From Dickens' "Household Words." New-York: Published by T.L. McElrath & Co., 1854. Original light tan wrapper with the imprint of Fetridge & Co., Boston.
First American Edition, published on August 8, 1854. HARD TIMES first appeared in America in twenty weekly issues of Household Words, in May to September 1854. In an 1857 issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, there is a brilliant account of the 1854 McElrath and Harper editions of HARD TIMES that had come out three years earlier; we quote it here with the kind permission of our friend Walter Smith, bibliographer of Dickens's American editions.
When young McElrath,... a beginner in the business, succeeded in securing the right to the advance sheets of Dickens's "Hard Times," by paying fifteen hundred dollars -- a price which the Harpers would not pay -- they, the Harpers, determined to oppose him... The only advantage that could accrue to him from his heavy outlay was the receipt of the few last chapters two or three weeks in advance of their publication in London. These he received, printed the whole in book form, and expected to remunerate himself by the sale of a large edition before other publishers could get out the English copy. He trusted to the courtesy and honor of the other publishers to secure him in the possession of his honorably purchased right. But the Harpers were waiting for him. They had kept pace with the publication chapter by chapter, and on the day that McElrath issued the book complete, they probably secured the first copy, set up the last chapters, and the next day came out with an edition at half the price, sold a large edition at cost price, entirely stopped the sale of McElrath's book, robbed him of the profits of his enterprise, and literally crushed the young rival out of existence.
Though the title page of this copy reads "New-York: Published by T. L. McElrath & Co., 1854," the front wrapper reads "Boston: Fetridge & Co., 1854." Fetridge was not a publisher, but rather a retailer who had arranged to be a distributor of McElrath's edition; this is one of several binding variants of the first edition. (This copy does have the 25-cent price on the wrapper, so it may have been an earlier copy sold; other copies, most likely those sold at a discount after Harper had killed their sales, bear no price.)
This copy is in good-to-very good condition -- quite collectible for such a fragile volume (some wear to the wrapper edge, about half of the wrapper's plain spine chipped away, light damp-stain at the foot of the last few leaves). Smith pp 323-328, binding C (Fetridge); Podeschi A138 (third and sixth copies); not in the VanderPoel collection. Item #13476