So near and yet so far... (2nd in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)
Breathes there a reader with soul so dead that she is not beguiled by Rockwell Kent's illustrations for M-D? You can find a first edition 1930 Lakeside Press copy, in three volumes, with Kent's illustrations, on abebooks.com for $7,500. If you're short on dead presidents, the Folio Society offers a one-volume reprint for $350. However, for the MDM, you want an edition that's less precious -- when Paula Radcliffe runs a marathon, she doesn't worry about her shoes getting muddy, and you don't want to worry about spilling tea on your M-D. So consider this: a single-volume reprint, with all of Kent's illustrations, in hard-cover, for less than $15 on Amazon.
The Modern Library has offered this edition since 1992. At first glance it meets all the criteria for an ideal MDM tome. It fits well in one hand -- about 5.5" wide x 7.75" tall, a little less than 1.5" thick with about 825 pages. It includes a table of contents, Etymology, Extracts, and Melville's footnotes. To the essential text, it adds only two pages of biography. The cover "boards" are firm; the smooth, cream-colored paper is a bit heavier than my Library of America edition, with only a slight "show-through." The margins are adequate. The type is not cramped. There's no colophon, but a note on the copyright page states, "Printed on acid-free paper."
Weight: 29.5 ounces [3/19/11]
And did I mention the Rockwell Kent illustrations?
So what's the problem?
Along the left edge of the page in the photo above, you'll see where the binding has begun to split, on this copy from the Boston Public Library. In one section, the book has split apart completely, into two chunks held together by the cover. This is because this edition does NOT have a sewn binding. The book's signatures are glued together. (Wikipedia describes the result as "a paperback with hard covers.") Furthermore, this method of bookbinding results in a book that, like a paperback, will not lie flat.
If you love the Kent illustrations as I do, and don't mind the fragile binding, this could be the Marathon tome for you.
NB: The text is not "Northwestern-Newberry compliant." [3/19/11]
I'll keep looking...