By Meaghan Scanlon
In five accessions between 1999 and 2003, Canadian lawyer, film producer, and bibliographer Ronald I. Cohen donated his extensive Lucy Maud Montgomery collection to Library and Archives Canada. (See AMICUS 44572655 for a description of the collection.) The collection contains materials related to adaptations of Montgomery’s work, as well as anthologies and periodicals in which Montgomery is featured. But the bulk of the collection consists of various editions of Montgomery’s published novels, including, of course, her most famous book, Anne of Green Gables.
Among the approximately 420 items in the Cohen Collection are no fewer than 46 copies of Anne of Green Gables. Three of these are in Japanese, two in French, and one each in Korean, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish. The other 37 are in English.
Why, you might ask, would anyone need 37 English-language copies of Anne of Green Gables? Isn’t the story the same every time? The answer is that for book collectors, it’s often not about the story told in the text. Rather, collecting is an opportunity to discover the story of the book itself, its publication, and the way it has been marketed and received. Many book collectors set out to document the history of an author or title as completely as possible through their collections. For some, this means amassing many copies of the same title.
The Cohen Collection traces the spread of Anne of Green Gables across the English-speaking world through its inclusion of early American, British, Australian, and Canadian editions. The novel was originally published in Boston in April 1908 (AMICUS 9802890). This first edition was extraordinarily popular and Montgomery’s publisher, L. C. Page, reprinted it at least 12 times before the end of 1909. The Cohen Collection contains copies of the sixth (November 1908) and eleventh (August 1909) printings.
The first British edition of Anne of Green Gables was also published in 1908 (AMICUS 21173240). Anne then made her way to Australia in 1925 (AMICUS 26942864). Interestingly, despite the iconic status of Montgomery and her work in Canada, the first Canadian edition of Anne of Green Gables (AMICUS 1706899) did not appear until 1942. This edition, too, went through several printings; the earliest copy in the Cohen Collection dates from 1948.
Although the story remains the same in each edition, the depiction of its heroine, Anne Shirley, on the books’ covers does not. Audiences in different places and time periods have encountered different representations of Anne, from the mature-looking woman on the first edition to the sometimes cartoonish drawings on later versions. The Cohen Collection’s copies of Anne of Green Gables document the visual history of the character through their illustrations, cover art, and dust jackets.
In fact, when Ronald I. Cohen started collecting L. M. Montgomery’s books, finding copies with dust jackets was one of his main goals. Historically, dust jackets were often discarded by readers (and libraries!) and early examples can be extremely hard to find. The numerous rare dust jackets in the Cohen Collection are therefore a highly valuable resource for researchers looking at the history of one of Canada’s most beloved literary classics.
To learn more about the Ronald I. Cohen Collection of Works by L. M. Montgomery, listen to the latest episode of Library and Archives Canada’s podcast, Kindred spirits after all!
Meaghan Scanlon is the Special Collections Librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.