by Al Navis, ABAA, ILAB, ALMARK & CO. Booksellers, Thornhill, ON, Canada and Jeff Coopman, The Usual Suspects, St. Catharines, ON, Canada

This article is the second in a series in which Al Navis examines the wonderfully confusing, highly addictive world of first edition books. In this installment he and Jeff Coopman explain the desirability of first editions.

In our first article, we looked at how to identify a First Edition, at least we tried. With publishers over the years breaking their own rules all the time, it is not an easy task. Now, let’s assume that you actually have a First Edition, another question comes to mind...

Why Collect First Editions?
Why bother looking for a First Edition? Just to take it home and read? The answer here is...you don’t!

You don’t read a First Edition!

You protect it, dust it, covet it and enjoy it!

If you want a reading copy, you find a used paperback copy or a book club edition or even - wait for it - go to a library! That’s right we said the “L” word! That's the copy you read while you’re eating Cheesies in the bathtub.

Booked to Die Referring to a First Edition Ernest Hemingway in Booked To Die, John Dunning’s classic bibliomystery, his character, the Denver ex-cop and current antiquarian book dealer/part-time sleuth named Cliff Janeway explains, “Only a fool would read a first edition. Simply having such a book makes life in general and Hemingway in particular go better when you do break out the reading copies.”

First Editions are designed to be the version of the book that the author wanted others to read. If there are corrections and revisions to be made, they are to take place during the publication process - from manuscript, to galley proofs to uncorrected proofs - where there is ample opportunity for the author and editor to tinker and make sure that what will be published is what they want to be published.

For the modern collector, a small print run of the First Edition means that there are fewer copies released for those who want them and therefore they will command a higher price. It is a real world example of supply and demand. We in the out-of-print book business live this principle every day of our professional lives.

When asked why John Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill is far more expensive and collectible than his second book The Firm, one only has to look at the print runs: 5,000 versus 100,000 copies respectively. Price also reflects the print runs: $2,000-4,000 for his first book versus $300-600 for his second.

The Hunt for Red OctoberMany great books have had small First Edition print runs. In fact, some collectors only collect authors’ first books, so much so that Allen and Patricia Ahearn of Quill & Brush in Dickerson, Maryland, have published a book which lists only collectible first books: Book Collecting 2000: A Comprehensive Guide.

Mega-author Tom Clancy may command hardcover print runs over a million copies now, but in 1984 when he was shopping around The Hunt for Red October, his first book, and it was finally picked up by The Naval Institute Press, the estimated first print run was only 15,000 copies. It was not only the first of a soon-to-be-billion-dollar book and film sub-genre called "Techo-thrillers", it was also the very first novel that The Naval Institute Press released. Copies of the First Edition with the correct issue point, (six blurbs instead of eight on the rear panel), can command $3,000.00 and up.

J.K. Rowling’s 1997 first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had an extremely small hardcover first print run of 500 copies in illustrated boards without dust-jacket. Most of them disappeared into the British library system. Copies for sale today - if you can find them in their original bindings - can command $30,000 and up! Stolen library copies have even been re-bound in fancy leather bindings, and carry asking prices well into the thousands of dollars. Now that’s a real manufactured collectible!

The Reason for Remainder Marks
Remainder marks are a source of constant debate among booksellers, collectors and customers and have been for decades. While some consider them merely a minor nuisance and rather inconsequential, others think they are the scourge of the universe, the ebola virus of the collecting community and something to be avoided at all costs.

First off, let’s explore what remainder marks are. They come in different flavors and are sometimes located in different places. The most commonly used remainder mark is made with a black magic marker (felt pen) and is a dot or line on the bottom page edge, usually near the spine. Occassionally it can be found on the top page edge and rarer still, the side page edge. Doubleday and some other publishers used to spray the bottom page edges with a red ink that gave a speckled effect. Random House would sometimes use a small ink stamp with their 'house' logo. Simon and Schuster would use a similar stamp with their trademark ‘sower’ logo. Putnam used a capital ‘P’ ink stamp. Other publishers have been known to write an 'R' on the front paste down, while still others have placed a stamp on the title page. Years ago, if a paperback was remaindered, a punched hole on the front cover or a scalloped-cut off corner would be the method of identification.

Now that we know what remainder marks are, why are they there? Why would someone deliberately deface a book? And who does this defacing? In all cases, it is the publisher or distributor who marks the books. It is the most efficient way for a publisher to differentiate specific copies of books that are sold to new retailers. So why would a publisher need this information? I mean, one copy is the same as any other. The copy may be the same, but what a retailer paid for it may differ and as it turns out, that is the determining factor.

Let’s say a hardcover book will retail for $25 and the initial print run was 10,000 copies. The standard retailer discount is 40%, so they pay the publisher $15 for each copy and when the book sells, the ten bucks is the bookstore’s cut. So now we fast forward about a year, when the paperback of the same title is about to be released and when there are still, let’s say, 1,000 copies left in the warehouse. The remaining copies of the hardcover still in the publisher’s warehouse get sold off to remainder wholesalers, sometimes called ‘jobbers’, for under a dollar apiece in many cases.

These remaindered copies are either books which have been shipped to retailers and returned to the publisher or books which were never shipped anywhere and were untouched in the warehouse. All these copies are then marked by the publisher (as noted above), sold and shipped off to the wholesalers. Now they are listed by the wholesalers at prices in the $2.00 - 4.00 range and eventually will be sold to retailers: individual independent booksellers, multi-outlet independents, national and regional chain bookstores and also non-traditional book outlets (like Wal-Mart). These copies are then marketed at bargain prices, and in many cases, less than the paperback price of the same title.

