London: Cassell & Company, 1885. 16 pp ads dated Aug 1885. Original red cloth decorated in black.
First Edition, first printing, first state of ads -- of Haggard's famous first adventure tale to feature the adventurer Allan Quatermain. This was Haggard's masterpiece, the book that made his reputation; it was his third work of fiction, preceded only by the poorly-selling three-deckers DAWN and THE WITCH'S HEAD.
Haggard wrote KING SOLOMON'S MINES as a book for boys, but the book went on to become one of the hottest-selling adventure stories for readers of all ages. According to Haggard's daughter Lilias, the germ of KING SOLOMON'S MINES was as follows:
Travelling up to London with one of his brothers they started discussing TREASURE ISLAND, just then making a great success [Cassell had published it just over a year earlier]. Rider said he didn't think it was so very remarkable, whereupon his brother replied, rather indignantly: "Well, I'd like to see you write anything half as good -- bet you a bob you can't." "Done," said Rider.
The story of Haggard's deal with Cassell likewise is legendary. The publisher offered either to buy the copyright for 100 pounds or to pay him a 10% royalty on all copies sold. Haggard decided to take the immediate cash (as his first two books had sold so poorly), and the publisher left the room to fetch a purchase agreement. A lowly office clerk then suggested to Haggard that he take the royalty instead, and he did -- and the book earned him a fortune for decades to come. The tale has been put on film in 1937 (in the U.K. starring Cedric Hardwicke and Paul Robeson), in 1950 (starring Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr), in 1985 (starring Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone), and in 2004 (as a TV miniseries starring Patrick Swayze).
The first printing consisted of 2000 copies that were published on 30 September 1885: according to Scott, 1000 of these were bound first (with August ads), and 500 more were then bound up with October ads; the remaining 500 sets of sheets were shipped to the U.S. where in November they were bound (in blue cloth) as the American issue. Second and third printings were then run (undifferentiable from each other); these were issued with October, November and December ad catalogues. These later copies are often mistaken for the first printing, as they are likewise dated 1885 and bear no obvious designation; they are the same as the first printing except for the correction of three misprints on pages 10, 122 and 307.
This copy is from the first printing, with the three misprints, and is also from the first issue, with the earliest (August) ad catalogue. This is a very good copy, with what are the usual problems for this bright red Cassell binding of the mid-1880s (also used on some R.L. Stevenson titles): the volume is a bit askew, the spine is somewhat faded and soiled, the joints are a little rubbed, and the front endpaper has some minor cracking. The leaves have occasional light foxing (less than usual), and the fold-out frontispiece (of the treasure map drawn in blood) has a repaired tear. That said, this is a highly-collectible copy, because almost all first-printing copies that surface on the market are no better -- and in fact, most have been either re-backed or rebound, whereas this copy is still as it was issued in 1885. Scott 4; McKay 4; Whatmore F3; Allen 31. Item #14241