Ellen G. White: The Later Elmshaven Years: 1905-1915 (vol. 6)


Chapter 23—The 1911 Edition of The Great Controversy

A matter of importance to Ellen White and her staff reached back to early January, 1910. This was the development of a new edition of her book The Great Controversy. From the early summer of 1888, when the enlarged book with 678 pages of text was introduced, printing after printing had come from the presses of Pacific Press in the West and the Review and Herald in the East, and then in time from the presses of Southern Publishing Association in Nashville, Tennessee. The book, issued by the thousands, served the growing church and was a standby work, one sold widely by literature evangelists. Through the early years of the new century the printing plates gave increasing evidence of wear. In 1907, repairs were made to the most badly worn plates, some improvements in illustrations were made, a subject index was added, and the book was dressed up generally. 6BIO 302.1

As C. H. Jones, manager of Pacific Press in early January, 1910, was preparing for the annual constituency meeting to be held later in the month, he took stock of the accomplishments in 1909, the work in hand, and some things to which attention needed to be given in 1910. On January 5 he wrote to his close friend and long associate in the work of the church, W. C. White, listing things he felt needed consideration. Among these, under the heading “Great Controversy, English,” he wrote: 6BIO 302.2

It will be necessary to print another edition of this book on or before July, 1910. You are aware that the plates are worn out. New plates ought to be made before printing another edition. 6BIO 302.3

Plans were set in motion for a discussion of The Great Controversy matter when W. C. White would be in Mountain View attending the constituency meeting later in the month. But even before this meeting was held, word came from the Review and Herald that they, too, needed new plates for the book (C. H. Jones to WCW, January 12, 1910). Ellen White owned the printing plates for her books; whatever would be done with The Great Controversy would be done under her direction and at her expense. In these matters, W. C. White served as her business agent. 6BIO 303.1

The procedures seemed routine and uncomplicated. Not waiting till he would be in Mountain View later in the month, White wrote to Jones on January 14 of what he thought would be a workable plan for the resetting of “Great Controversy, English“: 6BIO 303.2

Arrange for the Southern Publishing Association to keep and continue to use the set of plates which they have and on which they have done considerable repairing. 6BIO 303.3

Inform Curtiss [in Washington] that we will reset the book immediately, and send the Review and Herald a set of plates, and advise him if they run short of books to buy a few in sheets from the Southern Publishing Association. 6BIO 303.4

Instruct Mary Steward to read carefully one of the last editions of the book and to mark anything that needs consideration in resetting. 6BIO 303.5

Then instruct Pacific Press to reset at its earliest convenience, finishing up two sets of electrotype plates, one for Review and Herald and one for Pacific Press. 6BIO 303.6

Hold the [linotype] slugs till we learn what can be done about providing a set of plates for the London office and a set of plates for the Southern Publishing Association. It seems to me that we ought to go forward with the work, but we do not wish to make unnecessary expense in finishing up sets of plates before they are needed. 6BIO 303.7

From this it is clear that the work that eventually was done in what has come to be known as the 1911 “revision”—a term too strong for what actually took place—was not contemplated in the initial plans. In other words, no need was seen for changes in the book at the time that plans were initiated for resetting the type, nor were any alterations in the E. G. White text contemplated, beyond technical corrections as might be suggested by Miss Mary Steward, a proofreader of long experience and now a member of Ellen White's staff. Work on the book was undertaken in a routine fashion and according to plan. Miss Steward reviewed the book, checking spelling, capitalization, punctuation, et cetera. She finished her work on this in late February. By mid-March, Pacific Press had copy for resetting the first five chapters and a portion of the sixth. On March 22, Jones reported to White: 6BIO 303.8

We have received corrected copy for about 100 pages of Great Controversy, and have already begun typesetting. We found the ten-point linotype matrices which we have been using on the Signs were so badly worn that they would hardly do for book work, so we sent for a new set of matrices, and they arrived last night.... This will give us a good, clear-cut face. We want this new edition to be just as near correct and just as good as possible. 6BIO 304.1

Miss Steward is here, and I understand that she is to take the responsibility of reading the final page proofs, but she wants our proofreaders to read galley proofs, etc. 6BIO 304.2

Jones, in his letter, discussed the number of sets of printing plates that would be wanted and expressed the hope he could have a visit with W. C. White before White had to leave to attend the Spring Meeting of the General Conference Committee in Washington, D.C. 6BIO 304.3

It is evident that all concerned expected that the work called for would be pushed through in a matter of weeks. 6BIO 304.4

In the meantime, as a corollary to the resetting of the type for The Great Controversy, thoughts began to develop both in the minds of Ellen White and the members of her staff regarding certain features of the new reset book. These related not only to the physical features of the book—type face, illustrations, et cetera—but also to the text itself. Ellen White wrote of this to F. M. Wilcox, chairman of the Review and Herald board: 6BIO 304.5

When I learned that Great Controversy must be reset, I determined that we would have everything closely examined, to see if the truths it contained were stated in the very best manner, to convince those not of our faith that the Lord had guided and sustained me in the writing of its pages.—Letter 56, 1911. 6BIO 304.6

These and other considerations led W. C. White to reach out for helpful suggestions. He reported: 6BIO 305.1

We took counsel with the men of the Publishing Department, with State canvassing agents, and with members of the publishing committees, not only in Washington, but in California, and I asked them to kindly call our attention to any passages that needed to be considered in connection with the resetting of the book.—WCW to “Our General Missionary Agents,” July 24, 1911 (see also Selected Messages 3:439, 440). 6BIO 305.2

As suggestions began to come in, he called a halt in typesetting and the making of printing plates. At this point 120 pages had been sent to the type foundry for platemaking, and the type was set for 100 more pages. 6BIO 305.3