Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years
New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1926. Signed, limited, and numbered issue of the first edition. Hardcover. This two-volume set is the publisher's signed, limited, and numbered issue of the first edition of Carl Sandburg’s biography, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. Distinct from the trade edition, the publisher issued 260 copies “on imported Dutch charcoal rag paper, numbered and signed by the author, of which 250 copies are for sale.” Each set was hand-numbered in red on the half-title verso limitation statement, below which Sandburg signed in black.
This limited issue is bound in quarter cream buckram with paper spine labels over blue laid paper-covered boards. The contents, featuring untrimmed fore and bottom edges and gilt top edges, are bound with blue and yellow silk head and foot bands and endpapers of the same blue laid paper as the boards. Each volume was issued in a plain dust jacket of the same blue laid paper employed on the boards and endpapers. The publisher apparently issued the dust jackets with a 1.75 inch (4.45 cm) circular cutout on the upper spine, allowing the volume’s paper spine label to be viewed beneath.
Condition of this set is noteworthy, featuring near fine volumes in the exceptionally scarce original dust jackets. The bindings are square, clean, and tight with sharp corners and no appreciable wear. The sole exterior defect is toning to both spine labels, consonant with the cutouts in the dust jackets; of note, each volume has a pristine, publisher-supplied replacement spine label tipped onto the terminal leaf. The contents of both volumes are immaculate, with no spotting, no previous ownership marks, bright gilt top edges, and modest age-toning apparent only to the otherwise clean fore and bottom edges. The dust jackets are noteworthy simply for being present. Both jackets have toned spines. The Volume Two jacket is substantially complete apart from fractional chipping to the spine ends. The Volume One jacket has a shallow strip loss at the spine head, trivial loss to the upper corners, and small tape reinforcements at both ends of the front hinge. Both jackets are protected beneath clear, removable, archival covers.
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.” 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 lifelong fascination for Sandburg, who collected information about the iconic President for decades before he began writing about him. These first two volumes, The Prairie Years, were published in 1926, a 344,000-word study covering Lincoln’s life up to his move to Washington to become the President of the United States.
Sandburg’s work was heralded for its singular point of view. Historian Allan Nevins called it “homely but beautiful, learned but simple, exhaustively detailed but panoramic… unlike any other biography or history in the language.” Another historian called The Prairie Years “A poem of the human spirit, not Lincoln’s spirit only.”
“Sandburg had planned to stop writing about Lincoln after the publication of The Prairie Years.” Nonetheless, “for the next thirteen years he researched and wrote about the President’s last four years.” (NPS) The ultimate result was the four-volume Pulitzer-Prize winning biography Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, published in 1939.
There was also a publisher’s signed, limited, and numbered issue of The War Years, but more than twice as many sets were issued (525) as for The Prairie Years. Moreover, the signed, limited issue of The War Years was bound in less handsome though sturdier brown buckram. Hence, of the two sets, The Prairie Years is the more elusive, particularly in this condition. Item #007380