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Original Manuscript Rare Pre-Publication Printing of Alcoholics Anyonymous ("The Big Book”)
Commonly Called “The Multilith Edition” or “The Original Manuscript”
Alcoholic's Anonymous , Works Publishing Co., 17 William St. , Newark , N.J. TP + 1 leaf = Foreword + Page 1. – Page 4. = The Doctor's Opinion + Page 1. – Page 76. + 1 leaf = The Alcoholic Foundation + Personal Stories 1. – Personal Stories 79. 8½ “ x 11”, Rare, First “Multilith” Edition (“The Original Manuscript”)
Several pages (including the title-page) with marginal chipping. Pages are lightly browned throughout. Dis-bound and without the original, unprinted, reddish-brown card covers. The left edge of all pages are neatly punched with 22 small, rectangular holes which were needed for the ‘comb-type' binding that originally held them together (not present here). Each page has been carefully protected in a separate mylar sleeve.
Missing from this copy are the two usual Index pages. In Jim Burwell's copy [private collection] both of these appear in the front of the book, preceding the Foreword . In the “exact reproduction” of Clarence Snyder's copy of the Original Manuscript (which is commonly sold on Ebay and elsewhere), the first index appears before the Foreword and the second just before the “Personal Stories.”
Boldly signed in blue ink by Bill Wilson on the title page: “ Dear Ward – / this in memory / of the old days! / Affectionately / Bill / NY [slash] 1/17/57 ”
Ward Montgomery met Bill Wilson through Father Edward Dowling, a Jesuit priest who served as Bill Wilson's spiritual sponsor for twenty years and who – although non-alcoholic himself – helped start AA meetings in St. Louis . After getting sober and attending meetings in St. Louis in 1941, Ward was encouraged to start his own group in Springfield , IL , and subsequently founded the first meeting in that area. Ward Montgomery was also a delegate at the first AA conference held in February of 1951 and remained a productive member of AA both locally and nationally until his death in 1973.
For a more complete picture of Ward M. in his ealy days as the founder of AA in Springfield , IL , see the transcript of a 1959 speech given by Luke H. at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/AAHistoryLovers/message/1101 .
• WHAT IS THE “ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT”
Months before the first book publication of Alcoholics Anonymous , in April of 1939 – a large volume with thick paper that was immediately nicknamed the “Big Book” – AA's printed and then distributed copies of the proposed book to approximately 100 (or less, according to some reports) of their members along with doctors, psychiatrists and clergymen – allowing them to review the text and to submit critques and suggestions for changes before the actual publication of the book.
NOTE: All of these suggested edits were then collected into one ‘master' copy of the Original Manuscript which was kept at the offices in Newark , NJ from which Bill Wilson and Hank Parkhurst were operating their business at that time. This ‘master' copy of all suggested edits – a book of immense historical importance – was sold at auction at Sotheby's in New York City in June of 2004 for $1,576,000.
• WHAT'S UNIQUE ABOUT THE TEXT OF THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT?
As the ‘master copy' mentioned above clearly testifies, there were a large number of these suggestions and many of them were eventually accepted and incorporated into the final text of the Big Book.
Certainly the most important single suggestion – which came from Dr. Howard, a psychiatrist from Montclair, NJ (see Pass It On , p. 204), but who has never been further identified – was that the entire ‘tone' of the book had to be changed. The Original Manuscript was written in a very strong ‘you must' style, and Dr. Howard insisted that all of these ‘musts' had to be changed to reflect a ‘this is how it worked for us' approach – requiring a tremendous number of revisions throughout the book. Here are just four examples with some of the changes in bold :
Original Manuscript , Foreword : “To show alcoholics PRECISELY HOW THEY CAN RECOVER …”
Big Book , 1 st edition, 1 st printing: “To show alcoholics PRECISELY HOW WE HAVE RECOVERED…”
Original Manuscript , There is a Solution : “If you are seriously alcoholic, we believe you have no middle-of-the-road solution. You are in a position where life is becoming impossible, and if you have passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, you have but two alternatives: one is to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of your intolerable situation as best you can; and the other, to find what we have found. This you can do if you honestly want to, and are willing to make the effort.”
