I’ve been buying books for as long as I can remember, collecting them seriously though, only for the past fifteen years. By seriously, I mean that I’ve bought and read quite a few books on the subject, starting with Ian Ellis’ Book Finds, John Carter’s ABC of Book Collecting and Taste and Technique in Book Collecting, the Ahearns’ Guide to Values 2002 and their Book Collecting 2000, and First Editions by Zempel and Verkler, plus numerous others over the years; even took David Gregor’s Book Collecting seminar once. I’ve looked at and touched tens, if not hundreds of thousands of volumes, targeted a particular type of book: Modern First Editions of primarily British novelists and poets, selected a handful of authors for completist treatment (Huxley, Auden, Coetzee, Robin Robertson), and generally had a ball seeking out the best looking copies of these editions I could find, for the least amount of money.
Despite this ‘expertise’, I’m here today to admit to some egregious rookie mistakes committed this morning at the Experimental
Used Book Sale. Not that the stakes were exactly high (Hardcovers $1.00, Paperbacks: 50 cents) but still, it’s embarrassing, and a reminder that identification of value is, and continues to be, extremely difficult. Also that Caveat Emptor is particularly applicable when trying to purchase First Editions, and that most used book sales do not yield much of monetary worth…the scouts have typically ransacked the place before you’ve even left the house.
But back to the mistakes: both were of the same strain: Book Club Editions nefariously disguising themselves as what they aren’t. 1) A Further Range by Robert Frost, published by Henry Holt in 1936. Covered in red buckram, with gilt lettering on the spine and front face. Paper is lovely thick and laid, with ragged fore-edges, and pages of varying widths. Normally Book Club editions are made with cheaper materials than original editions: not so in this case. No additional printings are indicated. Trouble is, as I searched the higher priced copies for sale on ABE and ABAA, the true first includes ‘First Edition’ stated on the copyright page… my jacketless book is worth $10-20 max. To add insult, when leafing through the book just before writing this post, a book club flyer advertising the title warfted out onto the desk.
2) The Reivers by William Faulkner, published by Random House, no jacket, red cloth, states: ‘first printing’. So…I did notice that my book was perhaps slightly smaller than it could have been…but still, it has red gilt lettering on the front…and, as I noticed when I had it back home…a very slightly indented small square punched into the bottom right hand corner of the back cover. Deadly Book Club indicator. Book worth maybe $6-7.00.
Okay, so much for the books as objects… Both, coincidentally, won Pulitzer Prizes, Frost’s for poetry in 1937, Faulkner’s for fiction in 1963…for what it’s worth.