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Louisa May Alcott – First Edition Books: Identification Guide

Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888) was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet best known as the author of the novel Little Women (1868) and its sequels Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886). Raised in New England by her transcendentalist parents, Abigail May and Amos Bronson Alcott, she grew up among many well-known intellectuals of the day, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Alcott’s family suffered from financial difficulties, and while she worked to help support the family from an early age, she also sought an outlet in writing. She began to receive critical success for her writing in the 1860s. Early in her career, she sometimes used pen names such as A. M. Barnard, under which she wrote lurid short stories and sensation novels for adults that focused on passion and revenge.

Published in 1868, Little Women is set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts, and is loosely based on Alcott’s childhood experiences with her three sisters, Abigail May Alcott Nieriker, Elizabeth Sewall Alcott, and Anna Alcott Pratt. Little Women was well-received, with critics and audiences finding it suitable for many age groups—a fresh, natural representation of daily life. An Eclectic Magazine reviewer called it “the very best of books to reach the hearts of the young of any age from six to sixty”. With the success of Little Women, Alcott shied away from the attention and would sometimes act as a servant when fans would come to her house. The novel is still popular today among both children and adults. It has been adapted many times to stage, film, and television.

In 1877, Alcott was one of the founders of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union in Boston. After her youngest sister May died in 1879, Louisa took over the care of her niece, Lulu, who was named after Louisa. Alcott suffered chronic health problems in her later years, including vertigo. She and her earliest biographers attributed her illness and death to mercury poisoning. During her American Civil War service, Alcott contracted typhoid fever and was treated with a compound containing mercury. Recent analysis of Alcott’s illness suggests that her chronic health problems may have been associated with an autoimmune disease, not mercury exposure. However, mercury is a known trigger for autoimmune diseases as well. An 1870 portrait of Alcott does show her cheeks to be quite flushed, perhaps with the “butterfly rash” across cheeks and nose which is often characteristic of lupus, but there is no conclusive evidence available for a firm diagnosis.

Louisa May Alcott was an abolitionist and a feminist and remained unmarried throughout her life. All her life she was active in such reform movements as temperance and women’s suffrage. She died from a stroke, two days after her father, in Boston on March 6, 1888.

Louisa May Alcott – First Editions Identification Guide

Please refer to Bibliography of American Literature by Jacob Blanck for detailed description of various cloth types.

