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Angela's Ashes

Q. I bought this book for very little money, but I would like to think that it is a first edition. Is it? The book is Angela’s Ashes, published by Harper Collins in 1996. The ISBN is 0-00-225443-3. The number line on the copyright page is 135798642. It’s a hardcover with a dust jacket. The binding is cream-colored boards with gilt lettering. Can you tell me if my book a first edition as well as a good read?—A. Salemink

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

A. You appear to have a UK first edition, first printing of Frank McCourt’s popular memoir. The 1996 date is key since another very similar hardcover edition was released a year later under the Flamingo imprint, and yet another to coincide with the 1999 film, all of which have a similar number string on the copyright page. Prices of first editions of the book rose rapidly on the back of the film but have now stabilized. Angela’s Ashes led to the coining of the term “misery memoir” since its huge success spawned a host of imitations, rivaling each other in descriptions of poverty and misfortune. Many readers will find it a disturbing yet highly compelling read, but may wish to ensure a lighter, more uplifting volume follows after they finish.

—Nick Burrows, Nicholas and Helen Burrows, of Surrey, United Kingdom.


Storing Books During a Move

Q. What is the best way to pack and store books when moving.—Walter

A. Moving books is always an adventure. After lifting the fiftieth box, you’ll have a true understanding of how many trees went into making your collection, and how heavy wood really is. A few years ago, I moved along with 200 boxes of books. Based on that experience, my number one recommendation is to buy book boxes. They are easy to pack, don’t end up weighing too much, and stack neatly. Also, new boxes are much less likely to crush or dent than freebies picked up behind the grocery store.

Look for boxes about 12 by 12 by 16 inches, or roughly 1.5 cubic feet. Two cubic feet will be too heavy and one cubic foot is too small. Wrap the books in clean (unprinted) newsprint. Put some crumpled newsprint (clean, preferably) in the bottom of each box. Lay the books flat and stack them to within an inch of the top. Fill in the spaces with newsprint and reading copies of books that aren’t officially in your collection. For more protection, wrap books in foam.

When you load the moving truck, place the book boxes near the front in short stacks. This will reduce the chance of tipping the truck over in an accident. If you have a lot of books, consider getting the next larger size of truck and filling it less full.

—Scott Brown, editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine


Value of Historical Bible

Q. I know that Bibles per se have only sentimental value to families, as I have several belonging to my ancestors. But I own a Bible that was the family Bible of John Church Hamilton, one of Alexander Hamilton’s sons. John and his wife passed it on to their son John Althorpe Hamilton. Inside the Bible is recorded the Alexander Hamilton family history and in more detail that of his grandson, Charles Althorpe Hamilton. What can you tell me about this Bible?—Randy

A. The Bible is the most published work in history and that does, as a general rule, hold down the retail value of all but a relative handful of editions. What you describe here, however, is an item whose provenance, or the history of the object itself, adds to its interest. There are many variables that come into play when evaluating this kind of provenance: the relative fame/infamy of the person to whom the book belonged; is that person “related” to the subject of the work?; the scarcity/desirability of material directly related to the person, etc. Here, one of the early owners of your Bible is the son of a major historical figure, but he left no major mark on history himself. He is not “related” to the subject of the book (a similarly annotated copy of The Federalist Papers, which was written in part by his father, would be a remarkable item), and while the scarcity of Hamilton family items is high, the desirability of items from successive generations is less so. The genealogical aspect is of interest, and your Bible is definitely an appealing item, but one that may be hard to value, or sell for a good price, if that is your intention. And, as always with books, the Bible’s condition is very important.

—Ian Kahn, Lux Mentis Books, of Portland, Maine, USA. Ian is currently offering a number of books that belonged to another founding family, that of John Jay, who also contributed to the Federalist Papers.


Treating Books with a Smell

Q. I recently purchased books with strong cigar smell. Is there a treatment that will help?—Chaim

How do you get a musty smell out of a book? I’ve tried baking soda and cat litter in a Ziploc bag and just putting in the garage in the open air (which seems to work best).—Mary

A. It is possible to eliminate most bad smells from books. Remember, though, that it took some time for the smells to get in, and it will take some time for the smells to get out. Be patient.

Many people use cat littler, fish tank charcoal, baking soda, blowing air across the pages, etc. and are happy with those methods. But we have found that book deodorizer granules (available from Sic Press online) work best. The granules are safe, inert, and natural, and they work easily and relatively quickly. I shelve my books in Ziploc bags anyway, so I just put a cap full of book deodorizer in the bag with the book, lock it, and put them aside to be listed on AbeBooks later, when they are smelling fresh.

For large quantities of books, drastic measures are called for. I know a dealer who bought a significant collection from a smoker. He bought a couple of old refrigerators put the books on the shelves with bowls of book deodorizer and closed the doors for a few weeks. It worked great. Plastic boxes with lids that snap shut or any airtight container should work. Leaving the pages fanned open will speed the process.

—Joan White, White Unicorn Books of Dallas, Texas, USA

The Color Purple Printings

Q. I own two first edition hardbacks of The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Both are in amazing shape. When I purchased one, the bookseller told me it was the 11th printing. For the other copy, the bookseller told me that the letters “jklm” on the copyright page indicated an early printing. Now I know copies with “bcde” on the copyright pages are first printings, but how do I determine from the publisher what printings I actually have?—Terri, a beginning collector

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

A. This is a common question and a frequent source of confusion for beginning collectors. We cannot repeat often enough that for book collectors “first edition” means “first edition, first printing.” “First edition, 11th printing” is a contradiction in terms to a collector (You can read more about this subject in a previous Ask the Experts column). Now that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy attractive later printings of books you love. That’s a great way to build a nice personal library. The question of first editions only comes into play when you want to sell your books. Nice hardcover copies (second printings on up) of The Color Purple sell for a dollar or two, while first editions, especially signed copies, can fetch $1,000 or more.

Publishers use a variety of methods to indicate how many times a book has been sent back to press. Some use letters (A=1, B=2,…J=10, etc), some use numbers, some simply say “third printing.” If you are interested in figuring out if your books are first editions, pick up a copy of Bill McBride’s Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions (6th edition is most current). This little book explains how hundreds of publishers identify first editions. The Color Purple was printed by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. According to McBride, first editions from this publisher state “First Edition” on the copyright page, and he adds this helpful note (since it’s obviously a source of confusion): “letters do not apply; disregard them.” In other words, the letters you mentioned in your question—“bcde”—do not indicate a first edition unless the words “First Edition” are also present.

—Scott Brown, editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine

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