New York: United States Book Company, Successors to John W. Lovell Company, 1885. Hardcover. This is a lovely late 19th century American edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, pseudonym of Charles Dodgson (1832-1898), published by the John W. Lovell Company, New York, circa 1885, with 42 illustrations by John Tenniel. The title and copyright pages are undated, but the 1885 publication date is consonant with information in The Lewis Carroll Handbook (Williams, Madan, Green & Crutch). Certainly publication predates the early 1890s; prior to 1891, American publishers did not need reprint permission, and the publisher was experiencing financial difficulty by 1893 that soon put it out of business.
Very much of its time, this edition is bound in handsomely embossed cyan blue boards featuring elaborate floral and geometric designs in blind, navy, and gilt on the front cover and spine. The profusely illustrated contents are bound with floral endpapers complementary in hue and design to the binding. Condition is very good overall. The covers remain bright with no appreciable toning and compelling shelf presentation. Moderate shelf wear to hinges and extremities and blemishes to the undecorated rear cover do not substantively detract from the binding’s aesthetic. The contents are clean, with no reportable spotting. Age toning is prominent only to the page edges. The sole previous ownership marks are a name and previous owner’s “Pasadena” address in pencil on the recto of the blank leaf following the front free endpaper. A partial split to the front endpapers at the gutter is cosmetic only, not affecting binding integrity.
Carroll made numerous published contributions to mathematics and politics, publishing his first book at the age of 28. Exhaustively titled A Syllabus of Plane Algebraical Geometry, Systematically Arranged, with Formal Definitions, Postulates, and Axioms, this work may have inadvertently triggered Carroll’s gift for encapsulating the plausibly ridiculous. Despite his scholarly career and publications, it was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that would introduce and define him to posterity. Akin to how the fictional story begins, the real one started when Carroll had to come up with an impromptu tale to entertain a child while sitting along a river bank.
Carroll’s famous protagonist was based on the young Alice Liddell, whose father Henry George Liddell became the new dean of Christ’s Church, where Carroll lectured on mathematics. The middle of three children, Alice was not yet four when Carroll first made her acquaintance. Carroll retained a close and trusted friendship with the Liddell family for seven years, during which time his fondness for Alice intensified. It was only after an undisclosed event occurred in June 1863 that the relationship soured. The particulars of the precipitating event were removed from Carroll’s diary by a family heir, but inference suggests a romantic blunder.
Alice asks at the outset of the adventure: what is the use of a book without pictures or conversations? Carroll’s story and life surely answers the question. “Had Dodgson [Carroll] never written the Alice books, he would have earned a nod or a paragraph in various specialized histories: mathematics and logic, photography, parliamentary voting systems, and games and puzzles. But the Alice books have earned him a place in the firmament of the great, for they are not only acts of imaginative genius but they also revolutionized writing for children.” (ODNB). Item #006720