Title: Thayer & Eldridge to Walt Whitman, 27 July 1860
Date: July 27, 1860
Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Whitman Archive ID: loc.00577
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Blake Bronson-Bartlett, Eric Conrad, Kathryn Kruger, and Nick Krauter
July 27, 1860
Your letter came duly to hand, we1 have not answered previously because we have had nothing particular to say, nor indeed have we now any further than that the English periodicals appear to be waking up—that notice in the Saturday Review is quite a pungent one2. The praise in regard to the mechanical execution of the book is great, from that source. It is more apparent however every day that a less, pretentious Edition to sell at $1.00 must be the one to be universally sold—we approve heartily of your idea in regard to a change in this respect—the fine Ed must be put up to 1.50 more would be sold at that price than 125 we believe, because when you make a difference in price people all at once see a difference in quality which they were blind to before3. If you make a book too good for the money—you ask for it, you degrade it at once. People do like to pay the cost of what they buy.
Still it is very evident that it was the best policy to insure the fine editions in the style in which they have appeared. It has commanded an attention and respect which we otherwise should not have obtained in certain quarters. Have you seen the notice in the Literary Gazette—it is regular "out and outer."4 As I write I am informed that the Spectator has noticed it but I have not seen it5.
As soon as we get any thing worth while we will report it as an advertisement in the N.Y. papers6.
About Fall we should make an extensive push in the advertisement way. We are now receiving 300 applications a day for Imprints but the orders by mail do not seem to come in much yet—probably owing to the season of the year which is more adopted to haying than reading. We shall probably dispose of all the second Edition before the close of next month and we think that we had better point it cheaper for the next Edition, with a small Edition of the other style with the addition at 1.50.
Let us hear from you further on this point—we do not think favorably of paper covers for a dollar book—nor paper covers for any kind—Let it be flexible cloth or cloth with boards.
Enclosed is a list of P [illegible] in England which have been furnished with Leaves of Grass
Thayer & Eldridge
1. Thayer and Eldridge was the Boston publishing firm responsible for the third edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1860). For more on Whitman's relationship with Thayer and Eldridge see "Thayer, William Wilde (1829–1896) and Charles W. Eldridge (1837–1903)." [back]
3. The Saturday Review described the 1860 Leaves of Grass as "a book evidently intended to lie on the tables of the wealthy," and quipped that "No poor man could afford it, and it is too bulky for its possessor to get it into his pocket or to hide it away in a corner." Thayer and Eldridge cite this review to demonstrate the demand for a "less, pretentious" edition of Leaves of Grass, one which would be printed in "flexible cloth" and sold for $1; with the proposed release of this cheaper Leaves of Grass,the price of the "fine" edition would be raised from $1.25 to $1.50. [back]
6. For an example of a periodical review that Thayer and Eldridge reprinted as an advertisement see the New-York Saturday Press (June 30, 1860), 3. Underneath an advertisement for Leaves of Grass, Thayer and Eldridge reprint a large excerpt from a New York New York Illustrated News review written by George S. Philips ("January Searle"). This advertisement takes up an entire column in the Saturday Press. [back]