London: Bradbury & Evans, 1848. First edition. 20 parts in 19, demy octavo. Original yellow printed paper wrappers. Housed in a green morocco pull-off case and chemise, with red leather book label of the American collector E. H. Mills on chemise. Etched frontispiece, vignette title page, and 38 plates, wood-engraved vignettes and initials in the text, all after Thackeray. Front wrapper of no. V with the bookseller's inkstamp of Law & Pinkney, Waterloo Buildings, Birkenhead (rubbed). Wrappers a little dust-soiled, a few spines with old repairs, some spotting to plates as usual, mostly marginal, overall an excellent copy.
First edition in the original parts. As a novel published in parts, the first edition of Vanity Fair resists attempts to shoehorn it into the template familiar from booksellers’ descriptions of Dickens novels in parts, such as Pickwick Papers. The early parts of Vanity Fair were already being reprinted in stereotype before serialization was complete, and some parts were reprinted as many as eight times. Variants both before and after stereotyping were not all introduced in an orderly sequence, with the result that individual copies inevitably contain some corrected and some uncorrected sheets. Given the practices of contemporary publishing, a complete set of all parts in uncorrected first state as first issued to one original buyer is a pipe dream.
In this set, all but two parts are the first printing from type, except No. V, which is the second printing, from stereo plates, with “done;” at 156.5 (corrected to “done,” in the third printing); and No. VII, second printing, from stereo plates, with “stately” at 202.35 and “commission” at 23.17 (corrected to “state” and “commissions:” in the third printing). There are second state readings within the first printing at No. I, sig. C; No. XIII, sig. DD; No. XIV, sig. EE; and No. XVI, sig. KK. No. X is the first state with “Osborne” at 309.3 (“Sedley” in second state and later printings). The title-page in the final part is the first printing (Shillingsburg distinguishes six different title-pages).
These points are from Peter L. Shillingsburg, who is the best guide to the complicated process of printing and reprinting parts of the first edition, including changes made after stereotyping, building on earlier work by David A. Randall. The description still usually relied on, that of Henry S. Van Duzer, was published in 1919; his copy had one rear wrapper supplied, so was not an ideal copy, and Randall points out that his collation is incorrect in several instances. Probably the most familiar Van Duzer point (“Mr. Pitt” at 453.31) is not indicative of first issue or state, as the reading is common to the entire first edition and the change to “Sir Pitt” was not made until the second edition of 1853.
As for the wrappers, which Shillingsburg does not deal with (mentioning that these are the elements the author had least to do with), Randall notes that the front wrappers of the last four parts, XVI to XX (XIX-XX being a double number), occur in two states, dated and undated. In this copy, all four parts are undated, and the last double number has the imprint with “T. Murray, Glasgow”, all of which Randall hints, on “purely negative” evidence, may be later states.
Randall, David A., “Notes Towards a Correct Collation of the First Edition of Vanity Fair”, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 42, second quarter 1948, pp. 95-109. Shillingsburg, Peter L. “The Printing, Proof-Reading, and Publishing of Thackeray's ‘Vanity Fair’. The First Edition”, Studies in Bibliography, vol. 34, 1981, pp. 118–145. Shillingsburg, Peter L., “Final Touches and Patches in ‘Vanity Fair’: The First Edition”, Studies in the Novel, vol. 13, no. 1/2, William Makepeace Thackeray (spring-summer 1981), pp. 40-50. (Item #2506)