Mark Twain Forum Reviews: SeaWolf Press Mark Twain 100th Anniversary Collection by Mark Twain

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Mark Twain 100th Anniversary Collection. By Mark Twain. Orinda, Calif.: SeaWolf Press, 2018. 10 titles to date. Paper, 6″ x 9″. $6.95 to $15.95 per vol.

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by R. Kent Rasmussen

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) AutobiographyA True StoryPunch, 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.

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