The Time Machine, an invention

The American Edition [New York; 1895; Henry Holt], is said to have been placed on sale shortly after having been received by Publishers Weekly as a sample copy of new books in print by Holt, on May 18th, 1895, after having been received by, and entered into cataloguing by the Library Of Congress on May 7th, 1895, and, hence, possibly preceding by as much as 11 days, the issuance of the 1895 William Heinemann First British Edition which differed substantially in text.

The confusion which surrounds the issuance of The Time Machine is, even among ‘noted experts,’ a thing of legend. Inclusive of the single trial copy, no less than seven states of the Heinemann first edition have been recorded. It is known that, between May and August of 1895, 6000 copies were printed and bound in wrappers, and 1500 copies in boards.

One well-known bibliographer suggests that the first state of the book includes a 16 page catalogue of advertising to the rear of the volume, and that a later state includes a 32 page set of advertisements. A second source discounts this, insisting that the original issue was bound without any catalogue whatsoever, pointing to the following facts: the single trial copy known (being indisputably the first state of the first edition, with Wells‘ name misspelled as, H. S. Wells on the front board), in the publisher’s grey-oatmeal cloth, stamped in brown violet, had no catalogue bound in [note: that copy is currently for sale, through a bookseller who is an icon among bibliophiles, at $35,000.00]. The Time Machine was the first Heinemann offering to include a publisher’s catalogue of advertisements, while later Heinemann titles included catalogues as a matter of course. Scholarly conjecture is that the book first appeared without a catalogue (circa May 29th, 1895), and that later examples were bound together with a catalogue included, when it was realised that public reaction to a book whose thickness was a scant three-eighths of an inch, made sales slow at best. His logic that the catalogue was added as an afterthought, and as an aid for ‘padding’ the book, coupled with the fact that the catalogue’s size was increased in later printings, and that the idea replicated itself with Heinemann’s later titles seems quite sound, and rather less like guesswork. Being now more than 100 years removed from the time of printing, it is doubtful whether bibliophiles will ever agree wholly upon the priorities of the various labyrinthine states.
Wells began work on The Time Machine nearly eight years before its publication in the form we have come to know as one of the most imaginative novels of the nineteenth century. Originally serialised in three parts in The Science School Journal, [London; Students‘ Press; Royal College Of Science] in 1888 as The Chronic Argonauts. After two further drafts, now lost, and presumed later destroyed by Wells in an effort to dismiss the earlier forms of his work, it was republished in The Fortnightly Journal [London; 1891] as The Rediscovery Of The Unique and, early in 1892, was again set in type for The Fortnightly Journal but not republished there, under the title The Universe Rigid. William Ernest Henley, then editor of The National Observer asked Wells to rewrite the novel, and began serialising it as The Time Travellers Story [London; March through June, 1894], though the magazine never published the conclusion, owing to Henley accepting a position as editor of The New Review wherein, finally, The Time Machine was eventually published, almost in accordance with the Holt edition, from January to May of 1895.

This particular copy :

Close woven grey-oatmeal cloth-covered boards, titled and credited in brown-violet on the backstrip [The | Time | Machine || Wells | Heinemann], decoratively stamped with the figure of a sphinx on the front board, and stamped further with the publisher’s stylised logo [an interlocked cursive "w" and."h" in a circle, with a sphere over the leading edge of the "w"] in the lower left corner of the back board. This copy is inscribed from Wells on the front free endpaper, as a presentation, to his literary agent and lifelong friend, A. S. Watt: "To A. S. Watt. | with fondest best wishes | H. G. Wells," and bearing the steel-engraved bookplate of author Wilbur Cherrier Whitehead (likewise an associate of Watt) laid down on the front pastedown.


Through the years, attrition and deterioration has claimed hundreds of the original 1500 examples bound in cloth, many have been rebound in leather, or in other fine bindings. This copy of The Time Machine is also housed in a lovely deep blue full Morocco clamshell case, all surfaces heavily gilt, with double-inlaid gilt Morocco labels to the spine and front board, lined in deep blue acid-free moire silk.
A. P. Watt and Company, Limited, was the world's first literary agency and was, for its first thirty years of existence, the largest as well. Alexander Pollock Watt (1834-1914) began working as a literary agent in 1875 when a friend called upon him to negotiate a contract with a London publishing company. By 1881, A. P. Watt had incorporated his business and begun to define the role of the literary agent. Watt's son, A. S. Watt, took over the literary agency after the elder Watt's death in 1914. A. S. Watt continued to attract important authors to the agency, among them Pearl Buck, G. K. Chesterton, Robert Graves, W. Somerset Maugham, Rafael Sabatini, Nevil Shute, Mark Twain, P. G. Wodehouse, William Butler Yeats, and Herbert George Wells, for whom A. S. Watt was not only personal literary agent, but close friend as well. The later bookplate is that of former owner Wilbur Cherrier Whitehead, author of a great many books on one of Wells' and Watt's favourite subjects - the game of contract bridge - and the recipient of the first Vanderbilt Trophy, in 1928.


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