As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases from amazon.com

Twenty Years of Collecting and Writing About The Early Editions of William Strunk’s Little Book, The Elements of Style


 on my Biblio Researching blog. In the post,  I discussed some of the revisions for each edition.  I revised the post the very next week to include a new addition to the collection.  I revised it again the next month to include yet another addition.  I continued to revise the post every time I added a new addition to the collection.  Finally, in December, 2012, I made my last revision to the post.  But I continued collecting….

My finances were in better shape in the Spring of 2009, and I was back to adding to my Elements of Style collection.  On the 27th of May, I purchased a 1936 Edition of The Elements and Practice of Composition on Amazon for $4.95.  This is the only copy of this edition that I have seen in twenty years of collecting. 

 In 1934, Tenney  provided practice leaves that students were required to purchase in addition to acquiring a copy of the 1934 Edition.  The practice leaves were included in the 1935 and 1936 editions, and the title of the book was changed to The Elements and Practice of Composition.  Interestingly, the copyright for the practice leaves was in Tenney’s name only.  Both Strunk and Tenney held the copyright for the 1934, 1935, and 1936 Editions.   Strunk and Tenney were listed as the authors for the 1935 and 1936 Editions, but Strunk was in Hollywood as the technical advisor for George Cukor’s production of Romeo and Juliet from July 1935 to June 1936.  The copyright date of the 1935 Edition was 17 September, 1935.  That’s why I believe that Tenney was responsible for most or all of the revisions.   And revise it, he did.  Even though Strunk may not have been involved in the revisions, his name is listed as one of the authors, and these editions have to be considered as early editions of The Elements of Style.

On the 23rd of June, 2009,  I won an eBay auction for a 1919 Edition of The Elements of Style.  I don’t have a record of sale anymore, but I may have bid as high as $125 for the pamphlet. 

 When I first opened the book, I made a bibliographical discovery!  The Press of W. F. Humphrey Geneva, N. Y. was listed as the printer of the 1919 Edition.  I thought it had to be a typo because the records at the Library of Congress and everywhere else identify the Press of W. P. Humphrey, Geneva, N. Y. as the printer of the 1918 and 1919 editions.  It wasn’t a typo.  It was a broken typeface that was used in the 1918 Edition, and everyone, including E B. White, believed the printer of the 1918 edition to be W. P. Humphrey.

I spent the summer researching the printing firms of W. P. Humphrey and W. F. Humphrey.  There was no record of the Press of W. P. Humphrey operating in Geneva, New York.  I even had the archivist of the Geneva Historical Society verify that the Press of W. P. Humphrey did not exist in Geneva, New York.  I contacted the librarians at the Kroch Library, Cornell University, reported my findings, and asked them to examine their copies of the 1918 and 1919 Editions of The Elements of Style.  Patrick J. Stevens, Curator of the Fiske Collections at the library, examined the printing statements of both editions.  I reported our findings in a paper that I submitted to the Library of Congress on September 21, 2009.  and I posted the paper,  A Correction to the Copyright and Bibliographic Records of The Element of Style on my Biblio Researching blog.  The Library of Congress corrected its records on September 28, 2009.
The year 2009 was the fiftieth anniversary of the 1959  Strunk and White Edition of The Elements  of Style.   To celebrate the anniversary, in October, 2009, Simon and Schuster published Mark Garvey’s book, Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.    I was disappointed in the book.  I expected  the author, Mark Garvey, to provide more information about the early editions of The Elements of Style.  One  edition, the Thrift Press Edition, wasn’t even mentioned in the book.  For months I stewed and stewed about writing my review of the book.  Finally, on April 9, 2010, I posted my review on my Biblio Researching blog.  I titled it, Stylized and the Forgotten Edition of Strunk’s Elements of Style.  In retrospect,  Garvey was on the money in devoting his book to the Strunk/White editions.   Those are the editions that most of the ten million buyers of the book bought, and what they wanted to read about.  Not the early editions.

