The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Hartford, CT: American Pub. Co.; San Francisco, CA: A. Roman, 1876
First American edition, first printing
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) wrote three different versions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer between 1872 and 1875 before it was first published in London in June, 1876.
Many American authors preferred to have their books published first in England, since that was the only way to secure British copyright. First printings in England, and then the United States, usually occurred only a couple of months apart. In the case of Tom Sawyer, the delay was longer, frustrating Twain. Too much of a delay often resulted in piracy, which is exactly what happened in the case of this work. At least one pirated edition surfaced in July in Canada.
Twain believed that the delay and the piracy caused him loss in royalties. Tom Sawyer was reviewed unfavorably in the London Examiner, the day it came out. A July review in the literary magazine, The Atheneaum, was more kindly.
In December 1876, Tom Sawyer was printed in the United States and sold by subscription only. This was a common method of book distribution in the United States during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Book agents would cross the country with a publisher’s prospectus, selling and placing orders for as yet unpublished titles. Once the title was released the books would be delivered directly to subscriber’s homes. Only later editions were available in bookstores.
Tom Sawyer was not an immediate success. The American publisher sold only 24,000 copies in its first year. The pirated edition was not the only reason for poor sales. One book agent in California complained that the story, at only 274 pages, was not long enough. Potential subscribers apparently felt the same way.
Twain typed the manuscript for Tom, and later claimed that it was the first typewritten manuscript. Historians, however, believe that this distinction goes to Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. The frontispiece of the first American edition was drawn by Twain. Publisher’s advertisements, dated Dec. 1, 1876 on two leaves in back.