While my search for a digital facsimile of The American Soldier in the Civil War: A Pictorial History by Leslie et al did result in finding no exact facsimiles, I did come across some interesting developments. While yes, you can find versions of this book on websites like Amazon.com, Biblio.com, and Archive.org, being regularly listed at close to three hundred dollars, not once was I able to find the exact version that we have in the library. While I was not able to look inside the books on Amazon and Biblio, as they do not allow for that, the difference between the online versions and the version we have in the library is with their covers. The version we have at Colby, shown above and the versions I could find online shown below all have different colors and designs on the front. Our version’s cover is mostly made up of a blue hard covering with leather on the binding and in the corners and shows the rucksack and the two swords hanging from the words in the middle. The version from Archive.com, of which its pages were accessible has a completely black cover with a soldier standing in the middle and even has a different title. While it does have a different title, it is effectively the same book, written by the same men, with similar illustrations and bibliographical information inside. Why a version published in 1893 with the same contents and authors is titled differently I did not at first understand. The other two versions, both published in the same year as our version of the book also have different bindings. Another version I was able to find of the book is Frank Leslie’s Illustrated History of the Civil War. This book, again, is a picture book that tells the story of the Civil War, and is obviously illustrated by Frank Leslie. Again, the title and cover of the book differ from that of the book we have in the Colby Special Collections. The cover for this book is totally Brown with a sword going down the side and a banner that is holding the name of Frank Leslie. Still however, the book was published in 1895, the same year my pet book was printed. Even when doing a google image search for the book, the only version of the book with the same cover as the one at Colby is, well, the one at Colby.
At first this whole phenomenon was extremely perplexing to me. How could one book be published with so many variations with the cover? Was this common with old books? Was this common only with “coffee table” books? So in order to find out I did some research. While I cannot speak for other books, I was able to find the answer to my question and it was actually quite simple. The reason the outsides and the titles of these books differ is because they were published by different publishing companies. For instance, the version we have at Colby was published by Stanley–Bradley Publishing Company in New York. The version I found on Biblio.com that has the same bag hanging from the words with two swords was published by Bryan Taylor and Company of New York in the same year. The third version of the book that I found on Archive.com, which is all black and shows the soldier standing with his gun was published by Stanley Bradley Publishing Company, also of New York City.
I had never seen essentially the same book be printed by three different publishing companies in my life. Not only was the book printed by three different publishing companies, but they were printed by three companies in New York who were presumably competitors. Why was this done? My guess was that Leslie wanted as many versions of this book in circulation as possible, so the best way to do this was having it be published by as many companies as possible. This could be because it would either make him more money, or, it would open up more people’s eyes to the realities of the Civil War.
To touch on the differing covers again, I find it interesting that each company does this. Each publisher gets to put their own little touch on the book that I would not have been able to recognize had it not been for the fact they are posted digitally. Many times, this book is listed as “rare” when I saw it up for sale on Amazon, Biblio, or Alibaba. That means that for me to have found out this information I would have had to find multiple copies of a rare book. This shows the importance of digitalization in the book industry. Because, companies post an image of the book, their publisher, and their pertinent information, I was able to gather far more about the books in a much shorter period of time than I would have been able to in real life.