Owen Meredith's Lucile
A Brief History of the Project
Lucile entered our consciousness soon after we moved to Tulsa in late 1984. We began to note the book, always in different editions, in antique shop after antique shop, usually one of a very few books amidst objects of other kinds. Since they were typically well preserved and rarely priced beyond five dollars, we began to buy the more interesting of them as examples of 19th century cloth binding styles.
We then began to look for them in bookshops as we traveled around the midwest -- a splendid silver binding (Philadelphia: Altemus, 1896) was found at an early date in Wichita, Kansas. We soon came to the conclusion that every bookseller could be expected to have at least one copy of Lucile in stock (probably one held for some long time) -- and, remarkably, always in an edition we had not previously seen. We collected forty editions before seeing a duplicate. In the summer of 1990, we found in a Spokane, Washington, bookshop a second copy of a Chicago: M.A. Donohue & Co. edition. After collecting 70 copies, we inadvertantly duplicated a Crowell.
There had, of course, been prior sensitization. In 1970, when I went to work in the Special Collections department of the University of Chicago Library, my first assignment was to move the department collections from closets and cages on many levels of the William Rainey Harper Library into the newly completed Joseph Regenstein Library. A few months later, as we settled in, my boss, Robert Rosenthal (1926-1989), told me I was now in charge of our binding/preservation program. Another member of the staff, Margaret McFadden Smith, was taking bookbinding classes with conservator Paul Banks at the Newberry Library and was willing to spend an evening each week with a small group who wanted to acquire similar skills from her. I joined the group, continued it when Peggy married and moved to England, and through the 1970s became a reasonably skilled book binder and maker of protective enclosures (boxes). Rosenthal had noted the many 19th century editions of Thomas Moore's Lallah Rookh (1817) and was opportunistically collecting them; Gwin Kolb (1919-2006), in the English department, was actively developing his collection of Samuel Johnson's Rasselas (1759); and graphic designer and bookbinding historian Sue R. Allen (1918-2011) was a very good friend of the department: I had the pleasure of working with her as she wrote Victorian Bookbindings: A Pictorial Survey (University of Chicago Press, 1976), perhaps the first "book" (it was a pamphlet) accompanied by a microfiche of binding images. These influences had led to a modest collection of Victorian bindings, perhaps 50 items, gathered as inexpensive examples.
And we were ripe for Lucile. We began to look for copies in bookshops as we traveled around the midwest -- a splendid silver binding, a Philadelphia: Altemus, 1896 Presentation Edition, was found at an early date in Wichita, Kansas. We soon came to the conclusion that every bookseller could be expected to have at least one copy of Lucile in stock (probably one held for some long time!) -- and, remarkably, always in an edition we had not previously seen. We collected forty editions before seeing a duplicate. In the summer of 1990, we found in a Spokane, Washington, bookshop a second copy of a Chicago: M.A. Donohue & Co. "Aurora" edition. After collecting 70 copies, we inadvertantly duplicated a Crowell.
It soon seemed possible to distinguish "good" Lucile towns from less good. We found five editions in New Orleans (in four different bookshops), two in one afternoon in Evanston, Illinois, and while overnight in Omaha, another five editions in two shops: two "padded" versions in a "collector's gallery" and three editions in a bookstore--each in a different location (one in poetry, one in literature, the third among $.50 books on remote upstairs shelves). We found six editions in three Spokane bookstores, plus an additional edition in an antique shop there. Copies turned up regularly at Tulsa's largest used book store, First Editions Book Shop, and an annual visit to Tulsa's Three B's nearly always yielded a copy. By contrast, a day of hard work in 1988, thoroughly scouting a half dozen shops in Philadelphia, turned up nary a copy (nor did a return visit in 1991); David Szewczyk, however, has since repaired Philadelphia's reputation by offering several copies and gifting others.
We must acknowledge, with gratitude, the help of other friends. William Wreden gave the collection an early boost by insisting we accept as his gift three copies found in an obscure corner of his famous Menlo Park basement. Robert Behra sent five editions collected in and around Austin, Texas; later, a further three editions collected in Pittsburg (leading us as well to two others in the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop, Boston); still later another four (three from Akron and another from Boston); and continued to find otherwise unknown issues from his venue in Rhode Island. Anna Kirkpatrick spotted one edition in Tulsa's Dusty Bookworm and sent three more found in Chicago and northeast Indiana. Alice Price gave us a splendid Caldwell edition found near her summer home in Michigan. Other copies have come from the Book Collectors Club of Tulsa (which presented a greatly welcomed copy of the first American illustrated edition (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1868) on our departure from Tulsa), Carl Young, Bobbie Hooser, and other friends. As we left Tulsa in early 1999, the McFarlin Fellows gifted us with a splendidly slipcased copy of the first English edition (London: Chapman & Hall, 1860).
By 1990, we had become more than a little curious about this book, and I thought to collate the information in the National Union Catalog of Pre-1956 Imprints (Mansell) as a means of getting a more or less comprehensive sense of the number and variety of editions in which it had appeared. Surely libraries, collectively, would hold them all, I naively thought. Lucile is entered in the NUC under Lytton, Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st earl of, 1831-1891, the entries numbered NL 0594571 through 0594671 (Supplement NSL 00443398 through NSL 0043402).
101 institutions had reported 250 copies. Most institutions reported only one or two copies, but a few (Harvard, Illinois, the Library of Congress) reported as many as 40. I mailed each instiution a survey form which asked if each copy reported to NUC was still held; if it was in its original binding (and for a few details of that binding); and if any non-reported, additional, copies were held. Nearly a third of the reported copies had been lost, deaccessioned, or rebound, but the final question brought records on nearly 200 additional copies, the majority of which we had not encountered in our collecting.