On December 18, 2009, I purchased a copy of the 1934 Revised Edition of The Elements of Style from an AbeBooks Dealer in Cambridge, Ma. for $75. I now had three copies of this revised edition.

Price listings of the early editions of The Elements of Style were beginning to rise again in 2010.  There was also an edition of The Elements of Style that I didn’t even know about.  I’ll have more on that shortly.  In November, 2010, I contacted the Professor of History, and suggested that it might be time for him to sell his copy of The Elements of Style.   Earlier in the year an eBay seller listed a copy of the Harcourt, Brace and Company edition for $1500.  Better World Books listed a copy of the 1920 Harcourt, Brace, and Howe Edition on Biblio for $1,140.  Royal Books listed a copy of the  Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition for $2,250.  The firm later included this edition in a sale listing also containing the 1919, 1920, and circa 1945 Editions.  The price?  $6,250!   Kevin Johnson, proprietor of Royal Books, recalls selling the books straightaway.

Courtesy of Royal Books

Courtesy of Royal Books

The Professor of History, received several offers from booksellers; but $1,500 was the highest offer he received.  He couldn’t understand why his 1918 edition wasn’t worth more than the 1920 Harcourt, Brace and Howe Edition.  I pointed out that the Harcourt, Brace and Howe Edition was just as rare as the 1918 Edition.   As a side note, I wasn’t aware that there was a Harcourt, Brace, and Howe Edition until I viewed the edition in the Royal Books listing.  And that compelled me to research the firm.  Harcourt, Brace and Howe received its copyright of the 1920 edition of The Elements of Style on September 18, 1920.  Will D. Howe left the firm less than six months later,  some time between January and March of 1921.  By the 10th of March,  the firm had  a new name for its company, and a different colophon to print on its publications.

In January 2011, the Professor of History decided to sell his copy of the 1918 Edition to the University of Iowa.  And for a bit more than $1,500.  He realized he could have gotten even more from several other universities that showed interest, but he was impressed with the university’s writing programs, and that Iowa City was recently designated as a “City of Literature” by UNESCO.  To update and close out my reporting of his copy, I contacted him on January 7, 2022. I asked him how much he received for his copy of the 1918 edition, and how he would like to be identified in my post.  He responded that he received $2,000 for his copy of the 1918 edition, and that I could identify him by his current position, Professor of History, Austin Peay State University.  

Sometimes, eBay auctions fall through the cracks, and hardly anyone bids on the items up for sale. On April 23, 2012, I was the only bidder on an eBay auction for a Thrift Press Edition. I snagged it for ninety-nine cents!   

But usually, the prices of the early editions continued to remain high.  In November 2014,  Honey & Wax sold a 1920 Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition for $1275. 

On November 24, 2014, I published my post, The Early Editions of The Elements of Style.  I began the post with Toni Morrison’s quotation, “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it yourself.”  I thought the early editions of The Elements of Style had some of the worst bibliographical records.  I planned to write the definitive book on The Elements of Style in 1918, the one hundredth anniversary of Strunk’s little book.  But first I had to nail down the actual publication date of the Thrift Press Edition.  I was able to verify that Wendell Smith indeed used his Thrift Press Edition while attending classes at Cornell University in the 1940s.  And I included it in this post about the early editions.  But I couldn’t identify when the Thrift Press Edition was first published.  To find that out, I needed to go to Ithaca to find and research the archives of the Thrift Press.  
Around the middle of July in 2015,  I noticed a a significant uptick in the number of pageviews of my blog posts about my  Elements of Style Collection.  I found the source!  In an article in The Daily Beast on July 12, 2015, Mark Dery cited me as “a devout Strunkian who collects editions of Elements….”


On August 29, 2018, I won an eBay auction for my second copy of a 1919 Edition.  The paper covers were barely attached, but I expected to pay more than the $100 I paid for the pamphlet.   Copies of the 1920 Harcourt, Brace and Company First Trade Edition were still going for around $1,000, and the 1919 edition should have been worth more.

In February 2018, a woman from Georgia contacted me.  She had bought a box of old books at an auction in Pembroke, Georgia.  One of the books in the box was a copy of the 1918 Edition of The Elements of Style. 