"But why do they have to physically mark the books?" we hear you wondering. Simple question really, and best answered by the following example:

Let’s say that ABC Books (with apologies to anyone using that name) placed a first order for 20 copies, sold them and then placed a second order for an addititional 10 copies of our $25 hardcover. Most publishers will allow that bookseller to return any unsold copies for up to one year from the invoice date. Now let’s assume that the second batch of 10 copies were also sold, but now the owner sees copies in hardcover remaindered at the local big box store for $6.99. Since he paid $15 each for his copies originally, why couldn’t he just buy 10 copies of the remaindered copies and then return them to the publisher. He’d then get credit of $15 each for those copies or a profit of more than $8 a copy, all without selling anything to the public. To prevent this, the books must be marked in some way so that a publisher can tell if they were bought at full price or at remaindered price.

“So what you are actually saying,” we hear you yelling, “is that the only difference between a remaindered and non-remaindered book is when and how it was sold?”

Yup! And don’t let anybody tell you any differently. This also explains why some remaindered copies look dead solid perfect (except for the mark) while others show signs of rubbing to the front and rear panels of the dust-jacket and perhaps some shelf wear. These particular copies were sent to stores, handled by potential customers and then returned to the publishers as unsold.

You may even find books that have been signed by the author at an event in a new bookstore on the remainder tables. The author would have signed copies that the store then had in stock but were later returned to the publisher for credit.

Just keep in mind that if you really care if a book has a remainder mark, you should ask the bookseller, if he hasn’t already mentioned it in his description. If a dealer is selling you a collectible book, marks or stamps of any kind should always be mentioned in the description, so that you can make an informed choice. Online purchasing, because of the wide variety of sellers, must be carefully considered. Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is always a good thought to have tattooed on your credit card!

In conclusion, collecting books with remainder marks is largely a question of personal taste. Books are better without them but if they are marked, if depends on how particular both the seller and the buyer are.

Now, if you think that remainder marks are a niggling point, just wait until we talk about price-clipping.

The Practice of Price-Clipping
No, the "pc" in some bookseller descriptions doesn’t mean it has been deemed politically correct and therefore will be less offensive as such.

The controversial practice of clipping the price off the dust-jacket flap has been with us for even longer than that of remaindering.

Publishers and distributors practice price-clipping. While some people, when giving a book as a gift, will clip the price off, this occurs in fewer than 10% of price-clipping cases. Many decades ago, some new bookstores would clip the price off the corner of the dust-jacket as a method of inventory control. Some publishers went as far as to code the book with the title’s initials. Isaac Asimov’s Murder at the A.B.A. became ‘M.A.T.A.B.A’, just above the $7.95 price. But since not all publishers used the code, it was quickly abandoned.

Price-clipping is very common among books shipped for sale in Canada, Australia and other British Commonwealth countries. When a book would be released from Collins in the UK, for instance, with a price of £8.95, the Canadian or Australian distributors would have a choice: to either place a price sticker, (with the Canadian or Australian price) which covered the price in Sterling pounds, or clip off the corner that showed the price.

With the first scenario, the distributor would then not only lock the new bookstore onto that Canadian or Australian sticker price, but for books which would never be remaindered, (and there are some), they would have to re-sticker individual copies as the years went by. We have seen some UK copies with four price stickers on top of each other, each with a price higher than the one under it. The top sticker had a $24.95 price on it and by the time we had soaked off each one (mineral spirits works best) the original pound Sterling price was £3.95!

To prevent all this manual handling of the books by the warehouse people (whose time would be better spent actually picking and packing books), the second scenario of entirely clipping the price off the flap came into widespread use. This way, the publisher could increase the cover price of a specific title in their internal computer database over the years and never have the warehouse personnel handle the stock. If that book with the four stickers we referred to above had been price-clipped in the beginning, no stickers would have been needed and the book wouldn’t have been handled four extra times by warehouse personnel.

Likewise, prior to the North American practice of ‘double pricing’ (showing both the American and Canadian prices), which began in the early-to-mid-1980s, U.S.-based publishers would only list the American price on dust-jacket flaps. Now that was fine when the exchange rate between the Canadian and US dollars was close to par, or when the Canadian dollar was actually worth more (it really happened!), but when the difference began widening, eventually increasing the gap to over 50% (USD $100 would be equivalent to CDN $150), the ‘double-pricing’ practice became a necessity.

This is now very common with the major trade publishers, but some university presses and smaller or regional US publishers still only use the single American cover price. So a non-American distributor will have to choose between our two scenarios: sticker it or clip it.

Are price-clipped copies less desirable that non price-clipped copies? The answer is yes - and maybe. Again it depends primarily on the seller, and their own predilections and biases. The answer also depends on the collectors, because if they continually refuse to buy clipped copies over their non-clipped counterparts, the law of supply and demand re-enters the game.

We hope that we’ve cleared up the what, the why and the how of remainder marks and price-clipping and have given you a small insight of how First Editions can appreciate in value. We encourage you to ask booksellers questions, because we both firmly believe that part of a professional bookseller’s job is the ongoing education of their customers.

What's Next

In the third part of this series we will discuss where booksellers get their books (you’d be amazed), as well as the art of caring for collectible books. We’ll touch on everything from how to protect all types of books to how to fix simple flaws such as cocked spines, bumped corners, old price stickers and other problems.

On a personal note, we are writing this article with a heavy heart. Al’s 89-year-old mother, Olive Navis, herself a bookseller for 30 years finally lost her battle with emphysema on 9 November 2006. She was a champion for literacy and had the literacy donation box right beside the candy dish…take a candy…donate to literacy. Over the years her customers donated in excess of $20,000 to Canadian literacy programmes. She will be missed by all who knew her.

The views of the authors, expressed above, are not necessarily those of AbeBooks.

Do you have a question about book collecting? [Ask our Experts]