Drawing on the library’s extensive holdings, Mr. Gewirtz [the exhibition curator] has put on display at least one copy of every authorized American edition of “Leaves,” along with the separate collections of poetry that Whitman later incorporated into his work, which he expanded, rearranged and revised nearly until the day he died.
You can feel Whitman’s experience as a printer and compositor, for example, in his cover design for the first edition of “Leaves,” with its gilt-stamped tendriled letters and leaf, fern and flower motifs.
If you too want to “feel Whitman’s experience as a printer,” be sure to click on the jacket image in this post to see up close some of Whitman’s handiwork on the cover of the original edition.
This comes from David Reynolds in the Afterword to Leaves of Grass, 150th Anniversary Edition:
One need not discount his later poetry in order to recognize the specialness of the first editition. This was the original Whitman; this was Whitman at his freshest and, arguably, his most experimental. Nothing like the volume had ever appeared before. Everything about it–the unusual jacket and title page, the exuberant preface, the twelve free-flowing, untitled poems embracing every realm of experience–was new.
LINK to review at NYTimes.com.