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Walt Whitman to David McKay, 22 Oct 1888


Dave, I don't see how I can make the books bill any less than 33cts (& you to pay the binder)—they cost me more than that—& that was what—10ct binding—I calculated from what Oldach1 sent specifically (though he now makes it more now)—I have to request you will sign the memorandum & send back to me by Horace2—I send the order on Oldach3

Walt Whitman  upa.00124.002_large.jpg

David McKay (1860–1918) took over Philadelphia-based publisher Rees Welsh's bookselling and publishing businesses in 1881–82. McKay and Rees Welsh published the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass after opposition from the Boston District Attorney prompted James R. Osgood & Company of Boston, the original publisher, to withdraw. McKay also went on to publish Specimen Days & Collect, November Boughs, Gems from Walt Whitman, Complete Prose Works, and the final Leaves of Grass, the so-called deathbed edition. For more information about McKay, see Joel Myerson, "McKay, David (1860–1918)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. Frederick Oldach (1823–1907) was a German bookbinder whose Philadelphia firm bound Whitman's November Boughs (1888) and Complete Poems & Prose (1888), as well as the special seventieth-birthday issue of Leaves of Grass (1889). [back]
  • 2. Horace L. Traubel (1858–1919) was an American essayist, poet, and magazine publisher. He is best remembered as the literary executor, biographer, and self-fashioned "spirit child" of Walt Whitman. During the late 1880s and until Whitman's death in 1892, Traubel visited the poet virtually every day and took thorough notes of their conversations, which he later transcribed and published in three large volumes entitled With Walt Whitman in Camden (1906, 1908, & 1914). After his death, Traubel left behind enough manuscripts for six more volumes of the series, the final two of which were published in 1996. For more on Traubel, see Ed Folsom, "Traubel, Horace L. [1858–1919]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 3. Whitman drew up documents that provided for the following: McKay was to receive 950 copies of November Boughs for $313.50; Oldach was to give the books to McKay, who was to pay for the binding—"except for 100 copies wh. I will pay you"; and McKay was to pay Whitman $313.50 by January 10, 1889, and had the right to print additional copies of November Boughs for three years on the payment of "twelve (12) cents royalty a copy," and Whitman was to have fifty copies "of the present batch . . . free for editors' copies" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Monday, October 22, 1888). [back]
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