Twelve Years a Slave, Not Just The First Edition, The First Printing!

Twelve Years a Slave, Not Just The First Edition, The First Printing!

Northup, Solomon. Twelve Years a Slave. Auburn [NY]: Derby and Miller; Buffalo: Derby, Orton and Mulligan; Cincinnati: Henry W. Derby, 1853.

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Were you moved by the recent Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave? Then here’s your chance to “adopt” an exceedingly rare true first edition, first printing of the original book written by Solomon Northup over 160 years ago. This particular copy has been in AAS’s collections since we purchased it in 1964 (for quite a bit less than it goes for today!) and is inscribed: “Norman B. Shaw for Hiram C. Shaw – when we are no more.”

For those of you who missed the movie, the original book’s subtitle sums up the story: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River, in Louisiana. Only six month after Solomon Northup was reunited with his family in January, 1853, his book, written with the help of his editor, David Wilson, was available for sale. And sell it did. Within a month, the first printing had sold out, and the publisher was advertising the “Fifth Thousand” printing, then the “Eighth Thousand” and “Thirteenth Thousand,” all in the latter six months of 1853.

The first printing of Twelve Years a Slave can be distinguished as it has no "Thousand" information at the head of the title page. Also it doesn’t mention a London edition on the title and copyright pages and it has only a dedication to Harriet Beecher Stowe (later printings include a quote from her Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin). It also contains a four-page catalog of Derby & Miller publications bound in between front pastedown and flyleaf, as issued.

For more history on Solomon Northup and his book, the AAS blog Past is has a series of posts titled “Twelve Years a Slave, The Book.”

Adopted by Sally and Rudy Ruggles

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