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Title: Documents Related to the 1855 Leaves of Grass: Copyright Materials

Author: Nicole Gray

Publication information: Written for The Walt Whitman Archive. First published on the Archive in 2020.

Whitman Archive ID: anc.02145

Copyright Materials

Whitman registered the copyright for the 1855 Leaves of Grass in the clerk's office of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on May 15, 1855.1 Copyright on the book was renewed on March 15, 1883, for fourteen additional years.2 Copies of the deposit title pages for this and later editions of Leaves of Grass are held in the Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress. Michael Winship has noted that the type used for the deposit title page differed from the type used for the title page in published copies.3

Figure. A copy of the title page used for copyright deposit. Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. A note on the reverse of the leaf in an unidentified hand reads: "Filed May 15, 1855 / Walter Whitman / [au & pro?]."

Figure. Title page from copy of the 1855 Leaves of Grass, with different type used for the word "of." University of Iowa Special Collections and University Archives.

In all but three of the known surviving copies of the 1855 Leaves of Grass, the copyright notice is printed in two lines on the verso of the title page. One Williams College copy has a blank copyright page; two other copies, now at the University of Virginia and the Providence Athenæum, have the copyright notice written in Whitman's hand.4 In 1956, Charles Feinberg located a handwritten draft of the copyright notice in a Whitman scrapbook in his collection.5 In research for a short article describing the discovery, William White determined that the document was written in the hand of George F. Betts, a clerk of the Southern District of New York, who processed Whitman's copyright deposit on May 15 (516).

Figure. Draft 1855 copyright statement. The penciled note ("Mr. Willmarth") is in Whitman's hand. Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Figure. Reverse of draft 1855 copyright statement. Charles E. Feinberg Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

White also identified the "Mr. Willmarth" whose name is written on the document in Whitman's hand as "Abel C. Willmarth, an attorney and clerk of the U.S. District Court," who Whitman may have known or gone to see for more information about the deposit (516). No information has yet been discovered about what Whitman's business may have been with the address, "58 Barclay," written on the reverse of the leaf.


Bibliography of American Literature Papers, 1943–1991. Houghton Library, Harvard University. HH0376, box 26, BAL worksheets Whittier–Willis.

Buinicki, Martin T. "Walt Whitman and the Question of Copyright." American Literary History, 15.2 (Summer 2003): 248–75.

Nierman, Judith. "Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass." Copyright Lore (May 2005): 8.

"Overview of the Copyright Office." U.S. Copyright Office, n.d.

Myerson, Joel. Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993), 12–22.

White, William. "More About the 'Publication' of the First Leaves of Grass." American Literature 28.4 (1957): 516–17.

Winship, Michael. "Walt Whitman." Bibliography of American Literature, Vol. 9 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), 31–2.


1. Copyright was not centralized at the Library of Congress until 1870. For editions of Leaves of Grass published after that date, Whitman corresponded with Ainsworth Spofford, Librarian of Congress, about copyright registration. See Nierman and "Overview." [back]

2. Myerson, 18. For further discussion of Whitman's attention to copyright, see Buinicki. [back]

3. Bibliography of American Literature papers. It is possible that the title page was set up and a few copies printed separately for this purpose. [back]

4. See WC_02, UVa_10, and PA_01, respectively. [back]

5. White notes by way of context that "the scrapbook was used by Whitman to keep clippings from newspapers and magazines," and that some items are dated in Whitman's hand: the dates range from 1844 to 1850 (516). [back]


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