Big Book , 1 st edition, 1 st printing: “If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were , we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: one was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could ; and the other, to accept spiritual help . This we did because we honestly wanted to, and were willing to make the effort.”
Original Manuscript , How It Works : “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our directions .”
Big Book , 1 st edition, 1 st printing: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”
Original Manuscript , How It Works : “Half measures will avail you nothing. You stand at the turning point. Throw yourself under His protection and care with complete abandon.
Now we think you can take it! Here the steps we took, which are suggested as your P rogram of R ecovery.”
Big Book , 1 st edition, 1 st printing: “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.
Here are the steps we took , which are suggested as a program of recovery.”
Given the reluctance of most alcoholics to ‘follow orders' – which was Dr. Howard's point in requesting these changes – it is hard to overestimate the importance of these edits. The Original Manuscript reads as a much more directive and authoritarian text than the Big Book as it was finally published in April of 1939.
Seven of the Twelve Steps also read a bit differently in the Original Manusrcipt:
Original Manuscript, Step 1 : “Admitted we were powerless…”
Big Book , 1 st edition, 1 st printing: “We admitted we were powerless…”
Original Manuscript, Step 3 : “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care and direction of God…”
Big Book , 1 st edition, 1 st printing: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God…”
Original Manuscript, Step 6 : “Were entirely willing that God remove…”
Big Book , 1 st edition, 1 st printing: “Were entirely ready to have God remove...”
Original Manuscript, Step 7 : “Humbly, on our knees , asked Him to remove our shortcomings – holding nothing back .”
Big Book , 1 st edition, 1 st printing: “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
Original Manuscript, Step 8 : “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make complete amends to them all.”
Big Book , 1 st edition, 1 st printing: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Original Manuscript, Step 11 : “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”
Big Book , 1 st edition, 1 st printing: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him , praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”
Original Manuscript, Step 12 : “Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps…”
Big Book , 1 st edition, 2 nd printing: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…”
Besides these very important changes to both the ‘tone' of the Big Book and to the Twelve Steps themselves, there are a host of other edits that were made before the Big Book was officially printed. Certainly the most entertaining has to be the line that immediately follows the much revised a, b, c's as they appear in the Original Manuscript version of How It Works :
• That you are alcoholic and cannot manage your own life.
• That probably no human power can relieve your alcoholism.
• That God can and will.
If you are not conviced on these vital issues, you ought to re-read this book to this point or else throw it away!
• CONTROVERSY, CONTRADICTION & CONFUSION
The Foreword of this printing refers to the book as “this multilith volume,” but this pre-publication volume has also been called the “mimeograph” copy, the “manuscript” copy and, then later, “the Original Manuscript” copy.
In typical AA fashion, there is also disagreement over exactly when these copies were printed, how many copies were printed and how many of those copies were actually distributed, to whom and in what fashion.
Partisans for a variety of printing methods, dates, quantities and distribution abound – each citing some bit of contemporary or later-written evidence to support their position. Complicating these discussions is the fact that the three primary sources of information for these early years – Bill Wilson, Jim Burwell and Ruth Hock – frequently contradict each other and even, at times, themselves on particular points.
In the AA book, Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers , the author comments on the contradicting stories regarding the writing of the Big Book and notes: “There is a discrepancy here, as there is regarding very many things that happened in these early years. ‘It was like we were all witnesses to an accident,' said one member. ‘It was the same accident, but we all saw it from different angles.'” (p. 152).
The following information is provided in the hopes that it may untangle or, at least, clearly formulate the extent of some of these “different angles.”
• HOW PRINTED?
