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Do Collectible Proofs Need a Publisher's Letter?

Q. I’ve started collecting ARCs and proofs. With a couple of them, I got a letter from the publisher. When I buy one now, I ask for the letter or promotional material. Is this worth getting or a waste of time?— JoAnna Garner

Three advance copies of the bestseller, Seabiscuit: The plain uncorrected proof; which was followed by an advance reading copy (ARC) with a new title, Dark Horse; and a later ARC, that reverted to the original title.


A. In first edition collecting, “the earlier the better” is the rule. While most collectors don’t often have a chance to acquire manuscripts, they do have ready access to a preliminary state of the book that precedes the first published edition—that of the uncorrected proof or advance reading copy (ARC). Publishers have long issued advance copies of forthcoming books to garner early reviews and to assure orders from bookstores. Proofs tend to have plain covers and often reproduce a not-quite-final version of the manuscript. ARCs usually have covers that reproduce the dust jacket art. Both are almost always paperbacks.

            When collecting proofs, it’s definitely better to get the letter or other material that comes with the advance copy, if possible. Sometimes there is publication or other information in them that doesn’t appear elsewhere and, especially years later, can be valuable in understanding more about the book and the author and the marketing of the book when it was new. Some recipients don’t like to pass along the letters because they are often addressed to them personally; in those cases, if you agree not to publicize the person’s name if you ever go to sell the proof, they’ll often agree to include it. Otherwise, you have to do without.
Ken Lopez Bookseller, Hadley, MA, USA    Proofs from Ken Lopez’s Extensive Inventory


Collecting David Eddings’ Belgariad

Q. I have The Belgariad: Part One by David Eddings, published by Del Rey. This is not a book-club edition.  Is there a hardcover of The Belgariad: Part Two, other than the book-club editions?
Kathleen Hunt

The Easton Press edition.

A. The simple answer to the question is: No, there is no matching second volume to the book you have. Your book is a 1995 omnibus trade (for sale in bookstores) edition that contains three of the five books of David Eddings’ Belgariad, a magic-based fantasy series that employs chess terms in the titles (Queen of Sorcery, Magician's Gambit, etc.). A second volume was undoubtedly planned, but it never appeared.
            The Belgariad has an interesting bibliographic history. It began with five mass-market paperbacks, starting with Pawn of Prophecy in 1982, so the true first editions are paperbacks. However, the series was also published as five individual books in the United Kingdom, but in hardcover. Since collectors prefer hardcovers to paperbacks in most cases, the U.K. editions are much more sought after (prices for a complete set generally start at $2,500). In 1985 (or thereabouts), the Doubleday book club printed a two-volume omnibus edition of the set, which was available only to members of the club and not in stores. While most book-club editions don’t have much value for collectors, as the first U.S. hardback edition of The Belgariad, the Doubleday set became collectable as well. Just to confuse matters further, there was also a British two-volume omnibus edition, published in 1985 and a British book-club edition. Easton Press issued all five books in a signed, leather-bound edition, too.
Stephanie Howlett-West, S. Howlett-West Books

Complete sets generally start at $2,500   British two-volume omnibus edition


What Does 'First Edition' Actually Mean?

Q. Books listed on AbeBooks are sometimes described as “first edition,” but they don’t say which impression. Is it assumed to be a first printing?—B. Melville

A. “First edition” probably causes more confusion than any other term in book collecting. It is a source of misunderstanding because publishers, bibliographers, and book collectors all use it differently.
            Publishers call books first editions for many reasons that collectors cannot always rely upon (The David Eddings books in the preceding question are a good example of this).
            Bibliographers, who provide the detailed descriptions of books often used by collectors, apply “first edition” to any copy of a book printed from substantially the same setting of type. For a bibliographer, the 32nd printing of The Da Vinci Code is a still a first edition because the layout of the text is the same as the first printing.
            Book collectors, however, use “first edition” as shorthand for “first edition, first printing” (or “first impression,” in the U.K.).
            Collectors have to be wary when buying books described as first editions because it is hard to know what the seller means by the term. If you are buying a book from a seller you have never dealt with, it’s a good idea to use the “Ask Bookseller a Question” link to inquire. However, if a book is being sold as a collectible, scrupulous booksellers will use the term “first edition” in the collecting sense. To do otherwise is misleading.
—Scott Brown, editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine


A Definitive Source for Identifying Firsts?

Q. What is the definitive source of first edition identification information—publication dates, errors and textual changes or omissions, top-stain colors of first versus later editions, the location of the publisher’s logo on the title or other pages, dust jacket particulars, etc. For example: Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. —George McGuinness


A. There is no definitive source of first edition information. Collected Books, which I co-wrote with my wife, Patricia, is one attempt at providing such information, but it only covers 20,000 or so books in the latest edition (2002). The Bibliography of American Literature, which covers 281 authors who died before 1930, fills nine volumes. Joseph Sabin’s Dictionary of Books Relating to America runs 29 volumes. Given the total universe of collectible books, these references only scratch the surface.

In many cases, however, for major authors, a detailed bibliography of the author’s work may be available. Issue points such as errors, textural changes, top-stain colors, and dust jacket particulars would, hopefully, be enumerated in a bibliography, although there are many bibliographies which really just list the titles of the author's books without much detail. If you don't have a bibliography, there are two guides for identifying first editions by publisher, one by Bill McBride and the other by Edward Zempel.


To help collectors, we publish a series called the Author Price Guides, which are bibliographical checklists of an author's primary works (books and pamphlets), with estimated retail prices with and without dust jackets. We’ve done 174 of these APGs and are working on more (Put “author price guide” without quotes and the last name of an author in the title field of the AbeBooks search page to see if an APG is available for that writer.)

The APG for Ken Kesey, for example, reveals that there are no issue points for the first edition/first printing of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. Kesey's second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, is trickier, and a number of variants are described.
Allen Ahearn, Quill & Brush, Dickerson, MD, U.S.A.


Penguin Designer Classics - To Leave Shrink Wrap On or Not?

Q. I invested in the recently published Penguin Designer Classics series, including Lady Chatterley's Lover. The value at the moment appears to be attached to whether it is in the shrinkwrap and plastic box.  Is this the best condition to keep the books (especially as one is covered in silk) so they don’t deteriorate?—Andy Lomas

Lady Chatterly's Lover

A. In fall 2006, Penguin commissioned five artists, including fashion designers Paul Smith and Manolo Blahnik, to each design a book. The five books, called Penguin Designer Classics, were each limited to 1,000 signed and numbered copies. Paul Smith, as you noted, chose D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, had it printed in purple ink and designed a silk, embroidered dust jacket for the book. It came in a clear plastic slipcase and a cardboard box with a matching number. What really got me about Smith’s take was that it was an awesome artistic representation of Lady Chatterley's Lover. Smith took it to another level of art and energy. If you are considering this as an investment, it is best to leave it as produced by the publisher. Since it was issued in shrinkwrap, that's how it should be maintained. You want to keep it in the most complete condition to preserve its value. Unfortunately, it's a trade-off: The book will definitely be worth more as an investment in the shrinkwrap, but you can't enjoy it at all.
Josh Mann, B&B Rare Books, New York, NY, USA.

In November 2006, AbeBooks hosted the Penguin Designer Classics Charity Auction Parties bid on first editions of each book, signed by the designer. See all five Penguin Designer Classics, and the prices they fetched at auction.

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