Item #15378 THE SECRET AGENT. A Simple Tale. Joseph Conrad.


[the Charlie Watts copy] London: Methuen & Co., (1907). 40 pp ads dated Sept 1907. Original deep red cloth with gilt-decorated spine.

First Edition of Conrad's tale of espionage sited in Russia. The idea for the story came from an actual 1890s revolutionary attempt to blow up the Observatory at Greenwich. Conrad initially planned this to be a short story (titled "Verloc"); however, as he "got into" it, he lengthened it into a full-blown novel. He then strove to make it a popular novel, one that would provide him with the cash he needed to get out from under pressing debts; however, after an initial flourish, sales dropped off and the book was not reprinted until 1914, after the success of CHANCE reawakened interest in Conrad.

The initial printing consisted of 2,500 copies, including 500 for the colonies and 500 for Canada. However, the good initial reception of the book prompted the publisher to use the colonial copies for the domestic market instead, replacing the colonial half-title and title with the standard domestic one -- "there is no visible evidence of cancellation and for all practical purposes we must regard these copies as indistinguishable from the regular domestic issue" [Cagle].

This is a bright, close-to-fine copy (slight rubbing at the corners, spine with very little of the usual fading); the original endpapers are intact, and the foxing is limited to a few leaves at each end. In our experience LORD JIM, YOUTH and THE SECRET AGENT are the toughest of Conrad's first published editions to find in collectible condition. Cagle A12a(1); a "Modern Library 100" selection and a "Connolly 100 Key Books of the Modern Movement" selection.

Provenance: unusual skull bookplate of "PMF". This copy came from the amazing literary library of the late Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts (Christie's London sale, lot 395, September 2023); he did not use a bookplate, but this copy appears in the sale catalogue, along with mention of the afore-mentioned "PMF" bookplate (we'll include a copy of this listing). Item #15378

Price: $4,250.00

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