London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1889. 16 pp ads dated Jan 1889. Original red cloth. AND: New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1889. Original ochre cloth with front cover labels. Together, two volumes.
First Editions (English and American) of this dark comedy which is also an early detective story; precedence between the two is uncertain. This was the first of three collaborations between Stevenson and his stepson (Osbourne actually wrote the initial draft in late 1887, and then RLS revised it while at sea in the Pacific in mid-1888). The draft was titled THE FINSBURY TONTINE, as it involves a "tontine." (A tontine, named for 17th-century banker Lorenzo Tonti, is
a curious financial arrangement whereby a large number of subscribers all contribute a stake to a central trust fund, and collect an annuity from it. Gradually, as members of the tontine die, those who remain find their annuity increasing; when all but one are dead, the survivor collects the entire pot... [In THE WRONG BOX] 37 young boys had each had 1000 pounds placed in the fund; by the time we join the story, there are just two left -- a pair of elderly, squabbling brothers...)
THE WRONG BOX was "a swirling farce involving a game of Hearts with the corpse of a misidentified invalid as the Queen of Spades, that hugely tickled Louis... though it proved hard to sell even with Louis's name on it." [Furnas]. However after Rudyard Kipling read it, he wrote to a friend
I have got R.L. Stevenson's THE WRONG BOX and laughed over it dementedly when I read it. That man has only one lung but he makes you laugh with your whole inside.
A screenplay was co-written in the 1960s by Larry Gelbart, and for the 1966 film the cream of the comedic crop was enlisted -- Peter Sellers, Michael Caine and Dudley Moore.
This English copy does have a rule under the word "Contents" on the Preface verso, precedence uncertain, and it has the earliest ads; it is in just-about-fine condition (volume very slightly askew -- less than usual for this book -- but scarcely any wear or soil). This American copy is in ochre cloth (one of several colors used, each with its own color of title label); the newspaper-scrap label is intact (some buyers scraped it off, thinking it was a flaw); condition is again just-about-fine, with very minor darkening of the cloth. Housed together in a cloth slipcase with inner chemise. Beinecke 501 and 500; Princeton 42 and 42A. Item #14321