U.S. #3502q – Rockwell Kent illustration created for a 1930 reprinting of Moby-Dick.

Literary Classic Moby-Dick Published

One of the greatest books in American literature, Moby-Dick, was first published in the U.S. on November 14, 1851.

Born in New York City, Herman Melville served in the merchant marines and U.S. Navy, and spent two years on the whaleship Acushnet. He published his first novel, Typee, in 1846. The book was a success and spurred a sequel. Melville wrote another three relatively successful books before he was inspired to write Moby-Dick.

U.S. #2094 – Melville was the first author to have his works collected and published by the Library of America.

Melville realized that no books up to that time showed the excitement of the whaling industry as he had experienced it. He was further inspired by the sinking of the Nantucket whaleship Essex and the alleged killing of the albino sperm whale, Mocha Dick, in the 1830s. Mocha reportedly had countless scars from harpoons and attacked over 100 ships.

Item #81828 – Commemorative Cover marking Melville’s 167th birthday.

The writing process took Melville about a year and a half. It’s been suggested he composed the book in two or three stages, rewriting much of the book to make it “an epic of cosmic proportions.” The book was first published in London, on October 18, 1851, as The Whale. British editors made hundreds of revisions that didn’t appear in the American publication.

Item #M84-34 – Maximum Card marking Melville’s 165th birthday.

By November 14, 1851, when the book was published in America by Harper Brothers, Melville changed the title to Moby-Dick. It was misunderstood by critics and readers of the time. Melville used stylized language, symbolism, and metaphor to address several complicated themes such as class, social status, good and evil, and the existence of gods. The story also darkly dealt with obsession, religion, idealism versus pragmatism, revenge, sanity, hierarchical relationships, and politics. On several occasions, the main character, Ishmael, described different aspects of the whaling business in great detail.

Moby-Dick is often seen as the start of Melville’s literary descent. Though he continued writing for a time, it wasn’t making him enough money to pay his bills, so he­ got a job as a customs inspector. About 3,200 copies of the book were sold during Melville’s lifetime, earning him just $1,200.

Canada #1179b – A white or beluga whale – the same creature pursued in Moby-Dick.
Canada #1179b – A white or beluga whale – the same species pursued in Moby-Dick.

Despite the book’s poor reception when it was published, by the early 1900s critics and readers alike recognized it as a great literary work. Today, it is regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of both American and world literature.

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  1. While it was a long sometimes boring read it was overall a great piece of literature and I’m glad you chose him to honor.

  2. great story hard read .. try frank t. bullen’s cruise of the Cachalot about a whaler .. he wrote many sea storys ..

  3. Hermen Mel ville, who wroote the American Classic
    & a film by the same name ‘Moby Dick”(1930) ,and remade
    in the year 1956 with Gregory Peck and Orson Wells in Hermin
    Malville’s Classc film ‘Moby Dick>

  4. “Canada #1179b – A white or beluga whale – the same species pursued in Moby-Dick.”

    Beluga whales are white whales. Moby Dick was a white whale. Moby Disk was NOT a beluga whale. He was a white sperm whale.

    “Ishmael describes Moby Dick as… possibly the largest sperm whale that ever lived.”

  5. Question – the figure after the stars – is that the total of all the votes received for that particular article? It always seems too small – maybe more people should be voting?

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