New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939. First edition. Hardcover. This is a full, four-volume set of the publisher’s signed, limited, and numbered issue of the first edition of Carl Sandburg’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. Distinct from the first trade edition, the publisher issued 525 copies “all on rag paper, numbered and signed by the author”. This limited issue was bound in brown buckram with thick, beveled edge boards, gilt printed colored spine panels, and Lincoln’s facsimile signature “Your Obt. Svt. Lincoln” in gilt on the front covers. Each set was hand numbered on the Volume I title page verso limitation statement, above which Sandburg signed.
This set is numbered “503” in red ink, with Sandburg’s signature in black ink. Condition of this set is exceptional, better than near fine. All four bindings are uniformly square, tight, and clean, with sharp corners and no appreciable shelf wear. We note only trivial blemishes to the upper front covers of I & II – plausibly just faint finger marks – and a barely discernible hint of spine toning. The contents are immaculate. We find no spotting or previous ownership marks, the gilt top edges remain bright, and even the untrimmed fore and bottom edges are beautifully bright and clean. Likely the pristine condition of the contents owes to two heavy khaki buckram slipcases lined with black paper holding Volumes I & II and Volumes III & IV respectively. The slipcases show only minor wear and blemishes.
Equal parts biography, work of literature, and epic prose poem, Carl Sandburg’s (1878-1967) monumental, multivolume biography of Abraham Lincoln has been called “the best-selling, most widely read, and most influential book[s] about Lincoln.” When the work was first conceived in 1922 Sandburg seemed an unlikely figure to write a biography of an American President. Sandburg was not a writer of prose, much less history. He was widely acclaimed for his poetry, which included Chicago Poems (1916) and Cornhuskers (1918) for which he received his first Pulitzer Prize in 1919.
Abraham Lincoln was a source of lifelong fascination and admiration for Sandburg, who collected information about the iconic President for 30 years before he began writing about him. Like his fellow poet, Walt Whitman, Sandburg viewed Lincoln as a representative of the hope of American democracy. (Sandburg wrote in a 1938 letter “Old Walt strolls in and out of the pages [of Sandburg’s Lincoln biography] regularly”.) The first two volumes, The Prairie Years, were published in 1926. Though the historical value was certainly questioned – Sandburg was less than forthcoming about sources – his work was immediately heralded for its singular point of view. Historian Allan Nevins called it “homely but beautiful, learned but simple, exhaustively detailed but panoramic… [occupying] a niche all its own, unlike any other biography or history in the language.” Sandburg’s Lincoln was both a real person and a source of American myth. It was as one historian put it, “A poem of the human spirit, not Lincoln’s spirit only.”
Sandburg followed his pastoral with a history of Lincoln’s time in Washington and his response to the great American crisis of the 19th century - the four volumes we offer here. When The War Years was published in 1939 Sandburg was well aware of the timeliness of its title. He wrote to President Roosevelt, "Having written for ten years now on 'Abraham Lincoln: the War Years,' starting this year on the fourth and final volume, I have my eyes and ears in two eras and can not help drawing parallels. One runs to the effect that you are the best light of democracy that has occupied the White House since Lincoln." Sandburg won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize in History for this work. He would win his third Pulitzer – his second for poetry – in 1951 for Complete Poems. Upon his death in 1967, Carl Sandburg was eulogized by President Lyndon B. Johnson as “more than the voice of America, more than the poet of its strength and genius. He was America.”. Item #006284