Collecting Ernest Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls

We continue today with another column on collecting Ernest Hemingway.  Today we’ll take a look at a novel that is often considered to be Hemingway’s greatest work:  For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Ernest Hemingway helping a Spanish soldier unjam his rifle during the battle for Teruel, 1937. Image from the JFK library.

As we’ve already discussed, Hemingway based much of his work on his widely varied life experiences.  Having fallen in love with Spain and the grisly sport of bull fighting in the 1920’s, Hemingway developed a lifelong fascination with the country.  In 1936, while living in Key West, he met a woman who would eventually become his third wife and at her suggestion, agreed to go to Spain as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War.  He spent 8 consecutive months in Spain in early 1937 covering the war.  He returned to Spain three more times during 1937 and 1938.  While there, he became a strong supporter of the Spanish Republican Government and the Loyalist cause and gave fundraising speeches on their behalf here in the US.

Always a fan of adventure and war, Hemingway was never content to simply observe as a correspondent and involved himself in battles on more than one occasion.  A young photographer named Robert Capa made Hemingway the centerpiece of his photo series on the war, immortalizing his war-time adventures during those visits.

First edition with dustwrapper of For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls is the novel that Hemingway wrote based on his observations and experiences in the Spanish Civil War and is widely regarded as one of the best war novels ever written.  It is the story of an American who for the Loyalist Republican side as a munitions expert.  Here is a a summary from IndieBound:

“In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from “the good fight,” For Whom the Bell Tolls. The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. In his portrayal of Jordan’s love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo’s last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving, and wise. “If the function of a writer is to reveal reality,” Maxwell Perkins wrote Hemingway after reading the manuscript, “no one ever so completely performed it.” Greater in power, broader in scope, and more intensely emotional than any of the author’s previous works, it stands as one of the best war novels of all time.”

The first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls was published by Scribner’s in 1940 in a run of 75,000 copies.  Due to the size of the first edition printing, these are a bit easier to find in the current book market and do not command quite as high a price tag, generally.  For Whom the Bell Tolls enjoyed immediate literary success, became a book of the month club selection, sold over half a million copies in just a few months and was nominated that year for The Pulitzer Prize.   There are just two points of issue that will help you identify a true first edition of this classic:

  1. The Scribner’s ‘A’.  In 1930, Scribner’s began the practice of placing a capital letter ‘A’ on the copyright page of all first editions.  If there ain’t no ‘A’, it ain’t no first. :)
  2. The photographer’s name was inadvertently omitted from the photo of Hemingway on the back of the first edition dustwrapper.  If there is no photo credit, it is a first edition wrapper.  The photographer’s name was added to to all subsequent printings.

First editions with dustwrapper in fine condition are estimated by Ahearn to be worth about $1,500… though they can often be obtained for less.  Additionally, one must be careful when evaluating a first edition of this book, bearing in mind that The Easton Press includes this title in their “first editions collection” – near perfect replicas of classic first edition books.  I own one of those copies and it is a magnificent recreation of this book.  The bottom line is, if it looks brand new… it’s probably a replica.  A book published 81 years ago is going to show some signs of age no matter how lovingly it has been shelved since then.

The first edition copyright page of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Note the presence of the Scribner's 'A'.


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  1. 1

    Carol Zuvella says

    The copyright page on my very old Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is exactly as your sample appears. There is no dustcover so I cannot authenticate from that. Is this a genuine first edition and what might the value be??

    • 3

      Andrea says

      My ‘first’ edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls also has a PA on it. Do you know what this means – is it a first edition?

  2. 4

    Jennifer love says

    What is the 1943 printing of this book worth? I bought one at an antique store this weekend. Thanks, Jennifer

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