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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – 200 years of Frankenstein books, collectables and toys

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200 years of Frankenstein books, collectables and toys

With the 200th Anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, what better time than to look the work that still inspires new editions, collectables and toys. Authored by Mary Shelley (30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851)  when she was just 19 years old, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus was first published in London in 1818 to a mixed reception. Frankenstein tells the story of gifted scientist Victor Frankenstein who succeeds in giving life to a being of his own creation. However, this is not the perfect specimen he imagines that it will be, but rather a hideous creature who is rejected by Victor and mankind in general. The Monster seeks its revenge through murder and terror. The book is much more complex than the modern re-workings and films that most of us know the story through and is Number 8 in The Guardians Top 100 Best Novels.

mary shelley frankenstein first edition1818
The first edition of Frankenstein was published in three volumes on New Year’s Day 1818, anonymously and dedicated to William Godwin. The Shelley’s Ghost exhibition at the Bodleian says of the book “According to When Shelley sent the fair copy manuscript of the novel to the publishers, Shelley made clear that it was not his work, but did not reveal who the author was: ‘I ought to have mentioned that the novel which I sent you is not my own production, but that of a friend who not being at present in England cannot make the correction you suggest. As to any mere inaccuracies of language I should feel myself authorized to amend them when revising proofs.’ Nevertheless, when they saw the dedication to Godwin some readers, including Sir Walter Scott, speculated that Shelley was the author.” (Details of the Shelley’s Ghost exhibition are still available online and includes information on not only Mary Shelley and her drafts of Frankenstein but also Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft – visit for more details).

The first edition of 1818 was issued in an edition of just 500. A second edition appeared in 1822 to cash in on the success of a stage version, Presumption. A third edition, extensively revised, came out in 1831. For collectors the ultimate would be a first edition but this is one of rarest and most valuable books. Very few Frankenstein first editions come to market: a rebound first edition sold for $58,000 in April 2017 at Heritage Auctions. The most exciting edition to come to market was an edition actually inscribed to Lord Byron himself. The edition was presented to market by Peter Harrington Rare Books – the exact sale price is unknown but expected to be in excess of £350,000.

Early editions of the book are sort after especially the third edition in October 1831 which included a new 8-page introduction by the author, and was issued with the first part of Schiller’s The Ghost-Seer! as volume 9 of Bentley’s ‘Standard Novels’. This was also the first single edition as well as the first illustrated edition. A very good clean copy was sold by Forum Auctions in May 2017 for £2,600.

mary shelley frankenstein 1831
1831 edition includes 8 page introduction by the author

For many people the Frankenstein that they recognise is from the 1931 film of the same name, where Boris Karloff played the monster.  The Frankenstein horror monster film from Universal Pictures was directed by James Whale and adapted from the play by Peggy Webling. The movie stars Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles and Karloff, and features Dwight Frye and Edward van Sloan. The Webling play was adapted by John L. Balderston and the screenplay written by Francis Edward Faragoh and Garrett Fort with uncredited contributions from Robert Florey and John Russell. The make-up artist was Jack Pierce. A hit with both audiences and critics, the film was followed by multiple sequels and has become arguably the most iconic horror film in history.

1931 frankenstein horror poster

The iconic posters and lobby cards from the movie are amongst the most collectable and expensive of all the Frankenstein items. In 2015 the most valuable Frankenstein movie poster ever sold at public auction by Heritage Auctions. The poster was found in a long closed and boarded-up projection booth in a Long Island theater and is the only 6-foot example from the 1931 Universal horror classic known to exist. The poster sold for an amazing $358,000 (click for more details on the poster). The same company also sold another rare 1931 Frankenstein poster for $262,900 (click for more details on the poster).

Although the 1931 movie version of Frankenstein is iconic one that most merchandise and collectables are based on, the first Frankenstein film adaptation was made by Edison Studios in 1910 and written and directed by J. Searle Dawley, with Charles Ogle as the Monster. The brief (16 min.) story has Frankenstein chemically create his creature in a vat. The monster haunts the scientist until Frankenstein’s wedding night, when true love causes the creature to vanish. For many years, this film was believed lost. The Edison version was followed soon after by another adaptation entitled Life Without Soul (1915), directed by Joseph W. Smiley, starring William A. Cohill as Dr. William Frawley, a modern-day Frankenstein who creates a soulless man, played to much critical praise by Percy Standing, who wore little make-up in the role. The film was shot at various locations around the United States, and reputedly featured much spectacle. In the end, it turns out that a young man has dreamed the events of the film after falling asleep reading Mary Shelley’s novel. This film is now considered a lost film. There was also at least one European film version, the Italian Il Mostro di Frankenstein (“The Monster of Frankenstein”) in 1921. The film’s producer Luciano Albertini essayed the role of Frankenstein, with the creature being played by Umberto Guarracino, and Eugenio Testa directing from a screenplay by Giovanni Drivetti. The film is also now considered a lost film. (Source Wikipedia).

edison frankenstein
Frankenstein has featured in hundreds of films since 1931. My favourites would be those featuring Abbot t and Costello and the films by Hammer. The Frankenstein Hammer films included The Curse of Frankenstein (1957 – Christopher Lee), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958 – two Creatures: Michael Gwynn and Peter Cushing)
The Evil of Frankenstein (1964 – Kiwi Kingston), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967 – Susan Denberg)
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969 – Freddie Jones),  The Horror of Frankenstein (1970 – David Prowse)
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974 – David Prowse).

curse of frankenstein hammer poster
From movies to TV and probably the most famous TV Frankenstein is Herman Munster from the TV series The Munsters.  The Munsters originally aired on CBS from September 1964 to May 12, 1966. In this run 70 episodes were produced all depicting the home life of a family of benign monsters starring Fred Gwynne as Frankenstein’s monster-type head-of-the-household Herman Munster, Yvonne De Carlo as his vampire wife, Lily Munster, Al Lewis as Grandpa, the over the hill vampire who relishes in talking about the “good old days”, and Beverly Owen (later replaced by Pat Priest) as their teenage niece whose All-American beauty made her the family outcast and Butch Patrick as their half vampire, half werewolf son Eddie Munster.

The Munsters series itself has spawned it own little collectible and merchandise empire. Collectibles, merchandise and toys abound including figurines, badges, posters, busts, statues, autographs, comics, tradings cards and more.

Frankenstein has also featured as a character in many comics, from comic adaptations of Mary Shelley’s classic story to being superhero to being a nemesis to the X-men and more. One of the first comic adaptations begain in 190 by cartoonist Dick Briefer wrote and drew a Frankenstein’s-monster comic book title for Crestwood Publications’s Prize Comics, beginning with a standard horrific version, updated to contemporary America, but then in 1945 crafting an acclaimed and well-remembered comedic version that spun off into his own title, Frankenstein Comics. Luckily for collectors Dick Briefers work has been re-issued in volumes such as Frankenstein: The Mad Science of Dick Briefer and The Monster of Frankenstein. Images below are from Pappys Golden Age Blog and The Greatest Ape Blog.

From this brief look at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein it can be seen that her creation has had a considerable impact on modern culture. New books, illustrated editions and adaptations are still being created and a new movie or character in a TV show are never too far away. A simple search on Frankenstein on ebay normally returns nearly 50,000 results and even a search on The Munsters returns nearly 10,000.  After writing this I must now go and re-read the original, sadly not a first, second or even a third edition – but the words are the same.

“I felt emotions of gentleness and pleasure, that had long appeared dead, revive within me. Half surprised by the novelty of these sensations, I allowed myself to be borne away by them, and forgetting my solitude and deformity, dared to be happy.”  ― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus

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