How to Identify First Edition books by Louisa May Alcott
YearTitlePublisherFirst edition/printing identification points
1855Flower FablesBoston: George W. Briggs & Co., 1855First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: A cloth: blue; red; slate-blue. T cloth: brown.Yellow end papers.
1863Hospital SketchesBoston: James Redpath, 1863First edition. Two bindings, no priority:
  • (A) Green boards, yellow end papers.
  • (B) Green or purple cloth.
1864The Rose FamilyBoston: James Redpath, 1864First edition. Wrappers, salmon-coated on white; pinkcoated on white.
1864On Picket Duty, and Other TalesBoston: James Redpath, [1864]First edition. Green wrappers.
1865MoodsBoston: Loring, 1865First edition. Black cloth, yellow-coated end papers.
ALSO: Boston: Loring, 1865. Second edition. "Second edition" stated on title page.
Note: There is a Third Edition, illustrated by Frank T. Merrill though not so marked. Has often been offered as the first edition.
1867The Mysterious Key, and What It OpenedBoston: Elliot, Thomas & Talbot, [1867]First edition. Blue wrappers, printed in blue. Issued as No. 50 in the Ten Cent Novelettes series of Standard American Authors.
1867Morning-Glories, and Other StoriesBoston: Horace B. Fuller, 1868.First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: C cloth: purple; terra-cotta.
ALSO: dark purple-brown T-like cloth embossed with an arrangement of diagonal beaded rules. Brown-coated end papers.
1868Kitty’s Class DayBoston: Loring, 1868First edition. Two printings, probably priority:
  • (A) Pale buff wrappers. Copyright notice in the name of A. K. Loring, dated 1868, printed on a slip and pasted to p. 2, concealing the imprint of Rockwell 8c Rollins.
  • (B) Leaf 6 a cancel. Copyright notice printed at center of p. 2. Rockwell & Rollins imprint at foot of p. 2.
The wrappers occurs in two states, priority unknown:
  • (A) Front imprinted: LORING’S TALES OF THE DAY. KITTY’S CLASS DAY.
  • (B) Front imprinted: LORING’S Tales of the Day. KITTY’S CLASS-DAY.
1868Aunt KippBoston: Loring, [1868]First edition. Pale buff wrapper.
1868Psyche's ArtBoston: Loring, [1868]First edition. Pale buff wrapper.
1868Little Women or, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy Part SecondBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1869First edition. In two parts (1868, 1869). Variant bindings, no priority: C cloth: green, purple, terra-cotta. Brown-coated end papers. The third page of the advertisements (p. 11) prices Little Women at $1.25; later 1868 and 1869 copies price the book at $1.50.
Note: Much emphasis has been given the fact that the first printing does not have a note at p. 341 regarding Little Women, Part Two; and, the fact that the earliest form of the binding does not have the statement Part One on the spine. However, there were at least three printings dated 1869 before the notice was added to p. 341; and, four 1869 printings have been noted without the Part One statement on the spine. 2000 copies copies printed.
ALSO: Sampson Low, London, 1868. First English edition.
1869Little Women or, Meg, Jo, Beth and AmyBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1869First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: C cloth: green, purple, terra-cotta. Brown-coated end papers. 2000 copies printed. Four states, priority as listed:
  • (A) No notice for Little Women, Part First, at p. iv.
  • (B) At p. iv is a note: Little Women, Part First, is published in a volume uniform with this. P. 364: has four entries. P. 366 headed 'Handy Volume Series. / I. / Happy Thoughts ...'
  • (C) The note present at p. iv. . P. 364: has five entries. P. 366 headed: 'Handy Volume Series. / I. / Happy Thoughts ...'
  • (D) The note present at p. iv. P. 364: has five entries. P. 366 headed: 'The Handy Volume Series. // Messrs. Roberts Brothers ...'
ALSO: Sampson Low, London, 1869. First English edition. Reissued in 1870 as 2 vols. in one.
1870An Old Fashion GirlBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1870
  • First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: C cloth: green; purple; terra-cotta. Brown-coated end papers. Two printings, priority as listed:
  • (A) No advertisements on copyright page. Mudge imprint on copyright page. P. 159, line 17, reads '... incensed at at ...'
  • (B) Advertisements on copyright page.
ALSO on copyright page: the imprints of both Mudge and Wilson. Error present, p. 159. The 2nd state of the 2nd printing has p. 159 corrected.
ALSO: Sampson Low, London, 1870. First English edition.
Note: The London (Sampson Low) edition may have been issued a few days before the American.
1871Little Men: Life at Plumfield with Jo’s BoysLondon: Sampson Low, 1871First edition. C cloth: blue. Edges gilt. Inserted at back: two publisher’s catalogs dated, respectively, Sept. 1870; and, May, 1871. Gray end papers.
ALSO:Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1871. First American edition.Variant bindings, no priority: C cloth: green, purple, terra-cotta. Brown-coated end papers. 10,000 copies printed.
1872Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag. My BoysBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1872First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: FL cloth: green. C cloth: blue; old rose. Brown-coated end papers.
ALSO: Sampson Low, London, 1872. First English edition. Note: There is a possibility that the London (Sampson Low) edition was issued before the Boston edition.
1872Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag. Shawl-StrapsBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1872First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: FL cloth: green. C cloth: orange, blue. Brown-coated end papers.
ALSO: Sampson Low, London, 1872. First English edition.
1873Work: A Story of ExperienceBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1873First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: FL-like cloth: green, purple, terra-cotta. Brown-coated end papers.
