Edgar Rice Burroughs Rare Tarzan Books

by The bookworm on March 29, 2012 · Modern Firsts

Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan of the Apes

One Hundred years ago, a young American author by the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs, wrote his second story, “Tarzan of the Apes” for the pulp magazine All-Story Magazine. The publication paid $700 for the work, which was enough to send Burroughs the message that he could quite possibly make a living as a writer. The story was published in the October 1912 edition of the magazine, but it was not until 1914 that the first book edition was printed by the A. C. McClurg publisher. The novel was adopted into a film with the same title, “Tarzan of the Apes” in 1918 and made its stage appearance on Broadway in 1921; the comic form in the original Tarzan comic strip followed in 1929 and its popular radio program aired during 1932-1936. It was then television’s turn to broadcast Tarzan in the mid 1950s series, followed by video and computer games, device apps, e-books , and a rare book of course.

The first edition published by A. C. McClurg & Co., of Chicago consists of 5000 copies, and an additional 2,500 copies which have the identical dust-jacket in the second issue. The difference between the two is a small gold acorn added to the publisher’s slug on the spine. A smaller Canadian first edition having 200-500 copies issued was released the same year in Toronto by McCelland, Goodchild & Stewart.  In total, 8000 copies comprise the entire first state, which is nevertheless quite a sizable release. After being put through the stress of time for the last one hundred years or so, the copies with the original dust-jackets are extremely scarce. The auction house of Sotheby’s sold a copy of the second issue, at the end of last year, for a little less than $40,000, while first issue copies with a dust-jacket in less than perfect condition are not available for anything below $50,000. On the other hand, first issue copies without a dust jacket, can be purchased for as little as a few thousand dollars.

Pictured on the rare dust-jacket of the first A. C. McClurg & Co. edition is a painting by Fred J. Arting.  The front panel shows Tarzan’s black silhouette on a tree branch with a full moon in the background, while the back panel has lion silhouettes. After the edge of Tarzan was drawn, the artist detailed the surroundings and around the edges using finer brushes and pigment.  Silhouettes were very popular in England during the 18th and 19th-centuries, and were primarily used in portraits. They were an inexpensive alternative to painted portrait miniatures and best of all they were also inexpensively copied once the initial outline was drawn. Is the lack of first state dust-jackets , that are in fair condition then, primarily due to the cost-cutting practices of the publisher?

The same holds true for the sequel published again, by A. C. McClurg, appropriately entitled “Return of Tarzan,” which is the second in Burrough’s series of books about Tarzan. Similar to the “Tarzan of the Apes”, it was first published in the pulp magazine New Story Magazine in the issues for June through December 1913 with the first book edition published in 1915.

 It is not clear why these dust-jackets are so scarce. There is little that can be done about inherent conditions leading to deterioration. Many books printed in the early 20th Century are now crumbling apart due to poor quality paper, but that is not true for the original McClurg publications.  Indeed, the paper used was not high in acid content, which would have turned paper brown and brittle over time, and ultimately given the appearance of being much older than they actually look to be. Perhaps, the best explanation can be offered by simply accepting that the success of the series formed a huge audience that quickly picked up these and the rest of the 19 novels in the series that followed.

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