02 Dec 2016 - Courtney Floyd

Dana Jr.'s Two Years Before the Mast (1911, 1916)

I stumbled across two very different illustrated editions of Richard Henry Dana Jr.'s Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative the other day while thrifting. Originally published in 1840, this travel narrative includes a visit to California Territory. I read it during my Master's program and remember it fondly. IMG_4926.JPG

The first edition, a green cloth-bound volume published in 1911 by Houghton Mifflin Co. as part of the Riverside Literature Series, purports to be a "new illustrated edition with a supplement by the author and introduction and additional chapter by his son."

img_4927 I just noticed the hearts on either side of the series title. What an interesting decorative choice for an adventure novel.

The design has been printed on the front cover, as well as on the back cover and spine.

The paper is wove, the endpapers are plain.

Inside, there is a frontispiece facing the title page.

The frontispiece looks like a gravure, as does the the other full page illustration which appears after page 258 in this edition.

The remainder of the illustrations (there are many) are woodcut.

In addition to a number of informational illustrations, the book includes appendices and a pictorial glossary of ship terms.

It's clearly created with adults in mind, though the illustrations may have been a draw for child readers as well.

The second edition, also bound in green cloth, was published by David McKay of Philadelphia in 1916. It's a children's edition, part of McKay's The Golden Books series. Of course, Two Years Before the Mast was not written as a children's book, and as recently as 1911 had been published in a nicely illustrated adult-oriented volume, so this publishing strategem--and the edition itself--was a bit of a surprise to me.

Its cover is an onlay color-halftone print. It's poorly done--you can see the misaligned edges even without a loupe.

img_4949 I know there's a shine, but you can't see anything anyway. It's that blurred/faded.
On the spine, the title, author, and published have been stamped in gilt. img_4950

The back cover, as is usually the case (at least in my posts so far) is plain.


The endpapers are decorated with a green design that looks like the work of chromolithography to me.

The paper itself is wove.

The title page verso tells us that the copyright for the edition is held by Macmillan. It also informs us that the edition was electrotyped, which means that once the type was set , molds were taken, and each plate was reproduced using copper via the electrotype process. You can see a video about electrotyping (though not for print) here. So very cool.


The color illustrations are tipped in on glossy paper. they are muddy color-halftones.

img_4954 I love the tint of the water in this one.

I will say that the choice of very vivid color lends these illustrations (mostly landscapes) a distinctly surreal, perhaps exotic feel. So, the book's emphasis on exploring "unknown" territory does come through in them quite well.

Probably because of the addition of color, the number of illustrations in this edition is much reduced. Consequently, it doesn't feel quite like a children's book (although by late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century standards this isn't really an issue).

The children's edition bears more signs of reading. In fact, it's quite beat up compared to the other. So, maybe marketing it to children was a way to salvage it from being forgotten. Its content doesn't appear to have been altered for this edition (though I haven't done any careful comparison to check).

  **Apologies about the shadows in the photographs. This winter light is wreaking havoc on my already limited set up. I'll see what I can do about it for next time.**