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Collecting Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea

By Leah Dobrinska. Sep 2, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Book Collecting, Awarded Books, American Literature

Cited in the Prize motivation for Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature and earning him his only Pulitzer, The Old Man and the Sea is one of the legendary author’s most beloved tales. A short story, merely 140 pages in length, The Old Man and the Sea details the excursion of Santiago, a Cuban fisherman. Today, we take a closer look at the publication history of this classic Ernest Hemingway story. Here’s what you should know if you’d like to add an edition of The Old Man and the Sea to your collection.

First published in Life Magazine

Ernest_Hemingway_and_Henry_Strater,_Bahamas,_1935.jpgThe Old Man and the Sea was first published in the September 1, 1952 issue of Life Magazine. Printed in its entirety, the novella sparked a buying frenzy. Just over five million copies of the magazine were sold in a mere two days. Interestingly, the backstory of the Life publication sheds light on Hemingway himself during this period in his life. The magazine sent photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt to capture a few shots of the author to be used alongside his story. What Eisenstaedt found was a belligerent, perpetually drunk man who couldn’t speak a full sentence without cussing. The photographer later described Hemingway as “the most difficult man I ever photographed.”

Few of those photographs were usable, but one of the most recognized is that which graces the cover the 1952 Life Magazine. Collectors can find copies of the magazine for anywhere from $25 to around $200. Be sure to pay attention to whether or not the seller is advertising the full magazine or merely the pages with Hemingway’s story on them. Other factors that influence price are the magazine’s condition and the presence of rubbing or markings like library stamps.

First Edition

hemingway-the-old-man-and-the-sea.jpgThe first edition of The Old Man and the Sea in book form was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in New York in 1952. First edition points include the Scribner "A" and colophon on the copyright page. There should be no mention of the Pulitzer or Nobel Prize. On the inside flap of the dust jacket, the original price of $3.00 should be listed. There are two variations of the first edition dust jacket. One has a blue tinted photo of Hemingway, and the other has an olive tinted photo. One is not thought to be better or more valuable than the other. The variations are often blamed merely on a printing issue. Collectors will pay a premium if all first edition points are present. Indeed, first editions of The Old Man and the Seadepending on their condition—can sell for anywhere from $1,000 to several thousand dollars. Copies signed and inscribed by Hemingway fetch an even higher price, as do those with proof of provenance.

Book of the Month Edition

The Old Man and the Sea was also a book distributed in 1952 through the Book of the Month Club. These Book of the Month Club editions can confuse collectors because they were published around the same time as the true first edition. As a matter of fact, the copyright page for each edition states “1952”. Likewise, the Book of the Month club edition also includes the “A” under the copyright information; however, the Scribner seal is not present and there is information about the printer on the bottom of the copyright page that isn’t included with the first edition.

A couple of the most telling signs of a Book of the Month Club edition can be found on the dust jacket. On the front flap of the dust jacket, the $3.00 price sticker is absent. And on the top of the back flap of the dust jacket, “Book of the Month” is stamped. These editions are still noteworthy collectibles, and may be perfect for a collector on a tighter budget. They typically sell for a couple hundred dollars.

Of course any edition of The Old Man and the Sea becomes a priceless collectible when it is signed by or known to be associated with the legendary author himself. Be sure to consult a trusted bibliography and do your research as you’re making decisions about adding to your collection.

Browse Ernest Hemingway Books

Sources: pprize.com and time.com

Leah Dobrinska
Writer, editor, and lover of a good sentence, a happy ending, and the smell of books, both old and new. Enjoys reading children's lit to her daughters, home-improvement magazines with her husband, and Shakespeare by herself.


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