Walt Whitman faced multiple publishing dilemmas throughout his career, but when he began working James R. Osgood & Co. in Boston things seemed to be turning around. Whitman was able to work with Osgood and design Leaves of Grass to look how he wanted: “a (plain) specimen in type, paper, ink, binding, &c. as bookmaking can produce—not for luxury however, but solid wear, use, reading, (to carry in the pocket, valise &c)—a book of about 400 pages to sell at $3” (Folsom 48). Not long after the volume was published in 1881, the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice complained to the Massachusetts Attorney-General and called for Osgood to suppress Leaves and for Whitman to remove certain “obscene” poems (50). Whitman did not comply and Osgood gave Whitman the plates and 225 sets of unbound sheets (51). These plates are especially important because “All issues of Leaves after this are printed from the Osgood plates” (49). Unsuccessful publishing ventures in England soon followed. Whitman was able to find a new publishing house, Rees Welsh & Co. in Philadelphia which was soon taken over by David McKay. McKay and Whitman issued another edition in 1882 under Rees Welsh & Co. and later under David McKay beginning in 1884.
McKay’s later edition imitates the 1881 Osgood edition closely. Side by side, you can see that the two publishers made use of the same emblems and olive-yellow book cloth. The 1881 edition is slightly smaller—perhaps this is a result of Whitman’s desire to have the book fit well in a pocket.
PS3201 1881 and PS3201 1884b
Folsom, Ed. Walt Whitman: Whitman Making Books, Books Making Whitman, a Catalog and Commentary. The University of Iowa, 2005.