The following review appeared 13 March 2019 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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Recent decades have seen the publication of many facsimile reprints of Mark Twain books--both individual titles and large sets. The most ambitious of these reprints has been Oxford University Press's 29-volume facsimile set of American first editions that were originally published during Mark Twain's lifetime. First issued in uniform hardback volumes in 1996, the Oxford set was edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin, who invited more than 60 noted authors and scholars contribute new introductions, afterwords, and other editorial notes to the books. Each volume contains photo-facsimile pages of its title's first-edition text along with as many as 50 to 100 pages of completely new material that make the books a uniquely valuable resource. (For more on the Oxford Mark Twain, see my Forum review at <http://www.twainweb.net/reviews/omt1-rev.html>.
In 2010, Oxford reissued its Mark Twain set in a paperback edition. Around that same time, a company called the Bradford Exchange began issuing expensive, full-facsimile replicas of first editions on a subscription basis. It began with 15 titles, later adding 6 more with so little fanfare one might not even know they existed, were it not for their occasional appearance on eBay. By "full-facsimile," I mean reprints that match original editions both inside and out in almost every detail, including physical size. The Oxford facsimiles differ in being issued in uniform-size volumes and in duplicating only the books' textual pages--whose sizes were adjusted to fit the edition's standard dimensions.
Other publishers had sold full-facsimile editions of selected Mark Twain titles before Bradford, but that company's books carried facsimile reproduction to an even higher level by duplicating every physical aspect of each book--dimensions; paper; bindings; cover designs; embossing; and gilding. Indeed, the company carried duplication so far that its books don't contain a single date or word identifying them as reprints--a fact that may tempt ignorant or unscrupulous dealers to try passing them off as genuine first editions.
Now, yet another ambitious reprint edition is coming out, and it is something quite different than earlier reprints. Last year, SeaWolf Press, a small company based in Orinda, California, began issuing Mark Twain reprints in what it calls the "Mark Twain 100th Anniversary Collection" (a curiously delayed allusion to the 2010 anniversary of the author's 1910 death). SeaWolf plans to reprint about 45 titles, including several not in any previous uniform edition, such as Mark Twain's (Burlesque) Autobiography; A True Story; Punch, Brothers, Punch!; and a number of post-1910 Harper first editions. The company has already published reprints of books by other 19th century authors, including Jules Verne and Robert Lewis Stevenson, as well as 50 Jack London titles--the last scarcely a surprise, incidentally, considering the Bay Area company's name.
Sturdily bound paperback volumes sold primarily through Amazon.com, the SeaWolf books are manufactured by Amazon's print-on-demand service, using acid-free and moderately heavy matte paper that has a nice feel. Like Oxford's paper-bound edition, the SeaWolf volumes are uniform in size but somewhat larger. Each 6" x 9" volume is about a half-inch taller and an eighth-inch narrower than its Oxford counterpart and is also substantially thicker, despite having fewer pages. SeaWolf books also differ from the Oxford books in several other ways.
SeaWolf books resemble facsimile reprints in physical appearance but are not facsimiles. Each book has completely reset type and new page layouts designed to fit the set's uniform dimensions. Resetting type to reprint books is not unusual, of course. What makes these books different is that their pages are designed to mimic those of the first editions. They use the same or very similar typefaces and contain all the original illustrations. SeaWolf's success in emulating first editions is especially impressive in volumes such as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, which has numerous pages with text wrapped closely around irregularly shaped illustrations. I should also add that my cursory examination of the texts found no typesetting errors.
One might wonder why bother to reset type if the goal is to make pages resemble those of first editions. One reason is the publisher's goal to make the books comfortable to read with larger and clearer typefaces than those of most original and true facsimile editions. Moreover, thanks to having new type, the books don't have the broken, worn, and occasionally difficult to read characters sometimes seen in facsimile reprints. Examples of SeaWolf layouts can be seen on Amazon's "look inside" pages for each title. (Those pages might be best appreciated by comparing them to the pages of a first edition or a facsimile reprint.)
