Off the Shelf: Odd Volumes & the Challenges of Marriage

Pitt vol 1

While at Glover’s Bookery in Lexington, Kentucky an odd volume of George Tomline’s Life of Pitt caught my eye. (It turned out to be a serendipitous find, the significance of which will be explored in a future post.) It was the original 1821 edition, published in Philadelphia by Abraham Small in two volumes. The British edition was published in London by John Murray in three volumes.

George Tomline

George Tomline

Tomline, born George Pretyman but taking the new surname after receiving an inheritance, was William Pitt the Younger’s tutor at Pembroke College, Cambridge.¬†Pitt, son of a prime minister, became the youngest prime minister in British history in 1783 when he was only 24 years old. (He would die at only age 46.) Tomline became Pitt’s private secretary, was appointed by Pitt as Bishop of Lincoln, and, but for George III’s lack of cooperation, would have been Archbishop of Canterbury. Tomline owed Pitt a great deal, and also had a uniquely close perspective on Pitt’s career as prime minister.

Odd volumes, of course, are orphaned books from a set or series of books. British 19th Century novels were (in)famous for being issued as “triple-deckers,” one work spread over three different volumes. Many well-known works such as Pride and Prejudice or Oliver Twist were released in that format, which was driven by for-profit lending libraries of the day. Other works–like biographies–were issued in multiple volumes, too. Over the decades and centuries things happen and volumes are separated, damaged, or destroyed, thus leading to all those odd volumes out there.

Pitt the Younger

Pitt the Younger

With my newly possessed odd volume one, I wondered if I might find an odd volume two out there in the bookverse. A search on revealed that while various copies of the British edition were available, copies of the American edition were scarce. However, there indeed was one odd volume two available. I checked the information provided, and the editions appeared to be the same, so I contacted the seller and requested pictures of the spine and title page. When pictures arrived, the title pages matched up, but the spines did not. My volume one had “Life of Pitt” on the spine while the odd volume two had “Memoirs of Pitt.”

Would another odd volume two show up again? No guarantees. This could, in fact, be the only one out there. It’s not a common title, particularly in the American edition. British edition volumes wouldn’t match up. I bit and ordered the book.

Pitt vol 2

And that leads us to the challenges of marrying such volumes. The edition is the same, but the difference in binding is not limited to the title. The leather on volume two is different, nicer, or at least more decorative, with the lovely marbling you sometimes find in volumes of that era. The spine decoration is slightly different, the volume height shorter.

Pitt set detail

My conclusion is that my volume two is from an entirely different binder. It was sometimes the case that books were sold without covers, or at least cheap covers, with the expectation that you would take them to the binder of your choice. The printer could also have contracted two different printers to handle the load of production and simply left the titling to the discretion of the binder. This would explain the difference in spine title altogether. Different binders chose (or were told) different titles, “Life of…” vs. “Memoirs of….”

But the set is now complete, odd volumes widowed years ago with an arranged marriage late in life. They don’t have the “perfect set” look on the shelf, but nearing two centuries of existence they have both beaten the odds to be here at all. I believe they’ll have a happy shelf life.

Pitt set


Pitt vol 2 Fredelka FormulaAddendum: I have written about my use of Fredelka Formula for leather bound books before, but I’ve taken a photo to illustrate the impact it can have, Fredelka added to the bottom half only. Some libraries today argue against using any sort of leather moisturizer, but to me the benefits are obvious. I’ve used leather moisturizer on other fine leathers, whether shoes, briefcases, or jackets, and they all benefit from it. Why wouldn’t old book leather? When I was an assistant to Russell Kirk I used an entire jar of Fredelka Formula on his old leather volumes. I was astonished how it rejuvenated the old leather (dried by centuries and Michigan’s lack of humidity). You can read about the history of Fredelka Formula here.