Saturday, November 30, 2013

"[...] a tool to show possible buyers"

Huckleberry Finn was already in press in 1884 when publisher Charles L. Webster received an alarmed letter from an advance salesman: A mischievous engraver had altered the illustration above to give it a rather darker character (NSFW).
     It certainly puts a new spin on the caption.
     Despite a reward of $500, the prankster was never identified. Webster had to call back all published copies of the novel, cut out the plate, and tip in a new one, delaying publication past the Christmas season. But it’s fortunate they caught it when they did — it could have ruined Mark Twain’s career."
Futility Closet
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“[…] It was too easy. Someone took the opportunity handed to him by the gods (most likely Loki or Hermes, depending on one’s cultural preference) and went for it. As with Twain’s other books, salesmen flooded American cities attempting to sell the book [Huckleberry Finn] through subscription before it was published. In lieu of showing a copy of the book that hadn’t yet been completed, the salesmen were given a prospectus as a tool to show possible buyers what the finished product would look like. The prospectus mimicked the binding of the book (including samples of the more expensive leather options), portions of the text, and examples of the illustrations. It was one of these traveling salesmen who first discovered the problem.
     The Uncle Silas plate had been defaced. A couple of minor strokes onto the engraved plate had given Uncle Silas a penis, sticking out obscenely in Huck’s direction. Uncle Silas was exposing himself to the boy.
     Suddenly Mrs. Phelps’s odd smile and the caption took on a new meaning.”
Aldine by Rebecca Romney
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