My searches on eBay, AbeBooks, and other on-line booksellers turned up few 19th century editions of the book, although a multitude of print-on-demand editions were being offered for exorbitant prices. Imagine my delight when I found an affordable copy on AbeBooks, which was being billed as a "scarce" edition published in 1864. When receiving the book a couple weeks later, however, I soon began to doubt that I had acquired a first edition of Our Boys.
A few differences immediately stood out from the 1864 edition available on Google Books. The title page in the first edition lists a publication date of 1864. The edition I purchased has no date on the title page, although a copyright date of 1864 appears on the reverse side of the title page. The first edition has a frontispiece of a scene from the book; my version has a portrait of the author instead. The 1864 edition also contains a flowery dedication to Gen. George B. McClellan, but the same tribute is missing from my copy. Finally, I noticed that the 1864 edition includes advertisements at the start of the book, with Our Boys listed first in a series of books that "[e]very friend of the soldier wants." The advertisements in my book appear at the very end, including one for Life and Public Services of Abraham Lincoln by Frank Crosby. With a little detective work, I discovered that this book on Lincoln was first published in 1865, a dead giveaway that I did not have an 1864 edition of Our Boys!
|Frontispiece and title page of the edition that I purchased.|
|Spine of my circa 1890 edition, showing gilt design and lettering. The book is in good condition, with slight cocking and signs of rubbing on the covers. The binding is still relatively tight.|
|Cover of 1890 edition by Keystone Publishing Company of Philadelphia (courtesy of Books of Valor). This book is a first edition of the Keystone printing of Our Boys. Note the slightly different title of Our Boys in the Army.|
I am glad to have found a 19th century edition of Our Boys. It certainly has the authenticity that those expensive print-on-demand versions cannot offer. Of course, I've gained some additional insights into on-line book purchasing. Claims of "first edition" should be thoroughly investigated. When in doubt, take the time to ask questions and have the bookseller send pictures. (AbeBooks has a valuable guide on this topic.) For now, the search for a first edition of Our Boys continues. Perhaps I will find a copy the romantic, old-fashioned way, while spending a rainy afternoon in a used and rare bookstore.