October 29, 2013

CCLaP Rare: Oscar Wilde's "Dorian Gray," the Very First Modern Library Book Ever Made (1917, ML001)

Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, the very first Modern Library book ever made, 1917

Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, the very first Modern Library book ever made, 1917

Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, the very first Modern Library book ever made, 1917

Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, the very first Modern Library book ever made, 1917

Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, the very first Modern Library book ever made, 1917

Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, the very first Modern Library book ever made, 1917

Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, the very first Modern Library book ever made, 1917

Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, the very first Modern Library book ever made, 1917

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The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Oscar Wilde
Very First Modern Library Book Ever Made (1917, ML001)

DESCRIPTION: All of us are familiar with "Modern Library" books, because their thousands of title/design combinations from over the decades can still be found in the wild by the millions, selling for just a buck or two on the back shelves of thrift stores and garage sales nationwide; but have you ever stopped and wondered just what the very first Modern Library book actually was? Well, you're looking at it, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, from 1917 when the company was still owned by Boni and Liveright; for while technically it's true that the first dozen titles of the ML's very first catalog were all released at the exact same time, by this one technically having the very first catalog number (ML001), it makes it technically the very first volume in the company's history. See, Boni and Liveright used to be just another popular mainstream publisher in the US, and the "Modern Library" series was just a half-forgotten experiment that took up little of the company's attention, an attempt to pump out perennial sellers from over the years in a cheap uniform edition with a high profit margin, back before tech innovations would allow this to be done through even cheaper mass paperbacks; and it was in this half-forgotten state when first come across by young B&L employee Bennett Cerf, who suddenly understood the kind of goldmine the company was sitting on in a way that no one else there did. That's what allowed Cerf to convince B&L to sell him the entire catalog and naming rights for a song in 1925; and after putting the kind of money and attention into it that he realized it deserved, the titles started selling in the millions every year, in large part because of the kind of individualized vendor/agent "elbow grease" attention that Cerf perfected in his early career. (In fact, parent company Random House originally started as a mere imprint of Modern Library, a place where Cerf could literally publish any random manuscript he came across that he particularly happened to enjoy; but this side of operations became so popular that Random House eventually became the main core of the company, and the Modern Library a subsidiary of it.) A popular publishing concern that still continues to this day, by now the Modern Library has become an important permanent fixture in the entire American culture; and this is a chance to own a legitimately collectible part of that culture's history, the very first book to kick off the thousands of others that have come after it.

CONDITION: Text: Very Good (VG). In general this is in great shape for a softcover book its age, although there are noticeable scuff marks on both edges of the spine and on the cover corners. Ink signature "Marie Erikson" on the inside front cover. Dust jacket: missing (as is common with books this old). As confirmed by the Modern Library collecting website Modernlib.com, visual confirmation of multiple aspects (leatherette and castor-oil cover, marbleized endpapers, no colored bands on spine, no "Modern Library" on spine, no decorative box on title page), plus an interior ad for the "First Twelve" titles of the company's very first year, makes this a true 1917 first edition.

PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP on September 2, 2013, at the Oak Park Book Fair.

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, October 29, 2013. Filed under: CCLaP Rare | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles |