London: Chapman and Hall, 1861. First edition. 3 volumes, octavo. Original violet wavy-grained cloth, the covers with floral decoration within linear border stamped in blind, spines lettered in gilt, yellow endpapers. Housed in a custom red quarter morocco and cloth solander box. With 32 pp. publisher’s adverts at end of Vol. III dated May 1861. Spines expertly relined with original spines laid down, ends and tips refurbished, hinges skillfully repaired, some foxing and spotting to contents, withal a very good copy in bright cloth.
First impression, published on 6 July 1861, one of 1,000 copies. The first edition was divided into five impressions, with distinct title pages labelling them as five editions, perhaps to imply rapid sales. The modern bibliographical authority is generally agreed to be the table given in Appendix D to the Clarendon edition, 1993, based on line-by-line collation of six 1861 copies, with additional spot checks from other copies, in which Margaret Cardwell agrees with the traditional conclusion that the same setting of type was used for all five impressions: “there is no warrant for treating the five impressions as distinct editions” (p. 491). However, she deduces that the impressions were sequential and that minor corrections and gradual deterioration of type can be shown across the five impressions. This copy has the great majority of Cardwell’s points for the first impression, but with the following exceptions: Vol. II: 282.3 no ink between seemed and hardly; Vol. III: 39.5 no ink between you and feel; 193 foot middle I in III is not faint (although the same page has line 23 with the initial i in inflexible missing, Cardwell’s state 1); 195.2 first inverted comma not faint; 217.3 in Cardwell's state 4/5, with very faint dot of semicolon after night; 220.16 end-of-line hyphen is not faint.
Cardwell notes: “The Bodleian copy of Vol. III in 1st impression emends the following faults: 103 page-No.; 193.23; 195.2; 220.16. It also has at 192.11-12 himself very/carefully. These changes suggest a later state of Vol. III within the 1st impression.” This copy has 192.11-12 himself very/carefully, but emends five faults, only two of which are as the Bodleian copy, which suggests that Cardwell's account of Vol. III does not definitively reflect all possible variants within the first impression as issued.
Cardwell admits that “the comparatively small number of copies collated of each impression must be a consideration. The findings do suggest sufficient cumulative evidence towards reasonable identification of impressions, though there are some occasions […] where there is evidence of correcting during printing”. The first impression of Great Expectations is a famously rare book. Robert L. Patten, Charles Dickens and His Publishers (Clarendon 1978) states that 1,000 copies of the first impression and 750 of the second were printed and that probably most of the first and more than half of the second (1,400 copies in all) were published by Mudie’s Select Library where, as circulating library copies, they inevitably suffered a high rate of attrition.
Smith I.14. Very Good (Item #1969)