Book of Nonsense, the first American edition(1863) published by M Doolady of Walker Street, New York. It’s a scruffy copy, however the following is an interesting inscription on the blank inside leaf, written in pencil, as follows:

    “This book is remarkable for having afforded the late President Lincoln much amusement while waiting at City Point, the result of the operations of the army of Grant before Petersburg and Sh—- (Sherman?) in the Carolinas –

    He read the book through aloud, saying among other things “it recalled his boyish days, when it gave him great delight. –

    While reading it – he seemed to feel relieved for a time from the great burden of the affairs of a nation at war with our subjects – ”

    There is also a name on the opposing leaf, but it’s hard to decipher (Thomas Milson??).

    So what do you reckon – is this Abe’s personal copy or Thomas’s copy loaned to Abe while he twiddled his thumbs in incarceration during the Siege of Petersburg in 1864/5?

    This edition would certainly have been in print during the siege, although the reference to his boyish days seems retrograde as the earliest edition of Nonsense in 1846 would have had Lincoln at age 37, hardly a boy. The recollection of boyhood could of course have been more general and not directly related to nonsense verse.

    I found this reference to Abe’s reading habits:–what-abraham-lincoln-readan-evaluative-and-annotated-list?rgn=main;view=fulltext#note_114

    “Homer Bates, in Lincoln in the Telegraph Office (1907; reprint, New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1939), recalled that “[t]here was popular, many years ago, a pictorial book of nonsense to which Lincoln once referred in my presence. He said he had seen such a book, and recited from it this rime as illustrating his idea that the best method of allaying anger was to adopt a conciliatory attitude. The picture shown, he said, was that of a maiden seated on a stile smiling at an angry cow near-by in the field, and saying: ‘I will sit on this stile / And continue to smile, / Which may soften the heart of that cow'” (202–3). What Bates was remembering were the third and fourth lines of an Edward Lear limerick (Lear always put his limericks into four rather than five-line stanzas), the opening two lines of which were “There was an Old Man who said, “How,— / Shall I flee from this horrible Cow?” The volume in which the limerick first appeared wasA Book of Nonsense(1861 ed.), so Bates’s memory of the poem as “popular, many years ago,” was faulty, and Lincoln had in fact read it—along with other of Lear’s poems and paragraphs?—quite recently (see Vivian Noakes, ed., Edward Lear,The Complete Verse and Other Nonsense[New York: Penguin Books, 2001], 171)”.

    So, either I have a worthless scribble by someone surmising, a slightly less worthless scribble by someone who knew Lincoln intimately, or I have something from the library of the 16th president of the USA!

    I can dream …


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