The survey led to our single largest haul, in November 1990: on the same day we received one edition from William Loos (Buffalo and Erie County Public Library) and thirteen from Oberlin College Library. Prompted by my questionnaire to review their holdings, Oberlin decided to deaccession thirteen of the fifteen editions in its collection, all of which had come to it by gift before 1930 and none of which had ever circulated. I offered to provide a home, and Oberlin let us have them. The two held back were unique in 1990 and, while other copies have since turned up, they remain rare.
The collection got another boost in 1992 when Terry Belanger announced a gift to his Book Arts Press, then in the process of moving from Columbia University to the University of Virginia (and now incorporated in the Rare Book School collections and exhibited in the Rotunda). The University of California at Los Angeles Library had offered as an inaugural gift a collection of 140 Luciles! Not long after, Belanger acquired an additional 105 copies from Philip Bevins of Arundel Books. Terry was generous indeed in sending both collections to Tulsa for me to work with, and he permitted me to extract duplicates of a half dozen editions in exchange for one duplicate in our collection not present among the BAP books and my construction of a number of slipcases and dropspine boxes for those returning to Virginia. Both the Huttner and Rare Book School collections have grown on the same understanding ever since.
Our collection is far from complete, and we welcome assistance with it. Our initial principles were that the book must be complete; in its original binding and in good condition; and priced at no more than five dollars. We have occasionally been forced to deviate from each principle. Anthony Garnett offered for $25 a too splendid Osgood 1882 with a later letter about the book's bibliography laid in; an interesting McDonald binding on another copy of the Osgood 1882 cost $25 in an Evanston shop; and we have paid $10 to $15 for a few others. Most early copies, however, ranged between $2.50 and $5.00; by 1999 average price had crept up to $8-$10, and has pretty much stuck there. While condition on the whole is excellent--were these thousands of rhymed couplets ever read by anyone?--we have accepted a few fragile bindings in less than perfect condition thinking it likely we shall never see another copy. While less interested in them, we have also accepted copies of Meredith's collected poems (which includes Lucile), among them a New York: Hurst & Co. in color-printed dustjacket, unusual for this period.
The only decision we regret, indeed, is having passed (repeatedly!) a lavishly illustrated royal octavo which lingered for several months in a Tulsa antique mall. The passion had not yet taken full hold, we thought $38 far too high a price, and we did not even take proper notes on the book. We have, needless to say, not seen another copy for sale since. For some time it seemed likely it was the undated American News Company Royal Octavo Edition, a damaged copy of which was used as the base of Kristine Atkinson and Joyce Atkinson's Journal, the Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason (Simon & Schuster, 2006). [The Atkinsons' collaged over the pages, leaving selected snippets of Meredith's text to play against the collaged materials. Much more information is available by Googling "Amy Zoe Mason."].
When we were able, finally, to acquire a copy of this edition, it was clear it did not match our memory of the Tulsa copy -- and that edition, whatever edition it is, remains the Moby Dick of Luciles. It may have been a Worthington edition of the 1880s, but that too doesn't seem entirely consistent our with long-stored mental images.
A general request to the Exlibris listserv in 1994 asked institutions not contacted in the 1990 NUC survey to report holdings. This led to identification of dozens more editions and variant bindings, work that was partially consolidated in an exhibition of the Rare Book School Luciles in the Rotunda of the University of Virginia during the summer of 1995: The Adventures of Lucile in America: Orchids, Gold Leaf, & Padded Leather.
By this time, work with Publishers' Weekly had suggested that a systematic review of Publishers' Trade List Annual, established in 1873, would help sort many undated editions. This effort was greatly facilitated by the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana Library's loan of its copy of the Meckler microfiche edition of PTLA, 1903-1938 (the help of Martha Landis, William Brockman, and Lynn Wiley is acknowledged with gratitude); by James Davis, University of California, Los Angeles who arranged the loan of several early PTLA volumes not held by the Cornell University Library; and finally, by a 1997 Bibliographical Society of America Fellowship which permitted us to employ E. Jethro Gaede, Cornell University Library, to review most of the volumes 1873-1902 and photocopy all pages referencing an edition of Lucile. This support is herewith gratefully acknowledged to the Society.
In our first ten weeks in Iowa City (January-March 1999), we added four new copies, one of which (a Mershon), however, came as the gift of Marion Lucile Wilkerson of Tulsa as a result of a newspaper article about our January presentation to the McFarlin Fellows. eBay came online about that same time, and in each calendar year from 1999 through 2006 I acquired about 100 copies of Lucile, almost all from eBay bidding, adding another handful of previously unidentified publishers at the same time. At the end of 2004, the collection stood just over 800 copies. By early 2007, the number of Luciles offered on eBay at any particular time remained about the same -- six to 15 -- but the number of "new" ones appeared to fall off, and I have since averaged nearer 75 copies a year than a 100. Average price per copy remains just about $10.00, including shipping (despite a sharp increase in postal rates). As of July 2011, the collection stood at 1150 (plus 85 copies of the Works). As of July 2011, 1261/102; as of March 2012 1261/102 and today 1289/105.
In March 2010 I was appointed a 2010-2011 Katherine F. Pantzer, Jr., Fellow in Bibliography by the Houghton Library, Harvard University, and I spent a month in residence there during April and May 2011. I was able to make a thorough search for Lucile in the Houghton Mifflin Company archives and returned with more than 2000 "notes" in the form of photographs of ledger entries and pages. I have not yet digested this mass of detail, but one immediate result is a kind of "Classics Illustrated" version of the book!
-------- Sid Huttner
Last revised: 20 February 2014