The manuscript itself says that it is a “multilith” copy. Multilith was a contemporary trade name for an offset printing press that used an ‘ink and water' technology. The multilith press produced higher qulity copies than the older mimeograph technology – which had been around since 1884. (See www.officemuseum.com/copy_machines.htm for an excellent historical overview of office copier technology and http://www.museumofprinting.org/Exhibit.html for a bit more information specifically on multilith..)
One of the problems with the many mentions about this pre-publication printing is the casual and interchangeable use of the terms ‘mulitlith' and ‘mimeograph' by everyone involved – a common enough practice since mimeograph was a very old and accepted term for making multiple black & white copies of documents. (This casual use of brand names for generic processes is in no way different from our own use of the words ‘kleenex' or “xerox' in today's vernacular.)
As noted, the Foreword clearly states that it is a ‘multilith volume' – and that would seem to be the end of it. Still, there is confusion over how the book was printed. Bill in his famous 1954 talk in Fort Worth on “How the Big Book Was Put Together” (for a complete transcript see http://www.barefootsworld.net/aabook1954.html ) even goes so far as to use both terms in a single sentence: “Somebody said "Hadn't we better test this thing out; hadn't we better make a pre-publication copy, a multilith or mimeographed copy of this text…” Similarly, Jim Burwell had his copy of the Original Manuscript rebound at some point in a binding with gilt lettering on the front cover stating: “Book No. 2 / of the / First Hundred Mimeographed Copies.” But, in his written history of early AA, The Evolution of Alchoholics Anonymous (see http://www.barefootsworld.net/aa-jb-evolution.html for an online version), Jim specifically refers to them as “multilith copies.”
However the book was printed – and it is extremely likely that these copies were printed on a multilith press – it should be noted that both of these processes used typed masters as the originals from which the copies were made.
• HOW MANY PRINTINGS?
There is one very unusual and interesting feature on the title page of the extant copies of the Original Manuscript. Some of them have the title “ Alcoholics Anonymous ” while others have “ Alcoholic's Anonymous ” – adding an incorrect apostophe to the word Alcoholics . This has been noted by a number of commentators who have closely inspected more than just a few copies of the pre-publication printing of the Big Book. Clearly there was more than one printing of the title page and perhaps even more than one printings of the entire book.
Supporting this ‘more than one printing' thesis is, as noted above, Jim Burwell's copy of the Original Manuscript which he had rebound. On this copy, the new cover states that it is one of the “First Hundred Mimeographed Copes” – clearly implying that there could have been more than just one press run for this book. If there were more than one press run, it may have been required because the typed plates were not equal to the task of printing the complete order or because the AA's later realized that they needed more copies than had originally been ordered.
It should, however, be noted that speaking against these arguments for completely new press runs is the fact that both this Ward Montgomery copy and the Jim Burwell copy have differing title pages (one with and one without the apostrophe) but, aside from this difference, all other pages are completely identical in all particulars of the typeface and the qualities of the printing. (The Clarence Snyder reproduction copy is also identical to both of these in all printing and typeface particulars.)
Of course, even if all of the books were printed at one time, it is still possible that there was some sort of problem with the plate used for the title page, requiring a retyping of that particular printing plate – which might have led to the mistaken apostrophe either being added or deleted.
At this point, all that can be said with certainty is that the truth about the number of printings for the Original Manuscript is a bibliographical puzzle that has yet to be resolved.
• WHEN PRINTED?
Bill said in his Fort Worth talk that the pre-publication copy was printed when “we got to around January, 1939” and, in Pass It On , it's noted that this printing happened in “mid-January” (p. 200). Jim Burwell on the other hand has hand signed the title page of his copy with the following note: “#2 Copy / Dec. 8, 1938” – a piece of information that is so exact as to generate a fair amount of respect for the accuracy of that dating.
