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Allen Ginsberg

Original Carbon Typescript for Part I of Howl

1955 - 1956

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Previously unknown original carbon typescript of the most important postwar American poem: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Almost certainly the only surviving draft version of this iconic poem remaining in private hands, and the only one to ever be separately offered for sale.

  • Allen Ginsberg (American).
  • [San Francisco], [1955/6].
  • Eleven carbon typescript leaves, double-spaced, typed rectos only on plain paper.
  • Folded in half, possibly for mailing.
  • “By / Allen Ginsberg” penned to first page in an unknown hand (almost certainly not Ginsberg’s).
  • Page numbers penciled in unknown hand (but probably Ginsberg’s) to upper right corner of each leaf.
  • A faint ink scribble (possibly a letter “M”) to lower edge of second page.
  • One word crossed out in pencil (“iron,” likely Ginsberg’s) on page eight.
  • Lacking last leaf — the twelfth — containing final nine lines of Part I.
  • A first edition of Howl: Original Draft Facsimiles and Variant Versions [etc.] edited by Barry Miles is provided (Harper & Row, 1986).

This copy was struck from what has become known as the fifth draft (so identified in Howl: Original Draft Facsimiles and Variant Versions [etc.]. Barry Miles, Editor. New York: Harper & Row, 1986) and most likely dates from early 1956. It is this draft that Ginsberg read in what is the earliest known recording of the poem at Oregon’s Reed College from February 1956 (indeed you can hear him turning the pages at precisely the right time on the recording), performed just three months after the legendary Six Gallery reading where the poem debuted.

This copy of Howl was discovered among the papers of bohemian and arts benefactor Annie Ruff, and is the exact carbon struck on Ginsberg’s own typewriter from the top ribbon copy now housed at Stanford among Ginsberg’s papers. Ginsberg was known to have created carbons of the poem, and the peculiarities both of Ginsberg’s typewriter and of this particular typing (i.e., matching orientations of the text vis-à-vis the page edges on the top copy vs. the carbon, parallel impressions evidencing matching strike timing and strength) — as well as revisions visible on both the top copy and this carbon — exactly match the original held at Stanford. It is not a fair copy, and we can also state definitively that it is not a later reproduction or duplication of any kind.

The typescript here offered differs significantly from both the later published versions (ditto and City Lights), and perhaps more importantly from even the known top-copy draft at Stanford. Words erased and retyped in the top copy are visible in the carbon, as are other changes evidenced in comparison to the published and the digitized versions (see accompanying comparison document for specific examples). As such, this typescript remains a rare window into Ginsberg’s creative process, and an important document of this landmark poem. But perhaps most importantly, page seven is here in the carbon as it was originally typed, before Ginsberg retyped the entire page, changing it significantly. This original version is lacking from Ginsberg’s papers and had previously only been known by the recently discovered Reed College reading, which follows the text of the carbon here offered. Indeed, you can hear him turning the pages at precisely the right time on the recording.

While the Six Gallery reading where Howl was debuted in an early form in October 1955, and the subsequent re-staging of this event in March of 1956 (the first time the poem was read in its entirety), made Ginsberg locally famous and even drew journalists like The New York Times’ Richard Eberhart to document the nascent Beat Scene, no one was prepared for the effect the poem would have on both literature and the culture at large when it was published in the fall of 1956 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books. The book sold through its initial 1,000-copy print run in just a few months, and a second printing of 1,500 was ordered from the printer Villier’s in London (who did handsome, inexpensive letterpress work). But when the books arrived in San Francisco from the UK, more than 500 copies were seized by US Customs authorities for obscenity, an event which (along with Ferlinghetti and City Lights employee Shig Murao’s arrest later that year for selling Howl), brought the poem — and its author — immediately to national attention, a position neither has relinquished. As the title of the 2006 book in honor of the poem’s fiftieth anniversary described Howl, it was without exaggeration “the poem that changed America.” The City Lights edition has never been out of print, having sold upwards of a million copies, and the poem pioneered not only a more confessional mode of American poetry, but helped launch numerous youth movements from beatniks to hippies, Situationists to punks. The poem is a landmark in the history of gay rights, free speech, protest, censorship and counterculture. Only Eliot’s “The Waste Land” rivals it in modern American poetry in terms of influence, legacy and importance. Along with Kerouac’s On The Road and Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, it is a cornerstone of the Beat movement and remains Ginsberg’s most enduring work. A singular opportunity and monument of American literature.


Annie Ruff

Condition Report

Star iconVery Good
Like New

All pages evenly toned.

Mild creasing and chipping to edges throughout.

Several small, unobtrusive stains to first leaf.


Height: 11 inches / 27.94 cm
Width: 8.5 inches / 21.59 cm


First Edition




Poetry, Americana, Popular culture, Modern first editions, Manuscripts, Ephemera, Counterculture

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