ALSO: Sampson Low, London,, 1872. First English edition.
Note: There is a possibility that the London (Sampson Low) edition, 2 Vols., preceded the Boston edition by a day or so.
1874Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag. Cupid and Chow-ChowBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1874First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: FL cloth: green. C cloth: blue, salmon. Brown-coated end papers.
ALSO: Sampson Low, London, 1874. First English edition.
1875Eight Cousins ; or, The Aunt-HillBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1875First edition. C cloth: blue. Brown-coated end papers. Two states, priority as listed: (A) 6 pages of advertisements at the end. (B) 4 pages of advertisements at the end. The text has been extended to 291 pages instead of 290 pages. In blue C cloth or green FL cloth.
1876Silver Pitchers : and Independence, a CentennialBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1876First edition.Variant bindings, no priority: S cloth: terra-cotta; green; red. Brown-coated end papers.
1876Rose in Bloom. A Sequel to “Eight Cousins.”Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1876First edition. FL cloth: green. C cloth: blue; red. Brown-coated end papers. Two printings, priority as listed:
  • (A) '...WITH ILLUSTRATIONS' on the title page. The plural is erroneous since the book contains no illustrations save for the vignette title-page. Rare, not seen; With the offending S erased from the title page. Noted only in copies of the first printing.
  • (B) With the S routed from plate; a fragment remaining gives the appearance of a slovenly printed period thus: 'ILLUSTRATION.'  Noted only in copies of the second printing.
1877A Modern MephistophelesBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1877First edition. V cloth: black. Pale buff end papers imprinted with publisher's advertisements. Front pastedown dated Midsummer, 1876. Issued anonymously.
1878Under the LilacsSampson Low, London, 1878First edition. Issued in 11 monthly parts. Blue paper wrapper. Illustrated. 7" x 4%". In each part the wrapper serves as title. Each part dated.
ALSO: Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1878. First American edition. Variant bindings, no priority: FL cloth: green. C cloth: blue; terra-cotta. Brown-coated end papers. Preceded by the London edition issued in parts.
1879Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag. Jimmy’s Cruise in the PinaforeBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1880First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: C cloth: blue, red. FL cloth: green. S cloth: orange. Blue-gray end papers imprinted in gray-purple with a floral pattern.
Note: Occurs on both wove; and, on laid paper. No sequence known. However, a deposit copy is printed on wove paper; an 1880 printing examined is printed on laid.
1880Jack and Jill. A Village StoryBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1880First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: C cloth: red. FL cloth: blue-green. White; and, blue cartridge paper end papers; both imprinted in green or brown with an all-over floral pattern.
1882Aunt Jo's Scrap-Bag. An Old-Fashioned ThanksgivingBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1882First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: C cloth: blue. S cloth: green; brown. White end papers printed in green with an all-over leafy pattern.
1884Spinning-Wheel StoriesBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1884First edition. S cloth: terra-cotta. White end papers printed in green with an all-over leafy pattern.
1886Lulu’s Library Vol. 1Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1886First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: S cloth: red; blue; mustard. White end papers printed in tan with a leafy pattern. Note: Occurs with and without the numeral 1 on the spine. The sequence has not been determined. When present the numeral is stamped in either gold or color. On Vols. 2-3 a numeral is present and is stamped in color.
1886Jo’s Boys and How They Turned OutBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1886First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: S cloth: brown; green. White end papers printed in light green with an all-over floral pattern.
1887Lulu’s Library Vol. 2Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1887First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: S cloth: red; blue; mustard. White end papers printed in tan with an all-over leafy pattern. Two printings, priority as listed:
  • (A) 12 pp. advertisements at rear.
  • (B) 10 pp. advertisements at rear.
1888A Garland for GirlsBoston: Roberts Brothers, 1888First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: S cloth: terra-cotta; green. White end papers printed in blue-green with an all-over bird-and flower pattern;
ALSO: white end papers printed in tan with an all-over leafy pattern. Two printings, priority as noted:
  • (A) 6 pp. advertisements at rear.
  • (B) 4 pp. advertisements at rear.
1889Lulu’s Library Vol. 2Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1889First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: S cloth: red; blue; mustard. White end papers printed in tan with an all-over leafy pattern.
1893Comic Tragedies Written by “Jo” and “Meg” and Acted by the “Little Women.”Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1893First edition. Variant bindings, no priority: S cloth: mustard; brown; peacock blue. White end papers printed in olive with an all-over leafy pattern.

Reference:

  • Wikipedia
  • Bibliography of American Literature byJacob Blanck, Vol. 1.
  • Louisa May Alcott, A Bibliography by Lucile Gulliver

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

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