SeaWolf's reset type also offers another advantage that in some volumes seems almost paradoxical: Although most SeaWolf books use at least slightly larger fonts, they also typically have fewer text pages than the first editions. For example, SeaWolf's Connecticut Yankee has about 130 fewer pages than the first edition, even though it uses a larger font. The reason for this apparent paradox is that many first editions have generous amounts of "white space" in wide margins. Moreover, when first-edition pages were fitted into the Oxford Mark Twain's standard dimensions, the proportions of white space usually increased. A striking example can be seen in the Oxford reprint of The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg: Type areas in its 398 facsimile pages fill only about 33 percent of each page. Though using a slightly larger typeface, the SeaWolf edition needs only 217 pages to contain the same text. Type areas in typical SeaWolf books fill about 75 percent of each page without looking crowded. In addition to wasting less space, the SeaWolf pages are generally more pleasing to the eye.
A second significant way in which SeaWolf books differ from other reprint editions is in their cover designs. Oxford paperback edition volumes have uniform cover designs differing only in their titles and contributor names. In contrast, not only does each SeaWolf edition have a unique cover design, most are available with a choice of two completely different covers. Most titles issued so far are available with color facsimiles of first edition covers above a brown banner along the base containing name of the edition. One Huckleberry Finn version, for example, copies the green and gilt cover of the Charles L. Webster Co. first edition. The result is reasonably handsome, but because the reprint cover has different proportions, SeaWolf has altered its layout slightly, making Huck's image slightly slimmer. Few people would notice the alteration without placing a book next to a first edition, however.
SeaWolf's second Huckleberry Finn version uses Worth Brehm's attractive painting of Huck fishing that appeared on a Harper Brothers pictorial edition in 1923. Like the other SeaWolf version, this cover design has also been slightly altered to fit SeaWolf's standard dimensions. Several other titles also offer both first-edition designs and full-color Harper illustrations as options. (Speaking strictly personally, I find those with the Harper covers far more attractive.) For several titles, SeaWolf went further afield for cover designs. The Celebrated Jumping Frog reprints, for example, are available with replicas of both the first American and the first British editions of that title. The first American edition of The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays (1900) was issued in Harper's bland red cornstalk edition. As that book's original cover would make for a dull reprint, SeaWolf instead used the cover of the first British edition--Chatto & Windus's striking design. It has a line drawing of a sinister-looking man in a top hat seated on a chair, apparently floating in space over a dark yellow background that makes the man appear to be emitting shock waves. (I should add that while I'm not sure whether the contents of the two British editions I've mentioned exactly match those of their American counterparts, SeaWolf's copyright pages make it clear that the books' contents are from the American editions.)
As a final point on cover designs, it should be noted that the spines on the volumes do not attempt to replicate those of the first editions. Each book's spine simply has its title printed in a typeface matching that of the front cover title over the same color background as that of the front cover, with a cameo drawing of Mark Twain superimposed on the brown banner at the base.
Finally, the SeaWolf editions issued to date contain no additional editorial matter beyond brief blurbs about Mark Twain and the individual books. Readers seeking additional substantive material will naturally prefer the Oxford Mark Twain editions, but those interested only in reading Mark Twain's own words are likely to prefer the SeaWolf books. With the Oxford books now apparently out of print, however, that choice may be academic. In any case, the SeaWolf books are handsome, sturdy, and reasonably priced volumes that would make excellent reading copies and fine gifts.
Titles issued to date along with their ISBN numbers are:
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - first edition original
978-1948132824 - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Worth Brehm painting cover
978-1948132817 - Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - first edition original cover
978-1949460810 - Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Worth Brehm painting cover
978-1948132862 - The Prince and the Pauper - first edition original cover
978-1948132114 - The Prince and the Pauper - William Hatherell painting cover
978-1948132893 - The Celebrated Jumping Frog - first edition yellow cover
978-1948132886 - The Celebrated Jumping Frog - first edition red cover
978-1948132121 - The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg - Chatto & Windus first edition cover
978-1949460797 - Eve's Diary - first edition cover
978-1948132077 - The Innocents Abroad - first edition cover
978-1948132084 - The Innocents Abroad - Antonio Joli painting cover
978-1948132879 - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - first edition cover
978-1948132909 - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Eugene Frandzen painting cover
978-1948132916 - Roughing It - first edition cover
978-1948132930 - Roughing It - Charles Nahl painting cover
978-1949460766 - Life on Mississippi - first edition cover
978-1949460735 - Life on Mississippi - Frank E. Schoonover painting
(It should also be noted that Amazon's online search feature using only the ISBN numbers for this series is not currently functioning. The books are best found by searching "Mark Twain" under AUTHOR and "SeaWolf Press"--spelled out in full--under PUBLISHER in Amazon's advanced book search.)