Coral Island, The: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean…
London: T. Nelson and Sons, 1858. Item #05045
Excessively Rare First Edition, First Issue, of “The Coral Island”
The Edgar Osborne Copy Exhibited at The Festival of Britain Books in 1951
BALLANTYNE, Robert Michael. The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean… With Illustrations by the Author.
London: T. Nelson and Sons, 1858.
First edition, first issue, with the plate “Terrible Encounter with a Shark” facing p. 76 (in the second issue, it was tipped in as the frontispiece).
Octavo (7 x 4 5/8 inches; 177 x 117 mm.). viii, -438, [2, blank] pp. Color-printed frontispiece, color-printed pictorial title, and six color-printed plates after drawings by the author. Plate facing p. 214 with original tissue-guard.
Publisher’s first issue binding of royal blue diagonal ripple-grain cloth with covers decoratively stamped in blind and front cover and spine pictorially stamped and lettered in gilt. Original pale yellow coated endpapers.
The binding is worn and the gilt on the front cover is quite dull. The spine has been expertly repaired with a small piece missing from the center left and some loss of cloth at head and foot. Corners a little worn , inner hinges expertly restored. Neat early ink presentation (December 25th 1859) on front pastedown. Small ink stain on fore-edge affecting pp. 297 to end. Page 387/388 has the top blank margin (1 x 3 3/8 inches) torn away not affecting any text but just touching the page number on verso. There is a small stain at the top blank corner of page 339. There are also several leaves with small portions of the lower blank corners missing (possibly original paper-faults).
We have been super critical in our description - overall a good copy of this extremely scarce nineteenth-century children’s book. Only a handful of copies of the first issue in the original cloth have sold at auction in the past fifty years.
This copy comes from the library of a very well-known collector of English Literature who died in 2008. It was exhibited at the Festival of Britain Exhibition of Books 1951 which was arranged by the National Book League at the Victoria & Albert Museum as exhibit no. 68. The original exhibition slip is loosely inserted. Together with a copy (ex library) of the original 1951 Festival of Britain Exhibition of Books catalog listing this copy on p. 33 (item no. 68) listing the lender as the renowned librarian and founder of one of the premier collections of children's fiction, Edgar Osborne.
“Most of the incidents used in the plot of ‘The Coral Island’, the author’s most famous book, Ballantyne culled from an obscure work entitled ‘The Island Home; or, The Young Cast-Aways’, by James F. Bowman, who wrote under the pseudonym of Christopher Romaunt. ‘The Island Home’ was published in Boston, U.S.A. in 1851, and by Nelson’s of Edinburgh in 1852, and Ballantyne took a copy with him to Burntisland, near Edinburgh, where he spent a fortnight’s holiday during the summer of 1857. The full story is given in chapter six of Ballantyne the Brave. The writer’s other main source of information was ‘Recent Exploring Expeditions to the Pacific, and the South Seas’ by J.S. Jenkins, published by Nelsons in 1853” (Quayle).
Robert Michael Ballantyne (1825-1894) was a Scottish author of juvenile fiction who wrote more than one hundred books. He was also an accomplished artist, and exhibited some of his water-colors at the Royal Scottish Academy. The Coral Island (1858) is the most popular of the Ballantyne novels still read and remembered today, but because of one mistake he made in that book, in which he gave an incorrect thickness of coconut shells, he subsequently attempted to gain first-hand knowledge of his subject matter. For instance, he spent some time living with the lighthouse keepers at the Bell Rock before writing The Lighthouse, and while researching for Deep Down he spent time with the tin miners of Cornwall.
Edgar Osborne (1890–1978) was a distinguished librarian, an able administrator, scholar and collector, who founded one of the premier collections of children's fiction, the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books.
The Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books 1566-1910, volume I, p. 322; Quayle. R.M. Ballantyne. A Bibliography of First Editions. 12a; Sadleir 103.