Cover: Eben Holden: edition de-luxe

Eben Holden : A Tale of the North Country

Eben Holden: the Edition de-luxe


A popular novel in its day, this rare edition of Eben Holden published in 1903 by Lothrop Publishing of Boston is illustrated by 12 photogravure plates from pictorial photographs taken by American Photo-Secession founder member Clarence White in 1902, then living in Newark, Ohio.



The historical novel Eben Holden, A Tale of the North Country by author Irving Bacheller, (1859-1950) was an immediate best seller when first published in July of 1900, eventually selling in excess of 1 million copies.  Beginning in the “North Country” of Northern Vermont , the Adirondacks and St. Lawrence River Valley of the 1840’s and 1850’s, it tells the coming of age story of William Brower, orphaned at the age of six after his parents and older brother accidentally drowned.

Escaping the bleak future of an orphanage, the young boy instead is rescued by a farm-hand who had worked for his father named Eben Holden. Symbolically enough, Holden comes from a place over the mountain called Pleasant Valley.

Narrated in the voice of William Brower, or “Willie”, the novel recounts their lives together-first beginning with the journey over the aforementioned areas and continuing into Brower’s formative years and later life. A classic rags to riches tale where the boy ends up getting the girl and a whole lot more, a contemporary review from a New York newspaper effectively sums it up:

“Many things happen in ‘Eben Holden,'” says the N. Y. Tribune. “A tragedy in the first chapter sends Eben Holden and a small boy out into the world to shift as they may against the buffets of fortune. The boy wins his way to a prosperous manhood. He comes to New York and is befriended by Horace Greeley, he goes to war, he enters Congress and he marries the girl he loves. But William Brower, this lucky orphan, gives less to the story than Uncle Eben Holden, the honest rustic who saved him in his boyhood from the clutches of the dissolute uncle, found him a home among good people, and did more than anyone else to form his character. Incidentally Eben moralizes on all things under the sun, moralizes with a quaint humor that enlivens the book from beginning to end.” (Lothrop. $1.50.)”  (1.)

A note on the photographs: the bound plates within the volume were each issued with a blank tissue guard. They are further titled in script (most likely chosen by White) below the image and within the plate marks and refer to a specific passage in the novel. The 12 plates including frontis are presented here in their proper order with titles indicated in boldface appearing under the “View Additonal Information & Tags” section for each plate.  In order to give the casual reader an idea of what each photograph is meant to illustrate with an emphasis on author Irving Bacheller’s period prose style,  I have included additional surrounding paragraphs for each plate in this area as well. With the reality the very idea of using photographs to illustrate a popular novel was in its infancy, these working titles offer additional insight into White’s methods when he first set out in 1902 to fulfill the commission.

1. The Literary News: New York: Another Big Seller: November, 1900: p. 330