First Edition Identification Points
All of the following points must be present to ensure a true first edition / first printing.
- The copyright page has the following text with no mention of print number or date:
COPYRIGHT © 1955, 1957 BY JACK KEROUAC
PUBLISHED IN 1957 BY THE VIKING PRESS, INC.
625 MADISON AVENUE, NEW YORK 22
PUBLISHED IN CANADA
BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
OF CANADA LIMITED
- Front flap of dust jacket has the price $3.95 listed at the top
- Back cover of dust jacket has a blue stripe on top, a white segment in the middle with an excerpt from the book, and a red stripe at the bottom
- Back cover of dust jacket does not have any pull-quotes from reviews
- Title page has the year 1957
- 8vo black boards
Later Editions’ Identification Points
The applicable printing numbers are listed in brackets when known.
- The copyright page lists the print number and corresponding date, such as SECOND PRINTING SEPTEMBER 1957 [2+]
- Front flap of dust jacket lists the print number at the top left, such as SECOND PRINTING [2+]
- Back cover of dust jacket does not have the blue stripe at the top or red stripe at the bottom [2+]
- Back cover of dust jacket has pull-quotes from reviews at the top (New York Times Book Review) and bottom (San Francisco Chronicle) [2-3]
- Back cover does not have an excerpt from the book; instead has a list of 6 pull-quotes and the words, “The critics say about ON THE ROAD:” [4+]
- Title page has the year 1958 or higher [4+]
Jack Kerouac (pen name of Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac) began writing what would become On The Road in notebooks in the late 1940s. The subject matter was the non-fiction adventures and exploits of himself and his contemporaries, many of whom were notable members of the Beat generation. Inspired by this crowd and Neal Cassady in particular, Kerouac eventually decided to write the novel out in one long binge session, fueled by coffee or amphetamines depending on whom you ask. He began writing the book in this fashion on April 2nd, 1951 and it was completed exactly three weeks later on April 22nd. The work was created on a single 120-foot long sheet of tracing paper that Kerouac had cut to size and taped together to avoid possibly losing his thoughts while changing sheets of paper. It was also single spaced and had no margins- in the end it was around 90,000 words long.
That scroll would not be the finalized version, however. Kerouac was still re-working it and adding to it in October of 1951, and some of these additions would eventually become the basis of a future novel entitled Visions of Cody. Malcolm Cowley, an editorial advisor at Viking Press, became interested in the work in March of 1953. He preferred the original scroll to the versions that Kerouac created and amended afterwards. In December of 1956 the work was revised again, and Viking scheduled the book to be published in September 1957. The names of all of the original people involved had been changed and some of the sexual content had been removed, but much of the work was still based on the original 1951 scroll. The book was published September 5, 1957 for $3.95 and was immediately successful. A second and third printing took place in September and a fourth followed in March of 1958. In August of 2007, Viking Press published the initial version of the book as On The Road: The Original Scroll.