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Dashiell Hammett – First Edition Books: Identification Guide

Dashiell Hammett
Dashiell Hammett

Samuel Dashiell Hammett (1894 – 1961) was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. He was also a screenwriter and political activist. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse) and the comic strip character Secret Agent X-9.

Dashiell Hammett “is now widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time”. In his obituary in The New York Times, he was described as “the dean of the … ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction.” Time included Hammett’s 1929 novel Red Harvest on its list of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005. In 1990, the Crime Writers’ Association picked three out of five of his novels for their list of The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time. Five years later, four out of five of his novels made The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time as selected by the Mystery Writers of America. His novels and stories also had a significant influence on films, including the genres of private eye/detective fiction, mystery thrillers, and film noir.

Raymond Chandler, often considered Hammett’s successor, summarized his accomplishments in The Simple Art of Murder:

Hammett was the ace performer, but there is nothing in his work that is not implicit in the early novels and short stories of Hemingway. Yet for all I know, Hemingway may have learned something from Hammett, as well as from writers like Dreiser, Ring Lardner, Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson and himself … Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish … He is said to have lacked heart, yet the story he thought most of himself [The Glass Key] is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.

Dashiell Hammett – First Editions Identification Guide

How to Identify First Edition books by Dashiell Hammett
YearTitlePublisherFirst edition/printing identification points
1929Red HarvestNew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929First edition. "Copyright 1927, 1929" stated on © page. Deep red cloth, yellow skull stamped on front board, top edge stained green. Creamy Dust jacket, orange/black pictorial front, black lettering. Front flap: Ads for Borzoi Mysteries Stories; back flap: Detective Stories of J. S. Fletcher ends with 'The House in Tuesday Market'.
Note: The second printing Dust jacket is similar to the first, except for the last title on the back flap 'The Matheson Formula'.
1929The Dain CurseNew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1930First edition." Copyright 1927, 1929" stated on © page. Medium yellow cloth, red skull stapmed on front board, top edge stained brown. Also variant binding in brown cloth. Creamy Dust jacket, red pictorial front, black letering. Front flap: Blurb for Red Harvest; back flap: ad for Detective Stories of J. S. Fletcher, ends with 'The Matheson Formula'. Price $2.00.
1930The Maltese FalconNew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1930First edition. "Copyright 1929, 1930" stated on © page. Light gray cloth, dark grayish-blue falcon stamped on front board. Creamy Dust jacket, yellow pictorial front, black lettering. Ad for Red Harvest & The Dain Curse to rear panel, printed in red/black. Front flap: blurb for The Maltese Falcon, begins with 'Sam Spade' continues to back flap. Price $2.00.
1931The Glass KeyLondon: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931First edition. "Pirinted in England for Alfred. A. Knopf" stated on © page. Blue cloth, white key stamped on upper right hand corner. White Dust jacket, pictorial front panel, black lettering. Rear panel: ad for Borzoi Novels, begins with 'Red Harvest', ends with 'Death in the Dusk. Front flap: blurb for The Glass Key; back flap: blank. Price 7s. 6d.
ALSO: New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931. First American edition. "Copyright 1931 by Alfred A. Knopf" stated on © page. Light green cloth, dark green key stamped on front board, centered. Creamy Dust jacket, pictorial front, replicated to rear panel, green lettering. Front flap: Blurb for The Glass Key; back flap: ads for Dashiell Hammett novels.
Note: The book was first published in England, before the American edition. The second printing Dust jacket is similar to the first, except for reviews for The Glass Key on front flap.
1934The Thin ManNew York: Alfred A. Knopf, McmxxxivFirst edition. "First edition" stated on © page. Grayish green cloth. Black mask stamped on front board, top edge stained burgundy. Creamy Dust jacket, two variants: red or green pictorial front, black/white lettering. Detective Stories of Dashiell on rear panel. Blurb for The Thin-Man on front flap, continues to back flap. Price $2.00.
ALSO: London: Arthur Barker Ltd., [1934]. First English edition. "First printed 1934" stated on © page. Creamy white Dust jacket, green/black pictorial front. Publisher's logo on rear panel. Price 7/6.

Dashiell Hammett – First Printing Dust Jackets Identification Guide

Gallery of First state Dust Jackets of Hammett’s works. Only includes the first appearance in book form. Either the UK or US edition and does not include later printings.

Reference:

  • Wikipedia
  • Richard Layman: Dashiell Hammett, A Descriptive Bibliography.

BOOKSTORE: Rare, Antiquarian, First editions, Illustrated Children's Books

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