Recently I learned from a bookseller in England, Giles Bird O.B.E. of BAS Ltd. in London, that the first printing of Plath's 1960 volume of poetry The Colossus was a number far less than that of The Bell Jar. (He in turn, it should be said, was provided with the figure by the amazing Jean Rose, an archivist at Random House Group UK which holds Heinemann's archives.) Anyone want to take a guess as to the number?
My first reaction was shock. However, shock might have been a premature evaluation. After all, Heinemann was not normally a publisher of poetry. And in light of the fact that they were more known for their fiction -- Heinemann were publishers, according to Plath, of "Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, DH Lawrence, Erskine Caldwell" (letter to Aurelia and Warren Plath, 11 February 1960) -- perhaps the qualification for the size of the print of The Bell Jar as a "token quantity" of 2,000 is not too low after all? That is, perhaps it was a "token quantity" compared to the normal print runs of those well-known novelists. Regarding Plath's assertion that Waugh was a Heinemann author, Bird wrote me that "Sylvia got it wrong about Evelyn Waugh having Heinemann as his publisher. He didn't. His UK publisher was pretty consistently Chapman & Hall. Heinemann only brought out a few Waugh reprints in the late 70s - which Sylvia never saw. However, in addition to the other great writers she listed, Heinemann were Graham Greene's publisher from 1929 up until 1961."
Oh, I still have not mentioned how many copies were in the first print run of The Colossus, have I? Frankly, I cannot get over it. Plath was disappointed that her book, which although it had almost all of the poems in it published individually, won no prizes and was hardly promoted in England. Just after publication in October 1960, Plath wrote resignedly to her mother and brother, on 19 November 1960 to be exact, that perhaps The Colossus would make "a nice gift book". Indeed. Anyone lucky enough to own the book now is quite lucky!
Still waiting for the number of Colossi? Read on, please. Because I love Plath's books and enjoy seeing them, reading them, drooling over excellent quality first and limited editions at book fairs and in rare book libraries, it seems appropriate to list five current titles for sale from BAS Ltd., which all seem accurately described, affordably & competitively priced, and in fine condition.
***Please note the images provided in each description are from Giles Bird of BAS Ltd. There are more from where these came! Each book is available as of today's date, please contact BAS Ltd. for availability and information.***
1. Ariel, Faber, 1965:
Very crisp and clean in original pink-red cloth boards, with gilt lettering bright to spine; unfaded and unworn appearance, binding very tight and square, with corners and edges sharp, unrubbed; gentle bump to foot of spine; internally also very fresh and unmarked with no inscriptions, no signs of previous usage or flaws to the paper; slightest of shadowing from inflaps to endpapers. Dustwrapper is very good and not price-clipped; it has light edgewear and handling marks, and very minor losses to extremes. Very good indeed. £440
2. Crossing the Water, Faber, 1971:
3. The Bell Jar, Faber, 1966:
Very crisp in original black cloth boards, with gilt lettering to spine; very tight and square, with corners sharp and unrubbed, and edges not bumped or shelf-worn at all; a remarkably fresh copy, totally denying nearly a half-century of age; internally completely unmarked with no signs of usage – apparently untouched; the unclipped dustwrapper is bright and totally unfaded; undamaged with absolutely no handling marks to white of panels or inflaps; only the tiniest of wear at the foot of spine at the rear fold. The black vortex design has never looked stronger than this. Fine. £390
4. Winter Trees, Faber, 1971:
5. The Colossus, Heinemann, 1960:
In Letters Home [26 October 1960], Sylvia Plath confided to her mother how excited she was with Heinemann's production of her poems:
"I am touched that my publisher got them out in my birthday week after I told him how superstitious I was. I hope the two printing errors towards the end don't upset you as much as they did me! I've marked the corrections in your books and am appalled that after several proofreadings I was guilty of letting them get through, but Ted has reassured me about them and you do, too. I am delighted with the color of the cover – the rich, green oblong, white jacket and black-and-white lettering – and the way the green cover inside matches with the gold letters. It is a nice fat book which takes up ¾ inch on the shelf, and I think they did a handsome job of it…"
In original green cloth boards with gilt lettering bright to spine; no noticeable wear, nor rubbing nor bumping of corners; square and tight; internally very fresh and firm; absolutely no handling marks or paper deterioration. An excellent copy in a very good dustwrapper, lightly nicked at head of spine and upper inflap fold, slightly sunned to spine and folds, as one might well expect for a frail, white and scarce wrapper - but still remarkably well preserved, and with no restoration. Now housed in a custom-made complementary dropback box, this is a highly desirable and rare copy of the very significant and influential first published collection of poetry by Sylvia Plath. £2500
500 copies! My my my.
All links accessed on 1 March 2014.