Ultimate Truth About the Illustrated Alice

 © 2007 Gordon B. Neavill

 This article first appeared on 11/23/07 as a thread in the Modern Library Mailing List

I was in New York last week going through the Random House archives relating to the Illustrated Modern Library and can now answer several puzzles relating to Illustrated Modern Library copies of Alice in Wonderland. We already knew that the ML started out in May 1947 with 3,010 leftover sheets of the Book-of-the-Month Club printing. The ML had to trim the existing sheets to the Illustrated Modern Library's shorter format, print a new title page and a missing gathering, and create a new binding design and acetate jacket for copies issued in the Illustrated Modern Library.

I was never sure whether all or just a portion of the copies were distributed at the Philco convention in Palm Beach, Florida, in January 1948 in the Philco slipcase.

Then a variant binding of the Illustrated Modern Library edition turned up recently on eBay . Another puzzle.

We now have answers to these puzzles.

When Illustrated Modern Library copies of Alice in Wonderland were being bound in October 1947, the bindery ran short of Illustrated ML bindings. 100 copies were bound in a substitute binding. Initially the intention was to hold these copies separately in the hope that a use could be found for them, but a penciled note on that memo indicates that they would be shipped along with the regular bindings. It was one of these 100 copies that turned up recently on eBay. I don't remember who won that auction -- does anybody know?

I don't know which stores received copies of the Illustrated Alice -- it was never listed in Random House catalogs. My guess is that selected department sold them during the Christmas season.

Not all of the copies were distributed immediately, because Philco ordered 1,000 copies for its January convention in Palm Beach, Florida. The Philco order was placed December 8, 1947 for delivery by January 10th. A rush order was placed for slipcases on December 9, specifying that books would be inserted into the slipcases with the acetate jackets on. If all copies had been intended for distribution in slipcases, acetate jackets probably would never have been made.

The labels for the slipcases were printed by Joseph Blumenthal at his Spiral Press -- another rush job, with labels due at Random House by December 23. This means that copies of Alice in the Philco slipcase could now be sought as an ephemeral item by Spiral Press collectors.

I was never completely certain about the publication date of the Illustrated Alice and have listed it until now as 1947/48. It now appears that the about 2,000 copies (including 100 in variant bindings) were published around November 1947 and that 1,000 slipcased copies were distributed at the Philco convention in January 1948.

I found references to the Illustrated Alice in the archives years ago but was never sure it existed until I found a copy in the Random House corporate library. I reported its existence in Modern Library Collector #26 (October 1993) and soon other copies started turning up. I've never been lucky enough to find a copy myself--and now I have three variants of the Illustrated Alice to look for. I was hoping to have a look at the Random House copy on my recent trip to New York, but it turns out that Random House shipped its library to a warehouse in Connecticut when it moved to its current building at 1745 Broadway.