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Overseas Editions

Q. I recently purchased For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. The particular copy I bought is, as far as I can tell, from 1940. I've been trying to find information on it but have been unsuccessful, I think that's because it was published for a short period only by Overseas Editions, Inc. On the front cover it says: "This edition of an American book is made available in various countries only until normal free publishing, interrupted by Axis aggression, can be reestablished." If possible can you tell me if it's a valuable copy?—Hugh

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

A. The Council on Books in Wartime, a WWII-era organization sponsored by American publishers and dedicated to supplying reading materials to the U.S. Armed Services, produced Overseas Editions (OSE) and a related series, the Armed Services Editions (ASE), beginning in 1942. Their intent was to both entertain and educate by supplying small, easily stowable paperback books in an array of genres from Westerns to fantasies, from sports and poetry to the classics. The Council printed something like 125 million books before disbanding in 1946. Since the books were free, they carried language indicating they were not available in the United States. In addition to issuing books in English, OSE published editions of popular American authors in French, German, and Italian. The OEI edition of Ernest Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls is currently available for $15 to $150 depending on condition.

—Frank Brown, Wordbank Books of Hesperia, California, USA.


Numbers on Copyright Page

Q. I just bought a Margaret Atwood first and it has "p. cm.", "PR9199.3.A8 07 2003", "813' .54-dc21", and "2002073290" on the copyright page. Can you please explain these numbers?—Lindsay

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

A. Thanks for a great question and an opportunity to take a peak into some of the mysteries of the information found on the copyright pages of books. All of the codes you mention are data from the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP) system, which is intended to assist librarians with the cataloging and shelving of books.

Even though you didn't indicate the title of the book, I was able to use the CIP information to determine that the book you have is Oryx and Crake, published in 2003 in New York by Nan A. Talese. It is one of 27 editions of this title and the first US edition. How did I do this?

The Library of Congress Control Number "2002073290" gives it away. The Library of Congress assigns a unique identification number to the record created for each book in its cataloged collections. Libraries around the world use these numbers in their book databases.

"PR9199.3.A8 07 2003" is the Library of Congress Call Number. The initial letters are based on the subject of the book (P is the code used for language and literature). The rest of the code determines where on the shelf the book should reside. Most college libraries use this system for shelving books. The final part of the code usually gives the year of publication (example: 2003). Earlier editions are shelved to the left of a later edition of the same work.

"813' .54-dc21" is part of the Dewey Decimal Code, named after its inventor Melvil Dewey. The Dewey Decimal System of library classification is made up of ten main classes or categories, each divided into ten secondary classes or subcategories, each having ten subdivisions. This system is a logical way of classifying a comprehensive array of disciplines, whether academic or practical. For example, 813 indicates the Fiction category of American literature in English. The Dewey Decimal System is typically used by municipal and school libraries.

In a CIP record, the "p. cm." code is still empty, since books are catalogued before they are published (how else could the information be printed on the copyright page?). The number of pages (p.) and the size of the book in centimeters (cm.) was not available to the cataloger. This information should be filled in later.

While all this detail is brain frying for most of us, there are additional numbers and "codes" that can be of vital interest for the collector.

The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique commercial book identifier. It became an international standard in 1970. Since January 1, 2007, ISBNs have 13 digits. Your book's ISBN is 0385503857, or in 13 digit format 9780385503853.

For the identification of first editions and first printingss you might find, depending on publisher and publication year, a number of different methodologies and symbols (or lack thereof) on the copyright page. Printing number lines like 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 are often (but NOT always) used to identify a first printing. Some publishers explicitly make a "First Edition" and/or "First Printing" statement on their copyright pages, others indicate a first printing by the lack of mention of later printings. Just to add to the confusion, Random House typically identifies first printings with a number line ending in 2 and a notation of "First Edition."

Identifying books and editions using the number and code method presents a major challenge for many, but it can become a fascinating hobby and aspiration for the collector. Try your hand at book identification for fun. But when in doubt it is always a good idea to consult a professional bookseller from one of the major antiquarian bookseller organizations around the globe.

—Joachim Koch and Lois Ganner, Books Tell You Why, of Mt. Pleasant, SC, U.S.A.


Books for Identifying First Editions

Q. As near as I can determine, the top books for identifying first editions are those written by Bill McBride and Edward Zempel. Zempel's book is much more expensive. Is there any advantage to one book over the other?—Gerald

The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A. As Joachim and Lois noted, identifying first editions can be tricky. The systems used vary from publisher to publisher, but most publishers are consistent from book to book. In short, if you know how to identify one Random House first edition, you can spot them all. Publishers sometimes change their methods or make mistakes. For example, the first US edition of The Autumn of the Patriarch, by Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has a number line ending in 5. Why? Somebody at the publisher or printer wasn't paying attention.

McBride's guide to first edition identification provides short explanations of how publishers typically mark first editions. It's small and fits easily into a pocket or a purse, and you can take it with you to bookstores, library sales, and book fairs. Zempel asked publishers how they identify first editions and printed the responses. For many collectors, McBride is sufficient. Dealers and more advanced collectors will want Zempel, too. Neither one, however, will help with Autumn of the Patriarch, because it doesn't follow the standard rule. For that you need an author bibliography or the informed opinion of an experienced bookseller.

—Scott Brown, editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine


Book Moving Boxes

Q. Scott Brown's answer to moving a book collection was very helpful. As a follow-up, where can I purchase special book boxes? Also, when using a moving company, what specific instructions should be provided to them?—Pete

A. I'm glad the answer was very useful. You can find book boxes at most moving companies and even at self-storage locations. If you are looking for another source of boxes, I recommend Uline, which is an excellent resource that provides quick delivery. If you hire a professional moving company, just let them know how many books you have so they can plan for the extra weight.

—Scott Brown, editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine

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