Original Salesman's Dummy for Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi[Mark Twain] Life on the Mississippi. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1883.
Salesman's dummy for the first edition. Octavo. 106 pages with frontispiece and numerous illustrations. Subscription sheet and publisher's advertisements at end.
Sometimes called a "canvassing book" or a "salesman's dummy," a prospectus was created of sample pages from a forthcoming book. Designed to catch a consumer's eye, the cover was often quite fancy and the book's illustrations were prominently featured. It is unclear what role authors played in deciding which parts of their works to include in a prospectus, but we know that Mark Twain understood their importance. When Huck Finn was in production at his own publishing company, Twain wrote Charles Webster: "As fast as [the illustrator] gets through with the chapters, take them & read & select your matter for your canvassing book. . . . Remember," he added, referring to the prospectus for Life on the Mississippi offered here, "Osgood fooled away no end of time on his canvassing book, & then got out one that was eminently calculated to destroy the sale."
This heavily embossed and decorated prospectus is bound in brown buckram and shows heavy wear, rubbing, and bumping to the spine and all edges and corners. Binding samples are glued to both pastedowns. The first few leaves of the book have separated; the rest of the textblock shows occasional foxing, staining, and age toning throughout. Subscription sign-up sheets are included at the end, this example noting 18 sales. A very unusual and interesting item underscoring the importance of door-to-door salesmen in the book trade.
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