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Herman Melville was big in 2010

December 20, 2010 |  3:27 pm

Hermanmelville Herman Melville was a big seller at AbeBooks in 2010. The used-book website announced its top sales of the year on Monday; two of the biggest sales were for Melville's works.

"Moby-Dick; or The Whale" sold for $28,900. It was not an early printing but a 1979 limited edition of 265 copies printed by the Arion Press, illustrated with wood engravings by Barry Moser. Fine Print magazine called it "a feat of craftsmanship unexcelled in modern printing."

The other big Melville sale was the 16-volume set "The Works of Herman Melville." Illustrated and limited to 750 sets, the set, which was published in 1922, sold for $17,250. Melville was the only author to have two separate sales appear in AbeBook's top 10.

Other big hits on AbeBooks in 2010 included an archive of papers of Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci ($28,994), a six-volume set of "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" by Edward Gibbon, published in 1776 ($27,500) and a collectible first edition of Ian Fleming's James Bond novel, "Casino Royale" ($19,529).

For those who know something about Melville's life, his ongoing -- and financially rewarding -- popularity is bittersweet. The author struggled financially, and  "Moby-Dick" was published in 1851 to poor reviews and little notice. Melville continued writing, tried lecture tours and borrowed money, but eventually it became impossible for him to support his family as an author.

Melville gave up writing and worked for 19 years as a customs inspector in New York. His salary was $4 per day -- except for a time in the mid-1870s, when it was cut to $3.60 per day.

Today, the collector's editions of Herman Melville's works would be far out of the reach of Herman Melville. But he could probably manage a basic used copy -- AbeBooks has some listed for sale for less than $5.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Herman Melville.