By: Hayley Braithwaite
On Saturday 7th November 1846, the first seven pages of G. W. M. Reynolds’s Wagner, The Wehr-Wolf, could be purchased for one penny. Serialised in Reynolds’s Miscellany of Romance, General Literature, Science, and Art, the text appeared weekly for nine months alongside a variety of articles, essays, and advertisements edited (and often written) by Reynolds himself. Part one of Wagner, The Wehr-Wolf was accompanied by a diverse selection of works including an account of “The Greatest Pickpocket in Paris,” and a strongly-worded treatise on brewing.
Wagner, The Wehr-Wolf was the first item in the very first issue of Reynolds’s Miscellany, and the novel’s popularity helped contribute to the periodical’s success. Reynolds’s Miscellany would go on to run for thirty years, before it was eventually absorbed into the magazine Bow Bells in 1869.
As with the majority of Reynolds’s novels, the original penny parts of Wagner, The Wehr-Wolf were later collated and sold in volume form. Indicative of cross-class interest in Reynolds’s writing, these volumised editions were almost certainly designed to be purchased by readers with at least some form of disposable income.
The first volumised edition of Wagner, The Wehr-Wolf was made available just under a year after the text’s initial serial run. The volume was published by John Dicks, and printed (like the majority of Reynolds’s corpus) at his office on Wellington Street. Readers could purchase the text for two shillings (or twelve pence) – a considerable reduction in price given that the combined cost of the original penny parts of Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf was two shillings, eleven pence. Of course, the difference in income between those able to spare one penny a week, and those able to hand over two shillings for a single, non-essential purchase would have been significant. It is fair to assume that volumised versions of Reynolds’s works were primarily being read by those who enjoyed at least some form of financial comfort.
Nearly a decade later, in 1857, a volumised version of Wagner, The Wehr-Wolf was published once again – available this time for two shillings, six pence. This edition was also published by John Dicks.
While you may have been able to get your hands on a copy of Wagner, The Wehr-Wolf for just eighteen pence back in 1857, the same version of the text was recently advertised for $6,500 by bookdealer Thompson Rare Books. The staggering price of this edition is interesting for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the Thompson Rare Books listing provides us with a bevy of useful information about who was interested in reading Reynolds’s works. While the book’s current binding is modern (the text was restored recently by Byzantium Bindery in Oklahoma), and the custom leather clamshell case around 20 years old, this particular edition was bound in the nineteenth-century. When Thompson Rare Books acquired the text, it’s binding dated from the 1890s. This binding was standard for the time period – brown leather and cloth – and likely would have been relatively cheap.
While we don’t know for sure, we can assume (given the edition was described by a previous seller as a “tight, internally fine copy”) that this was not the text’s first binding. Whoever the original owner of this edition was, they not only had enough money to buy the volume outright but could afford to take the copy to a binders. It is precisely because of extant copies of volumes like the 1857 Wagner, The Wehr-Wolf that scholars are able to gain a more accurate picture of the class breakdown of Reynolds’s readership.
That this particular text was rebound at some point in the 1890s is also fascinating. Perhaps the edition was inherited, or purchased second-hand, maybe its owner was a Reynolds enthusiast, a book dealer, or else was captivated by the intriguing title…whatever the case may be, forty years after its original publication, at a time when interest in Reynolds had reached an all time low, someone cared enough to have this copy of Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf restored.
The cost of this text in 2022 also, however, tells us that Reynolds’s work has achieved ‘collectible’ status. Although Reynolds’s writings are unfortunately still missing from the shelves of Waterstones, and Barnes and Noble, in the rare book trade, interest in Reynolds is thriving. It is still possible to get your hands on a first edition of Reynolds’s writing for slightly less than six thousand dollars, but prices (even accounting for inflation) are on the rise. The increasing cost of early Reynolds editions is primarily due to availability. Printed on cheap paper, and originally sold unbound, many of Reynolds’s works haven’t stood the test of time. First editions are, therefore, generally rarer than those of writers like Dickens, Thackeray, or Gaskell. It is noteworthy, however, that this recent increase in value coincides with rising interest in Reynolds himself. As more of us come to recognise the name G. W. M. Reynolds, early editions of his work become more and more sought after. Perhaps the one downside of Reynolds’s critical redux is that purchasing a Reynolds original now requires more than just a few pennies!
Fortunately, for those of us without $6,500 to spare, Reynolds’s spine-chilling werewolf novel can be read for free at Project Gutenberg, and other online collections! Visit our Useful Links page to find out more!
Many thanks to Michael Thompson from Thompson Rare Books for graciously answering my questions about his listing and for providing photographs of the 1857 edition, as well as Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers for the information provided on Reynolds and the rare book trade.