Confusing the question of the date for this (or these) printing(s), is a further complication – this one over the dating and the extent of the outside editing of the manuscript done by the professional editor, Tom Uzzell – an NYU faculty member and editor for Colliers (and later Look) Magazine. Did it happen before or after the Original Manuscript went to press? Reports generally agree that this happened after the multilith copies had been made but this poses some serious problems when combined with other comments made about the editing. Ruth Hock alleged that Tom cut the manuscript “by at least a third” (see http://www.barefootsworld.net/aaruthhock1955.html for her complete ‘history') while others have claimed (see http://www.aadesertcentral.com/history/bbdelvopement.pdf ) that “t he manuscript was variously estimated as 600 to 1,200 pages (including personal stories) [and] Uzzell reduced it to approximately 400 pages” .
While the first printing of the Big Book did come in at exactly 400 numbered pages, Original Manuscript copies have only about 160 pages (depending on how you want to count the pages). Consequently, these ‘facts' about when and how much Tom Uzzell actually edited the Big Book are considered to be the most questionable and problematic of all the ‘bad information' regarding the early years of AA.
• HOW MANY PRINTED?
Bill claimed that there were 400 copies printed of the Original Manuscript, but other sources mention the number 200. While 400 is much more common in the literature – and is probably the right number – there is still uncertainty. It is, however, safe to say that no less than 200 and no more than 400 copies were printed in either 1938 and/or 1939.
• HOW WERE THEY DISTRIBUTED?
The distribution of the Original Manuscript caused Alcoholics Anonymous many serious problems immediately after the fact. Because the group was so desperate for money, readers were given the option of buying the multilith copy for $3.50 with the promise that “the printed book will be mailed, at no additional cost, as soon as published” ( Foreword , Original Manuscript). Having obtained no prior copyright for the text, this offer and the acceptance of cash placed the book ‘in the public domain' and therefore, under US law, effectivley voided any copyright options for both the Original Manuscript and for the subsequent first edition of the Big Book.
Some manuscript copies were supposedly stamped “Loan Copy” and Bill even claimed in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age that “Each mimeograph was stamped ‘Loan Copy' in order to protect our coming copyright” (p. 165). But this was clearly not the case since stamped copies are almost as scarce as hen's teeth. Supporting this great rarity, in a recent discussion on Yahoo's AAHistoryLovers Forum (which boasts as contributing members almost all of the well-respected historians of Alcoholics Anonymous) about stamped copies, only Ernie Kurtz (author of Not-God, A History of Alcoholics Anonymous) could remember ever seeing such a copy – and he had only seen one in all his years of AA research.
Finally, AA's expected that all Original Manuscript copies that were not paid for, would be returned to the central office with comments and not retained for private use. There is no evidence to suggest what happened to these returned copies but it is unlikely that they would have been saved – having no further use once the book with the much-changed text was published in April of 1939. This ‘returns policy' clearly suggests that any of the 400 (or 200) copies that would have been returned, were almost certainly discarded or destroyed.
• HOW MANY ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPTS ARE LEFT?
There has been no comprehensive census of these Original Manuscript and only three copies have appeared at auction in the past thirty years. But, in Mitchell K's 1999 book, How It Worked – a biography of Clarence Snyder, an early AA member, (see http://aabbsg.de/chs/chs04.htm ) – the author states that “these original manuscripts are very rare today; and less than 50 are probably still in existence. Many are in deteriorated condition.” Clearly, that is an opinion rather than an accurate census, but it is one that is put forward by someone who has done a tremendous amount of research in AA archives around the country over the years.
In April of 1939, Alcoholics Anonymous printed 4,730 copies of the Big Book and thousands of those copies still survive today. On the other hand, the number of extant copies of the Original Manuscripts is small in the extreme – qualifying any copy of the Original Manuscript as a truly rare book and making it the crowning item in any collection of AA materials that claims to be worthy of the name ‘complete.'
Copyright Dangerous Publications © Aug. 2004 Content not for republication without permission.