She had read one of my posts online, and wanted to know what the current value of her copy of the book was.   I responded that the book was worth how much a buyer was willing to pay for it.  And how much a seller was willing to sell it for.  I told her how much the book was worth to me, and how much I was willing to pay for it.  But she was still enjoying having the book herself, and wasn’t ready to sell.  As of January 2022, she still is enjoying having the book herself. 🙁

I mentioned the Georgia woman’s copy of the book in a March 20, 2018 post to My Sentimental Library blog, Another One That Got Away, One I Gave Away, and One That Headed My Way; Or, The Adventures and Misadventures of MoiBibliomaniac. I also gave a rundown of the other two copies of The Elements of Style that I wasn’t able to buy, The Riedel Copy that Madeline Kripke acquired, and the copy belonging to the Professor of History.  I had been periodically corresponding with Madeline Kripke since 2004, and in 2018  I finally learned the true facts about her purchase of the 1918 Edition.  I thought she paid five grand for it.  She paid three grand.  I thought the book was a proof copy with corrections for publication in a 1919 Edition.  It was the proofs of the original 1918 edition.  Strunk’s original manuscript was lost, so this proof copy was the earliest known state of the book.  And in this same post, I announced that the Professor of History sold his copy of the 1918 Edition to the University of Iowa.
On April 30, 2020,  I read an obituary in The New York Times that left me reeling.  On April 25, 2020, the coronavirus claimed the life of my friend Madeline Kripke!  I posted a tribute to her on the 5th of May, Defining Madeline Kripke: A Remembrance.  This post contains a week’s worth of correspondence with Madeline in March, 2018, mostly about her copy of The Elements of Style. 

On a good note, in October, 2021, The Lilly Library acquired the Madeline Kripke Collection of 20,000 books, including her  proof copy of The Elements of Style.

The prices of early editions of The Elements of Style have remained high, particularly for copies of the Harcourt, Brace and Company edition.  And my days of buying copies of this edition for $50 or less are long gone.  Earlier in this post, I mentioned that on January 19, 2022 four copies of the Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition were listed on Abebooks  with prices ranging from $800 to $1,000.  Burnside Rare Books of Portland, Oregon listed two copies, one for $850 and the other for $1,000.  Bearly Read Books of Sudbury, Ma. listed a copy for $800.  Singing Saw Books listed its copy for $950, but appears to identify it as a Harcourt, Brace and Howe Edition.  However, the colophon displayed in its photo of the book is clearly the colophon of a Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition.   There was a copy of the 1934 Revised Edition listed For $450 on AbeBooks on January 19th by The Bookplate of Chesterton, Maryland.  And there was a copy of the Thrift Press Edition listed on AbeBooks for $400 by Grendel Books of Springfield, Massachusetts.

I need to stay something about the bibliographical records of the First Trade Edition of The Elements of Style.  And I write records instead of record because the publisher’s name on the title page and the colophon on the front cover of the Harcourt, Brace and Howe Edition differs from what appears on the Harcourt, Brace and Company Edition.  The differences, however, are not enough for a new edition to published.  What we have here are two issues of the First Trade Edition.

Before I end this post, I want to mention two purchases of facsimile editions of early editions of The Elements of Style.

On January 6, 2022, I purchased a facsimile edition of the First Trade Edition.  Suzeteo Enterprises has been publishing this facsimile edition since 2018 under  ISBN: 978-1-947844-32-2.  Buyers on eBay, and on the book search engines as well, should beware of the wording in the listing, “The Original 1920  Edition.”  It is a facsimile of the original edition.  And the wording has caused confusion!

Here’s an eBay auction that ended on November 30, 2021.  The listing has the same exact words as the listing of the facsimile editon, “The Original 1920 Edition.” 

 But this was, in fact, an original copy of the First Trade Edition!  And some observant eBay buyer (not me) purchased it for $7.96!

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Trendy Home Site
Logo
Enable registration in settings - general
Compare items
  • Total (0)
Compare
0
Shopping cart