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1.  That Printer of Udell's

That Printer of Udell's by Harold Bell Wright, dust jacket That Printer of Udell's by Harold Bell Wright

First Edition

Book Supply Company, 1902-03, Green cloth cover, pages gilded on top, gold letters on spine, but white letters on front, oval illustration on cloth cover but no illustration on plain, off-white dust jacket.  

First editions: 2,500
Total sales: 444,850

List of editions
Value Guide


Click here to read Ronald Reagan's statement about the effect of this book on his life.

In 1889 a young preacher by the name of Charles Sheldon arrived in Kansas and founded the Central Congregational Church of Topeka.  It was his conviction that to truly follow the example and teachings of Jesus, Christians must help to solve the social problems around them.  For that reason, and also to fill seats at his Sunday services, Sheldon pioneered the continuing story-sermon.  In 1896 he read to his congregation his most famous series, In His Steps, which asked the question, "What would Jesus do?"  It was published as a paperback book in 1897 and a hardback in 1898.

Just a few months later another young preacher, Harold Bell Wright, arrived at another Kansas church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Pittsburg. Wright had the same conviction about social ministry and the same need to attract and influence the good people of Pittsburg. In 1902 he wrote That Printer of Udell's, a story very similar to Sheldon's story but set in Pittsburg. Harold Bell Wright intended to read That Printer of Udell's to his congregation at successive Sunday night services, but before he did the story was published in The Christian Century, a Disciples denominational paper. In his autobiography, To My Sons, Wright says that he was so disheartened by the stripped-down version of the story that The Christian Century produced, that he "hid the poor mutilated corpse in the bottom of the least used drawer of my desk and turned to other things." Wright says, "My congregation, of course, was reading this emasculated, refined, sterilized, denominationally pure and sweet version as it appeared in the church paper. For me to read the original manuscript to them with any hope of holding their attention was now impossible." (To My Sons, 212-213). Apparently Wright never read That Printer of Udell's to any congregation.

But a local friend, Dr. William Williams, loved the story and paid travel expenses for Wright to take it to Elsbery W. Reynolds, president of The Book Supply Company in Chicago. Reynolds published it, and Wright's career as a writer was begun. Wright always believed, however, that That Printer of Udell's was only preliminary to the start of his career. "You see, I looked upon 'That Printer of Udell's' as a sort of accident. It was not written primarily as a story. I was now determined to write a novel deliberately. I agreed with myself that if this story succeeded to any positive degree I would take it as proving that writing was my job."

That second story, The Shepherd of the Hills, quickly became a best seller, and Wright left pastoral ministry to become a writer.


All American first editions are by the Book Supply Company, are green, and look exactly like the illustrations above. Much later, Hodder and Stoughton published a British first edition.  In 1909, when BSC published The Calling of Dan Matthews, they reprinted That Printer in red to match the other books and they produced a green library binding. In 1911 BSC published a new edition with hundreds of minor changes in the text. The book was reprinted many times by A. L. Burt, and by Appleton and Pelican.  Most of the early reprints carry no indication that they are not first editions.  

Recently That Printer of Udell's has been re-published by Bethany, under the title, "The Least of These My Brothers."  As with other Harold Bell Wright books published by Bethany, the text has been "edited" [lightly messed around with] by a Michael Phillips.  This editing makes no improvement to readability of the book, and occasionally messes up Wright's poetic touch.  Perhaps the editing puts the publishers in some kind of improved marketing position.  Or perhaps Michael Phillips, who did us all a huge favor by "translating" the works of George McDonald from old English into modern English,  simply conned Bethany into thinking Wright's books also needed his editing--so he can receive royalties. I don't know.  In Wright's second book, The Shepherd of the Hills, there are places where Phillips has changed Wright's original word "fog" to "mist," and other places where he has changed Wright's "mist" to "fog."  I suppose this would come under the category of "Random acts of editing."

Only 2500 first editions were printed, so they are scarce today. Many of the first editions are in near-mint condition. Dust jackets of the first edition are extremely rare. Reprints of this title, mostly by Burt, are quite common and are not usually in as good a condition as first editions. According to Frank Luther Mott, "total sales never passed 450,000." Wright's own records indicate he collected royalties for 444,850 copies.

Notes for "Collectibles" owners:

M.  Pelican, 1996 {LT).  This is a paperback

N. Pittsburg Bicentennial-Centennial Commission, 1975.  This is not an edition of this title, but a play  based on the book and written by the late Gene DeGruson.

There are several additional Hodder and Stoughton (UK) editions.  To be added later.

Review of Book by Dr. Joyce Kinkead  Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission.

            Like his fictional minister, Dan Matthews, Wright was not the usual minister.  A self-educated man, he had witnessed an immoral world during his youth when he lived near brothels and saloons.  During his years as a minister, Wright keenly felt the hypocrisy of the church members; thus with a sincere interest in his congregation, he attempted to teach them how to practice Christianity in their everyday life.  A minister having his beliefs would undoubtedly divide his congregation into factions, for some church members would see the truth in his teaching whereas others would not want to be drawn from their comfortable rut of simply attending church weekly, donating to the mission fund, and raising money for the church through social events.  In many of Wright's attempts to change the church, he discovered that stories could be helpful in instructing his congregation.  As a result, he wrote for his church members a fictional story, Practical Christianity, which he later retitled That Printer of Udell's.  This was followed by The Calling of Dan Matthews and God and the Groceryman, each of which was designed to reform the church members.  When he wrote The Uncrowned King, it was an allegory of the church.

            That Printer of Udell's, a book of 29 chapters and 468 pages, published in 1903, was the first Wright novel to attack the hypocrisy of the church and offer "a story of practical Christianity," which is its subtitle.  Continue Review 

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This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
Copyright 2000-May, 2011 by Gerry Chudleigh
Last updated 05/26/11