New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851. First American edition. The present copy is in the first binding, BAL's "A" state in blue, with orange endpapers and the publisher's device stamped centrally on the covers. Copies in first issue bindings appear in black, blue, grey, green, purple-brown, red, and slate coloured cloth, without any priority - as Sadleir notes, it was the custom of American publishers in the 1850s and 1860s to bind an edition in cloths of various colours, for the purpose of window display. Original blue cloth, spine lettered in gilt with decorative band in gilt at head and foot, covers blocked in blind with thick one-line border and central publisher's life-buoy device, orange coated endpapers. Housed in a dark blue quarter morocco solander box by The Chelsea Bindery. With 6 pp. publisher's advertisements at rear. Contemporary engraved bookplate of D. Rosell, Jr. on front pastedown. Spine a touch slanted and darkened, ends and corners gently bumped and worn with minor loss at foot (minor tear neatly secured), cloth soiled with a few faint marks and small split along rear joint, shallow knock at lower edge of front cover; orange endpapers with usual offsetting, inner hinge expertly repaired, contents foxed as often, free of annotations and otherwise clean bar the occasional mark, small closed tear at lower edge of leaf 2.7 (pp. 37-8) due to overhanging corner. A very good copy overall.
Melville's famed novel of a sea captain engaged in an obsessive chase after his nemesis, the white whale Moby Dick, and possessing one of the most famous openings in literature: "Call me Ishmael." The US edition was the first to appear under the familiar title, and contains 35 passages and the epilogue omitted from the English edition which slightly preceded it. Moby-Dick was originally issued in London earlier the same year, set from the New York sheets and titled The Whale. Now universally acclaimed, at the time the novel was a "complete practical failure, misunderstood by the critics and ignored by the public; and in 1853 the Harpers' fire destroyed the plates of all his books and most of the copies remaining in stock" (DAB, vol. 12, p. 523) - it is estimated that only about sixty copies survived.
BAL 13664. Grolier American 60. Johnson High Spots 57. Sadleir 221, 229. (Item #4959)